Crime & Courts

Sedgwick County killer charged with 1984 murder in Missouri

Martin Priest is being held in “low medium” custody at El Dorado Correctional Facility-South, records show.
Martin Priest is being held in “low medium” custody at El Dorado Correctional Facility-South, records show. File photo

A 57-year-old man in a Kansas prison for the Christmas 1984 murder of a Sedgwick County man is now facing another murder charge in Missouri in the death of a teenager who disappeared more than 30 years ago.

The prosecuting attorney in Miller County, Mo., on Monday filed a capital murder charge against Martin Priest, a court document says. The criminal complaint says that around May 16, 1984, Priest killed the teen, identified only as “T.R.,” by strangling her.

If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Prosecuting attorney R. Benjamin Winfrey couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday on how the three-decade-old case culminated in the charge filed Monday. Eldon police declined to comment. Winfrey said in the statement that he wants to “thank the hard work and perseverance of the officers of the Eldon Police Department (both past and present),” the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Jefferson City office of the FBI.

T.R. isn’t the only teen Priest has been accused of murdering.

Sedgwick County murder

Priest has been moved from one Kansas prison to another since being convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder in the killing of 25-year-old William Mayhugh. In 2011, Mayhugh’s relatives gave parole officials a petition with about 500 signatures opposing Priest’s release.

Priest’s parole was denied, and he is being held now in “low medium” custody at El Dorado Correctional Facility-South, records show. Priest is working a job within the prison, said Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Adam Pfannenstiel. As it stood before the new charge, Priest’s earliest possible release date is about seven months away, on Aug. 1. He could be transferred to Missouri to face the charge there, but it is too early in the process to know the details, Pfannenstiel said.

According to evidence at Priest’s trial in Sedgwick County, Mayhugh died of exposure after being shot in the head with a .32-caliber pistol. Priest also was charged with killing Mayhugh’s girlfriend, Freida Bayliff, 33. She was found lying face down on a broken water bed in her home on Dec. 28, 1984, the day after Mayhugh’s body was found in the Big Ditch about a mile from her home. The jury found Priest not guilty of killing Bayliff.

Then, in 1987, a Sedgwick County jury found Priest not guilty of murdering 15-year-old Katrina Cheely, who disappeared on her way to school in November 1984.

Priest spent three years in prison for the 1980 murder of a Missouri teenager, until that conviction was overturned.

Grim details in Mo. case

A police affidavit in Eldon, Mo., filed in court on Dec. 30 describes in grim detail the basis for the murder charge that Priest is now facing. The narrative begins on May 16, 1984, with a report to the Eldon Police Department about the disappearance of a teen identified as T.R. The report, made by the teen’s mother, said she was last seen leaving her home that morning on her way to Eldon High School.

Eldon is in central Missouri and is known as the Gateway to the Lake of the Ozarks.

Priest was the “live-in paramour of TR’s mother on the date in question,” the affidavit says.

One witness, described as a juvenile at the time of the disappearance, said that she and T.R. went to the Bass Pro Shop convenience store in Eldon that morning, and that as they walked away from the store, she saw Priest drive up and yell for T.R. to speak with him, the affidavit says. The witness said she saw T.R. get into the back seat after a second, unknown male let T.R. into the car. After the three turned left on North Street and drove away, the witness said, “she never saw T.R. again.”

From that witness’s information, police found the male passenger in the car, a juvenile in 1984, and identified in the affidavit as D.N. He said that Priest picked him up early that morning and that they went to the high school and picked up T.R. After they left the area, “Priest stopped the car and hit T.R. in the back of the head with a wrench, causing her to lose consciousness,” the affidavit says.

D.N. said he saw Priest rape the teen and strangle her, it says.

What happened next, according to D.N.: He and Priest took T.R.’s body to a local residence and hid it. That night or the next, the two took her body and buried it in an unmarked spot.

A records search shows that T.R. never got a driver’s license, never received benefits and never used her Social Security number or was employed since the day she disappeared, the affidavit notes.

Tim Potter: 316-268-6684, @terporter