Crime & Courts

Friend had concerns about Tanya Tandoc before police found her body

VIDEO: Police discuss Tanya Tandoc homicide

WPD Lt. Todd Ojile gives preliminary details in Tanya`s Soup Kitchen owner`s death. (Mike Hutmacher, The Wichita Eagle)
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WPD Lt. Todd Ojile gives preliminary details in Tanya`s Soup Kitchen owner`s death. (Mike Hutmacher, The Wichita Eagle)

Tanya Tandoc wasn’t only the well-known owner of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, a popular East Douglas eatery. The 45-year-old food guru also was a devoted belly dancer.

So when she didn’t meet fellow dancers as planned at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for a Riverfest performance, they went to check on her. Shortly before 6 p.m., three women in dance costumes arrived at her house in the 200 block of South Minneapolis.

Curtis C. Mitchell, a 47-year-old musician who lived in Tandoc’s basement, gave a reason for Tandoc not being there, said Twyla Smith, one of the dancers. But Smith didn’t believe Mitchell was telling the truth, she said Friday afternoon. She wouldn’t elaborate.

Later Thursday night, after the worried women left Tandoc’s house, Smith related her concerns about Tandoc to another friend and encouraged him to call police, which he did a little before 11 p.m. His 911 call led police to a terrible discovery.

About five hours after the women left Tandoc’s home, police found her body in the basement. She appeared to have been dead for several hours, from blunt-force trauma, Wichita police Lt. Todd Ojile said Friday morning.

The 47-year-old man told police he killed Tandoc, Ojile said. Mitchell, listed in the online inmate information as being 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, was being held in the Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder. He had a $500,000 bond. Police plan to present their case to prosecutors on Monday.

“I considered her my best friend,” a grieving Smith said Friday afternoon. “It’s a tremendous loss.”

By late Friday afternoon, TV news crews lined the curb outside Tandoc’s home, where people had laid fresh-cut bouquets and hand-written cards on the front porch of her red-brick home. They did the same at her restaurant at 1725 E. Douglas.

Although Mitchell reportedly told police that Tandoc was his girlfriend, she definitely was not, her friends said. One of them, Lalanea Chastain, described the relationship between Tandoc and Mitchell this way: “He was a charity case, and she wanted him out, and he wouldn’t leave. She had such a big heart.”

Mitchell, a guitarist and singer, had a drinking problem, Chastain said.

“But she wouldn’t kick him out because she didn’t want him to be homeless.”

As a musician, Mitchell had gigs around Wichita, occasionally with Tandoc. She played the cello. He once operated a guitar store across from her Soup Kitchen.

A little over a year ago, in an item in The Eagle about his guitar shop closing within a month, Mitchell said, “I may go back to hobo-ing.”

911 call

Ojile, supervisor of the police homicide unit, spoke to reporters Friday about Tandoc’s killing. He gave the following account.

Shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, police responded to a 911 call from a man who wanted them to check on a 45-year-old woman in the 200 block of South Minneapolis, near Douglas and Hydraulic. The man told dispatchers he had been unable to reach Tandoc for about 24 hours.

Two officers met a 47-year-old man who lives at the house – Ojile wouldn’t give the man’s name, but arrest and jail records identify him as Mitchell – and spoke with him for several minutes. After interviewing him, the officers returned to their cars. While the officers were still outside, the 47-year-old man called 911 and said he had killed his girlfriend, Ojile said.

The 47-year-old man then left the home, went to the officers and told them he had killed his girlfriend and that she was inside, Ojile said. Officers found Tandoc in the basement, and she was pronounced dead at 11:37 p.m.

Early Friday morning, the 47-year-old man was booked into jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, Ojile said.

Ojile wouldn’t discuss a possible motive but said it didn’t involve an argument. Police had no history of problems with the man at that residence, he said.

The man had lived in the basement of the home for several months, Ojile said. Tandoc’s bedroom was upstairs.

The man who had called 911 to report her missing was a friend, Ojile said. Several of her friends had tried to reach her throughout the day Thursday, and she had not shown up for work and was not answering her cellphone. Several friends had gone by her residence, Ojile said. Apparently, the last time someone saw her was Wednesday night.

Tanya’s Soup Kitchen posted on its Twitter account Friday: “All of us in the Tanya’s Soup Kitchen family are deeply grieved by the tragic loss of our visionary leader Tanya Tandoc. We know she was loved by many in our community and beyond and our hearts go out to you. We are committed to ensuring her legacy lives on by continuing to serve you with the same quality you have come to expect from her dream restaurant-made reality in Tanya’s Soup Kitchen. After closing for a brief time to mourn, we will reopen. Please come celebrate Tanya’s life, share your stories of her over a bowl of soup, and help ensure her vision continues for years to come. With much sadness and love in our hearts, Kelly Rae, Sarah O, and The Tanya’s Soup Kitchen Family.”

Contributing: Stan Finger, Denise Neil, Joshua Wood, Shelby Reynolds and Alyssa Scott of The Eagle

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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