Crime & Courts

Victim’s family opposes parole for man convicted of four 1974 slayings

Grace Kuschnereit knows the routine. She’s attended Kansas Department of Corrections public comment sessions before.

Although she recently moved from Wichita to Aurora, Colo., Kuschnereit will return to Kansas next month to urge the state’s Prisoner Review Board not to release the man who murdered her daughter on July 6, 1974.

Beth Kuschnereit was 21 when she and three other young Wichitans were murdered by James Eddie Bell in a case that later became known as the Dayton Street murders.

Bell was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to five consecutive life prison terms. The killings came two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, and Kansas law at the time allowed all inmates serving life prison terms to see a parole board after serving 15 years.

Bell, now 66, has been held at the Lansing Correctional Facility since he entered the state prison system in 1975. He has been denied parole at every hearing since he became eligible in 1989.

A co-defendant, Gary Duvaul, was convicted and was paroled to Oklahoma in 1989, Department of Corrections records show.

Grace Kuschnereit said she has at least one question that she wants to ask the Prisoner Review Board.

“What I want to know is when they turn him loose – if they turn him loose – what are they going to do with him?” she said. “Would he start all over and kill someone else so he could get his name in the paper again?”

Kent Shepherd, who also lives in Aurora and is Beth Kuschnereit’s brother-in-law, has been leading the drive to keep Bell in prison. He said he is urging friends, relatives and business associates from across the country to send letters to Department of Corrections officials urging them to keep Bell behind bars. Shepherd said he handed out 250 sample letters when Bell was last up for parole in 2006.

“We’re asking for him not to be paroled, period,” Shepherd said.

On the day of the murders, Beth Kuschnereit stopped by her parents’ home in south Wichita and showed them how to play a new game called Triominoes, Grace recalled. Sometime that afternoon, she said, Beth decided to go for a ride with some friends, including Bell and Duvaul.

Testimony at Bell’s trial showed that the group drove to a house southeast of Kellogg and Seneca – 1117 Dayton – in attempt to recover $27.50 that one of the friends said had been taken from her. Beth Kuschnereit waited in the car while everyone else went inside.

The evidence showed that Bell first shot the occupant of the home, James Waltrip, 22. He then shot two others – Oma Ray King Jr., 23, and Patricia Gindlesberger, 21 – as they ran in fear. Gindlesberger was still alive, the evidence showed, and at Bell’s insistence, Duvaul cut her throat.

Kuschnereit, who was apparently unaware of what happened inside the house, was then taken to an abandoned animal shed on a Butler County farm. Bell forced her to her knees at gunpoint, testimony showed, and she said "Ed, dear God, don’t kill me.’’

“Beth, I’ve killed some people, and I’m going to have to kill you,’’ he replied.

She asked him if she could pray, and he gave her two minutes.

"Then I put the gun approximately six inches from her face and blew her head off,’’ Bell testified.

Beth Kuschnereit’s body was found three months later.

“He shot her through the left eye and buried her under a bunch of boards and 55-gallon drums,” Shepherd said. “It was a horrible crime.”

“They burned her clothes and threw the gun in the water,” Grace Kuschnereit said.

The public comment session is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on April 17 at the Finney State Office Building at 230 E. William in Wichita.

“We’re all dreading going out there, but we know we have to do it,” Shepherd said.