Today, I’m going to tell you about a true story that has had a profound impact on my life. It’s not an easy story to tell, but I’m doing it in honor of Robert Kitterman, 43, president of the Grandin Bank; his wife, Bertha, 38; and their daughter, Roberta, 17.
I’ll recount this narrative in my own words, based on my own memories, and I hope that they’ll be delighted as they look down from Paradise. I also hope that the family members who are still alive feel honored, even if some memories are hard to deal with.
Keep in mind that the simple things you say and do can make a big difference in your life. Because it is the little things that are remembered the most.
Kitterman Murders : The kidnapping and murder of a local Grandin, Missouri bank president and his family were solved by the FBI in January 1973. The bank president was compelled to steal in order to safeguard his wife and daughter, but the thieves slaughtered all three of them. After a lengthy investigation, Dallas Ray Delay, Jerry Wayne Rector, and Lloyd Dewaine Cowin were named as the major suspects. Agents interviewed Rector and Cowin separately, and each confessed and admitted to the other’s complicity; both also implicated Delay. FBI
My parents chose to relocate from the city to a farm in 1968. Mom looked at properties for months until my brother’s wife, Pat, said that her grandfather had an 80-acre farm for sale. It was 150 miles away, just outside of Elsinore, Missouri. That same weekend, Dad and Mom traveled to meet with her grandfather, Mr. Wells, along with my brother Chris and his wife Pat.
When they got home, I’d never seen my mother so happy; she was acting like a kid again, despite the fact that she was 37 years old. He was 39 years old, and he was daydreaming about all the things he wanted to do. They intended to revisit their childhoods in a variety of ways.
Things were being packed up and given away before I knew what was going on, including my 200-comic-book collection. Even though I hadn’t completed my seventh grade year, I was saying my goodbyes to my pals at the Missouri School for the Blind.
I had a ride in the moving truck, which was my first time in a big box truck, and the drivers were fantastic. We stopped for dinner on Highway 67 just past Cherokee Pass. The burgers were fantastic, and for many years afterward, it was a must-stop on the way to and from major metropolises.
We were the first ones to arrive at the farm. What a shock! I thought I was headed to the New Jerusalem. The old house with the screened-in back porch and the door that is more affixed to the wall than to the frame. The house was filthy on the inside, with old, broken furniture, no power, no phone, and no running water. The wooden slat floor was uneven and scratchy.
Everything was unloaded into the barn, which was lovely and far superior to the home in my opinion. It featured five stalls on one end and a closed-in breezeway on the other. There is a large open hay store in the center. My brother and I would later take the belongings into the house.
The first day was spent cleaning up a room so that pallets could be laid out to sleep on. We cleaned the apartment up and moved in within a week. but no electricity until a pole and wiring could be installed. There was a cistern off the back porch. It was my job to collect all of the wash water as needed. Mr. Wells, some two miles away, provided drinking water.
We used coal oil lamps and a wood stove to cook for the first three months. We ultimately purchased gas tanks from McDonald’s general store, but for the most part, that was a backup plan.
We were able to explore the farm after we had finally moved in. We had forty acres of property that had been cleared. Old barbed wire and numerous broken fence posts keep people out. We had a twenty-acre wooded area behind our fields and another twenty-acre wooded area in front of the house.
A chicken coop, a canning and washing facility, and a tool shed were all on the property. Across the street was a tool shed with a lean-to for drying firewood. Across from the chicken coop and in front of the barn yard, there was a hog pen with a hog shelter. The outdoor toilet, a narrow cabin with a two-hole plank to sit on, was possibly the most essential structure.
The road was a hard packed mile of dirt road that we eventually covered with creek gravel, one trailer load at a time, which was not an easy task. We were smack dab in the heart of the Clark National Forest, which encircled us on all sides except one, where we were connected to Mr. Reynolds’ farm. The Roarks’ property was at the end of our road, where we stood in the heat, cold, or snow.
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The community has a kindergarten through sixth grade school, as well as a high school for grades 9 through 12. We traveled by bus thirty miles to the Grandin School when we were in junior high (7 & 8). And it is here that the story truly begins. Although Grandin was a small town, it had a bank that served the entire region. Both settlements were about 28 miles from Big Springs, Missouri, and 35 miles from Popper Bluff, Missouri, and were located in the middle of the two.
