Crime & Courts

1992 murders at bridal shop unsolved but not forgotten by women’s families

Bob Trendel is the father of Patricia Smith, one of two women murdered in a bridal shop on east Kellogg in 1992. Her murder, suspected to have been committed by the so-called Interstate-70 serial killer, is still unsolved. (March 20, 2014)
Bob Trendel is the father of Patricia Smith, one of two women murdered in a bridal shop on east Kellogg in 1992. Her murder, suspected to have been committed by the so-called Interstate-70 serial killer, is still unsolved. (March 20, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Bob Trendel keeps a scrapbook of newspaper and magazine articles that chronicle the crimes of his daughter’s murderer, the so-called I-70 serial killer.

The pages hold no stories of closure. None speak of arrests, court convictions or solid leads.

Trendel, 82, says he doesn’t expect Patricia Smith’s murderer to be found in his lifetime. He’s already waited nearly 22 years.

The case is among 140 unsolved Wichita homicides since 1985.

“Basically I’ve given up,” Trendel said. “It’s frustrating to know that after over 20 years, he’s still out there.”

Trendel’s daughter, 23-year-old Patricia Smith, was one of two women shot execution-style at La’ Bride d’Elegance, 4613 E. Kellogg, as they waited for a late-arriving customer on April 11, 1992. The other woman killed that Saturday was the shop’s owner, 32-year-old Patricia Magers.

Authorities quickly linked the slayings to four others that took place at Indiana and Missouri strip malls near Interstate 70 in 1992.

There are no suspects and little evidence to go on in Smith and Magers’ killings, said Wichita police Lt. Todd Ojile, commander of the agency’s homicide section.

“The last fruitful leads would be around the time of the homicides – during the initial investigations of it,” he said.

Ojile said detectives from agencies investigating the I-70 killings met last October in Wichita to discuss the cases.

“There’s no real great theory out there, I can tell you that much,” he said.

Why cases go cold

Of nearly 800 homicides in Wichita over the past 25 years, about 1 in 6 remain unsolved. The victims range in age from 1 to 86, a list of local homicides compiled by The Eagle shows.

Among the youngest on the list are 3-year-old Khyree Frierson, who died after his home was firebombed in 1993, and Mario Hutton, killed by a bullet fired through a door in 1996. He also was 3.

The most recent is 47-year-old Damon Williams, who was shot in the torso and crashed his car on East Harry near Oliver on Oct. 29, 2013.

Ojile said most of the time, cases go cold because there’s insufficient evidence or few to no witnesses offering investigators leads on suspects.

“They’re very frustrating,” Ojile said. “We want the families to have closure. We want to be able to solve it. We want to take a violent individual off the streets.

“But, you know, they are cold cases for a reason.”

In recent years, Wichita police have taken a proactive approach to unsolved murders, revisiting a few each year in an effort to find new clues. Last year, detectives combed through four open cases, revisiting or re-testing evidence, talking to witnesses again and chasing any old suspect leads, Ojile said.

Advances in DNA testing also have been “huge for us over the last five to 10 years,” he said.

“But there has to be something there” to close an unsolved murder, Ojile said. “Some of these homicides, there is just no evidence to take a look at. So taking a look at them (the cases) a second time would be very, very hard to do.”

Wichita police plan to delve into another four open homicides in 2014. Which cases are still under consideration, Ojile said.

In the past 30 years, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office has been unable to solve six homicides, according to Capt. Greg Pollock. He counted a total of 12 cold-case murders under the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction. The earliest Pollock readily had information on dates back to 1956.

He said two will be revisited this year.

Killing spree

Authorities say Patricia Smith and Patricia Magers were the second and third victims of the I-70 killer, who is thought to have murdered six people in five Midwestern cities in April and May of 1992. Eyewitnesses have described the man as white, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 150 pounds, with reddish-colored or light hair and a stubble beard.

