The night LeLand Capps climbed into a truck with his killers, he called his father from a pay phone outside a pharmacy in downtown Augusta, trying to find help with a broken-down car.
When the 18-year-old heard a busy signal on the other end of the line, he decided to accept a ride from three men in exchange for gas money.
Three days later, the 18-year-old Douglass man who shot Capps in the back of the head led law enforcement officers to the Butler County riverbank where Capps was killed over $4 in pocket change. His body had been weighted down with a 40-pound cinder block and dumped in the water.
Now, 28 years after his son’s death on Jan. 2, 1987, Augusta resident Everett Capps is awaiting word from the Kansas Department of Corrections about whether Billy Mathis will be granted parole.
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Mathis met with the Prisoner Review Board on Dec. 19 to make the case for his freedom for the fourth time. He is one of three men serving life sentences in connection with the first-degree murder of LeLand Capps, who law enforcement officials say was terrorized and pummeled for sport for up to three hours by three men, then shot to death to protect the identities of his attackers.
Mathis, now 46, has spent all but a few months of his adult life incarcerated over what many agree was a brutal, senseless crime. Records show he was ordered to serve two concurrent life sentences.
If granted parole, Mathis will remain under the department of corrections’ supervision but would essentially be a free man.
But to LeLand Capps’ father, 28 years behind bars isn’t a fair trade for his son’s life.
“LeLand’s murder destroyed this family,” Everett Capps, 70, said seethingly as he sat on a couch in the house he bought just blocks from the cemetery where his son is buried.
“Everybody lost the promise of living forever and enjoying life,” he said.
As he spoke, a briefcase full of yellowed newspaper reports of his son’s death, court records and dozens of letters to the department of corrections opposing parole bids by Mathis and his co-defendants John Beebe and William Horton sat at his feet.
The newest addition, a one-page e-mail to the Prisoner Review Board, which makes parole decisions, poses a question in closing: “Why is slaughtering LeLand Capps not enough to put and keep his killers in prison?”
Everett Capps said that each time one of the defendants is up for parole, he and his family are forced to relive the murder.
LeLand “had a personality that was so big. He could charm anybody. He wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Everett Capps said.
The parole process “is cruel at best” to victims’ families, he said.
“Mathis should stay in prison forever.”
Led to murder scene
The headline on a newspaper report dated Jan. 6, 1987, reads: “Informant’s tip leads to body.”
LeLand – a short, slender Pizza Hut employee who his father called “charming,” “a good salesman” and “too little to be in trouble” – hadn’t been seen by family members or friends since New Year’s night.
Keith Barnes, a former captain for the Butler County Sheriff’s Office who led the murder investigation, recalls that when LeLand’s mother reported him missing on Jan. 4, the boy’s family was worried, but no one feared foul play.
“There was nothing really to lead anyone to believe that he was really in danger,” Barnes said.
But less than a day later, a conscience-stricken 18-year-old walked into the Douglass police station, talking of a brutal assault, robbery and murder.
He mentioned the missing Augusta teen by name.
Stan Cox, a former Butler County Sheriff, said he was a shift sergeant working evenings on street patrol when a Douglass police officer radioed him that night, asking him to come to the station.
Cox said that when he arrived, Mathis looked distraught.
“When he said, ‘You’re looking for LeLand Capps. I shot him and killed him the other night,’ things came to a screeching halt.”
Later, Cox said Mathis “cried that night. It was hard for him to tell us.”
Cox said Mathis climbed into a patrol car and led law enforcement officers down a deserted road into an isolated oilfield about four miles southwest of Augusta. He stopped on a bluff overlooking the Walnut River and pointed to the clear, frigid water 20 feet below.
Submerged in about 3 feet of water was LeLand Capps’ body. A heavy log chain that had been threaded through a 40-pound concrete landscaping block was wrapped around his neck and knees. The block was secured to his chest.
“You could actually shine your spotlight down into the water and see the body,” Cox said.
He said authorities used a short-bed auto wrecker with a boom arm to retrieve the body.
“It was so cold when we found him.”
According to a timeline of events gathered from newspaper articles, court records and interviews with LeLand’s father and law enforcement officials who worked the case, LeLand Capps left his mother’s home in Andover before 9 p.m. on New Year’s Day, headed for Augusta. He drove to his father’s home to wash and dry his laundry, then stopped at a friend’s apartment in downtown Augusta from 9 p.m. until after midnight for a party. He left the celebration, only to return a short time later complaining that his 1967 Opel was broken down.
Instead of accepting an offer from the friend to stay at the apartment, LeLand went to a pay phone on the street below to call his father for a ride.
But a pickup truck carrying Mathis, 23-year-old William Horton and 24-year-old John Beebe pulled up. The trio had spent the evening driving around, drinking vodka.
They offered Capps a ride, agreeing to take him to Andover in exchange for gas money. The teen climbed in the truck bed.