So I began my eighth grade year at Grandin, for the first time in my life, attending a public school. Diane and Janet, our next-door neighbors, and their cousin, Debbie Hall, had become dear friends and helped me prepare for the event. Brenda Eudaley was also someone I knew from church, though she was in grade 7. Her sister Janet was in high school, and her sister Diane was in sixth grade, so she went to Elsinore, but luckily for me, Debbie was in my class.
She was an angel who introduced me to everyone and helped me numerous times, despite the fact that she knew I didn’t perceive things in a positive light. Many people in my class stood out, and Roberta was one of them. I remember seeing her for the first time, with her long wavy reddish brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, a checkered top, and floral-patterned leggings. She wore spectacles, and as a child, it was enough to establish a bond.
At lunch, she approached me, extended her hand, introduced herself, and invited me to sit at their table. Roberta exuded a warm and gentle demeanor. She had a sharp wit and was one of the smarter kids. Despite the fact that she belonged to a significantly higher social level than me and my destitute family, she never showed it.
Over the years, I never saw her do anything other than nice, and I never heard her say anything negative about anyone. She never boasted about being the banker’s daughter.I collaborated on a number of projects with her, and she assisted me in study hall with arithmetic. She was the president of our yearbook team in my junior year, and she and I collaborated closely on the advertising section, which was my primary contribution.
I had met Robert, her father, a few times before because he was also a member of the school board. He has always struck me as a very approachable individual. My father was a hero to Mr. Kitterman, and when he died, he sat and grieved for a long time. I was aware that he had helped Dad and that they had built a bond.
On a Saturday, I recall us stopping to look at vehicles. Dad chose what he wanted and called him at home because the bank was closed. He informed his father to just give them a check and bring me the documentation on Monday. Then he informed his father that he could do whatever he needed on the weekend and call him on Monday, and he would be covered. I’ve never met a better banker in my life.
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I used to despise study halls in high school, so I asked the kitchen if they needed any volunteers. After a month or so, I received a call instructing me to report to the superintendent’s office. Laddy informed me that I had been added to the payroll and would be paid. In the end, I ended up working at the school for two summers. Instead of study halls, I worked in the superintendent’s office during my sophomore year and continued to do so until my mid-year graduation in 1973.
I had all of my required credits plus some in 1973, so I just had two classes, which I only attended on pretest and test days. In the office, I worked. Laddy came out to me one morning and asked if I could make a run to the bank for him. I was now frequently running errands for him and the school. I was in charge of delivering all of the teacher’s checks to individuals who needed to sign them, such as Mr. McDowell.
I’d either use the school’s Ed car or Laddy’s personal car, a Buick Firebird that I like driving about in. Every two weeks, I’d pick up his wife from school, take her to the beauty salon, and then pick her up and drive her home. That freed up time for me to frequent Kelly’s, our lone hamburger shop.
As I was getting ready to depart this morning, Laddy stated he had changed his mind and wanted to talk about some school matters. The call from him arrived in the office around 45 minutes later. He was in disbelief and didn’t make much sense. Mr. Kitterman raced out and nearly knocked him down as he headed into the bank.
He had to rush home after saying something about them holding his wife and daughter. Don’t follow me, he said. So Laddy proceeded to the bank, where he was informed that money had been stolen and that they should not contact the Sheriff. I dashed across the hall and grabbed the principal, who dialed a number.
We didn’t find out till later that the three had been kidnapped and murdered in the woods. The other two siblings were contacted by the principal, and I’m not sure how that was handled. We were all taken aback. Roberta told me she was going home for lunch, and I had no idea how awful things were at the time.
Murder struck our peaceful little town in a heartbreaking way. My heart broke more than just a little when I saw a photo of them killed bound to trees in the press. I can’t imagine what her boyfriend and a friend of mine, as well as her two sisters, were going through.
The manhunts began, and lines of men armed with long rifles formed, the hunters not pursuing deer but three assassins. I’m grateful that law enforcement was the only one that found them.
The tragedy has left an indelible mark on those of us who were her classmates and friends. We had lost others before, but none were as cruel or ruthless as this one.
So, as I close this, I’d like to state that no words could do justice to the beautiful friends who were taken from our community. Each of us had our own personal recollections, but mine will always be of her stretching out her hand with a grin and saying, “I’m Roberta, come sit at our table.”
Credit By Rich Puckett
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