The first victim of his month-long killing spree, 26-year-old Robin Fuldauer, was working at a Payless shoe store in Indianapolis, Ind., when she was shot on April 8, 1992. The Wichita bridal shop slayings followed three days later.

Michael McCown – the only male – was killed at his ceramics shop in Terre Haute, Ind., on April 27, 1992. Police think that because of his long hair, the shooter may have mistaken him for a woman.

Within days, 37-year-old Sarah Blessing and 24-year-old Nancy Kitzmiller were found dead at retail stores in Missouri. After that, the serial killer disappeared.

All of the businesses sat in strip malls along I-70 or I-35 and had only one or two employees. The victims – all shot in the head – bear similar physical characteristics, including long, dark hair.

Authorities discovered money missing from most of the stores, though robbery isn’t thought to have motivated the shootings.

“Killing was the motivation, no doubt in my mind,” Wichita police Lt. Mike Hennessey, now retired, told the Associated Press in 2012. He was the original lead homicide investigator in Smith and Magers’ case.

The I-70 killer also may have ties to three shootings at small shops in Texas in 1993 and 1994, although law enforcement has announced no concrete links to the six original killings. Two of the women targeted at the Texas shops died. The third survived.

The killer has not resurfaced.

‘Such a shock’

The day of the Wichita killings, Patricia Smith and Patricia Magers had stayed past the typical 6 o’clock closing time at La’ Bride d’Elegance and Sir Knight Tuxedo and Formal Wear, adjacent shops at 4613 E. Kellogg and 4609 E. Kellogg. The women were waiting on a male customer who had called ahead and arranged to pick up a cummerbund after hours.

Magers and her husband had bought the store in February 1991. “But it was primarily for her,” said Mark Magers, now 55.

“She really enjoyed working with the customers and the bridal environment.”

Smith, a nursing student at Wichita State who had plans to eventually pursue pediatric care, had worked there as a bridal consultant. She and Norman Smith had been married nine months.

“I was expecting Trish home at 6:15 that night. I waited and she didn’t show up,” Norman Smith, 50, said. “I thought maybe she had a late customer, so I called the store and there was no answer.”

Smith said he tried calling again around 7 but when no one picked up, “I knew something was wrong.”

Mark Magers said he also tried unsuccessfully to reach his wife by phone that evening.

At some point after 6 p.m., police think the women opened the door to a man who they thought was the customer. He ushered Patricia Smith and Patricia Magers into a back room of the bridal shop that served as a work area and office. There the man shot both women in the back of the head with a .22-caliber semi-automatic firearm.

The man stole cash from the register and walked away but not before a brief confrontation with the original customer due to the arrive at the store. That customer later provided law enforcement with descriptions used to draw a composite sketch of the killer.

Police found Magers dead and Smith mortally wounded more than an hour later when the customer called 911 to say he had seen an armed man approaching the store.

Smith was taken to St. Joseph hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

“I touched her hand as she lay there on the table,” her father, Bob Trendel, said, recalling the minutes after he arrived at the hospital. “I told her everything would be all right.”

Police interviewed both of the victims’ husbands, Norman Smith and Mark Magers, after they each drove to the crime scene that Saturday night, but quickly concluded neither was connected to the slaying.

“The whole incident was such a shock. Within days after, they (police) had already associated this with a serial killer,” Mark Magers said.

“I guess I wasn’t all that surprised because I couldn’t imagine anybody would target a wedding store locally. … As the number of victims kept rolling in, it just became that more horrific.”

Still out there?

Mark Magers said he reopened the bridal shop shortly after the murders, only to sell it five months later. He never remarried.

“We had an absolute textbook marriage. We were best friends,” he said of his wife.

“It actually took me about 13 years to fully accept and get through the grieving. I really haven’t moved on … but I’m not haunted anymore.”

He said he harbors no ill feelings toward law enforcement for not catching Patricia’s killer.

“The guy may still be out there. … All it takes is one person to make the connection and call Crime Stoppers or police or somebody.

“If he’s still out there, all he has to do is slip up once … and they (police) will make the connection.”

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