“That’s where they concocted this idea that he had some money and they’d roll him,” said Barnes, the former sheriff’s captain. “So they got him into Horton’s truck and drove him toward Andover. Prior to getting there, they turned off on a dirt road.”
Frightened, Capps started banging on the rear window of the truck, Barnes said. But the men didn’t stop until they parked at an abandoned farmhouse north of Benton.
“That’s where they started beating the hell out of him,” Barnes said.
Accounts say that, motivated by robbery, the men took turns beating Capps with their fists and with a wooden club. When he tried to run away, Mathis tackled him and began delivering punches and kicks, Barnes said.
One of the attackers, Beebe, fired his .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
“He fired it about four or five times at the kid’s feet to make him dance, like some old western deal,” Barnes said.
“The kid’s terrified.”
Capps was ordered back into the truck.
He was injured badly enough that the men started “discussing different things about what to do with him,” Barnes said.
He’s going to die anyway, one reportedly said.
The group decided Mathis would deliver the fatal bullet using Beebe’s pistol.
After Capps was dead, the men stole change from his pockets, his wallet and the shoes off his feet. Then they weighted the body and rolled it off the bluff into the water below.
Barnes said law enforcement officials tracked down and arrested Beebe and Horton on Jan. 5, 1987, after Mathis confessed.
Sheriff’s deputies found the murder weapon stashed behind a headboard in a bedroom in Beebe’s home in Latham, he said; charred bits of Capps’ wallet and some of his clothing were recovered from a wood-burning stove at Horton’s home in Douglass.
Mathis later told Barnes he shot the 18-year-old because he was afraid he might be killed if he didn’t pull the trigger. According to Barnes’ investigative notes, Mathis also said he thought his friends “would’ve looked down on me” if he refused. “I just wanted to fit in.”
Capps “suffered for hours. He was frightened and scared and did not know where in the hell he was,” Barnes said.
He called the murder one of the worst he encountered and one that likely would have remained unsolved without Mathis’ confession.
He thinks Mathis should stay in prison.
“You get guys together that want to play with a victim like this and terrorize him, it’s different,” Barnes said. The killing, he said, was “totally senseless. The whole thing – totally senseless. Over four bucks.”
Parole bid history
Following his confession, Mathis pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in connection with Capps’ killing. Newspaper reports from 1987 say he testified against Horton and Beebe at their court hearings.
Horton pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting first-degree murder and aiding and abetting aggravated kidnapping; Beebe was convicted at trial of aiding and abetting first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.
All are serving two life sentences.
For Mathis, Dec. 19 marked his fourth bid for parole. Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections, said he was eligible for the first time in December 2001 but was denied because of the serious nature and circumstances of his crime, the violent nature of his crime, objections to his parole and his prison disciplinary reports.
He was refused parole twice after that – in December 2011 and in June 2013 – for similar reasons, Barclay said.
His online prison record, peppered with 72 disciplinary reports from 1998 to March 2013, has had no new entries for the past 17 months.
“Sometimes people decide they might want to change their behaviors and can and will do that,” Barclay said. “I’m not sure what’s behind inmate Mathis’ lack of disciplinary reports (other) than he is apparently behaving better than he had been.”
Both Horton and Beebe, now 51, remain in prison, department of corrections records show. Both have been up for parole before but have been denied, Barclay said. Records indicate they could be released as early as April 2016 if approved for parole at their next hearings.
Wants second chance
In response to questions posed by The Eagle in November, Mathis wrote a letter from Ellsworth Correctional Facility, where he is listed as a low-medium security inmate. His prison mugshot shows a blue-eyed, balding man, 6-foot-3, about 280 pounds with a furrowed brow and a full beard.
In the letter, Mathis said he felt sorrow over Capps’ killing but that he deserves “another chance at life.”
“When I committed my crime, I was 18. I’m no longer that kid,” the two-page, handwritten note says.
“I’ve been in prison for 28 years, so naturally I’ve gone through many changes. What hasn’t changed is how I feel about my case. I am and will always feel remorseful about taking another human beings life. I will forever be ashamed of that. I’ve taken from the Capps family, my family, things that can never be replaced. I can’t even begin to express how sorry I am for what I’ve done.”
But, he wrote, “I believe everyone should have a second chance. Am I ready for parole? Yes, I believe I am. I’ve done a lot of programs geared toward my release. Carpentry school, computer classes, mental health programs. And I’m currently in a mentoring for success program w/ an outside sponser. I have family support.”
Barclay said that if Mathis is granted parole by the Prisoner Review Board, he would be released into the community later this year.
He did not have information about where or when that would happen. The board is expected to announce its decision this week, Barclay said.
LeLand Capps’ father hopes the answer is to leave the man who shot his son in prison.
“I wouldn’t trust him around anybody I know if he gets out of prison,” Everett Capps said of Mathis. “He killed another human for the fun of it. He beat him and destroyed him for the fun of it. Him and two others. A young boy who had no chance. And they did it for the fun of it.”