19-year-old called ‘person of interest’ in woman’s murder
Although no one has been charged with the Nov. 11 murder of Tonganoxie resident Robin Bell, Bonner Springs police have named a 19-year-old man as a "person of interest" in the case.
Bell, 44, was found dead about 3 a.m. Nov. 12 in the Dollar General store she managed in Bonner Springs, the victim of a brutal attack.
On Monday, Aaron Clark, 19, Bonner Springs, was charged in Wyandotte County District Court with felony theft in connection with a September report that $1,641 was missing from Dollar General. Bell remained in jail on Tuesday.
The charge is unrelated to the Bell's murder and the apparent theft of funds from the store during the attack.
According to police, Clark was a former manager of the store. It is unclear whether any missing money was embezzled over time or taken on the date it was reported to police.
Bell worked as his assistant manager until Clark left the company. Several weeks later, she was named manager of the store, which is at Kansas Highway 7 and Kansas Avenue. She had been manager of the store for about three weeks before her death.
A former employer of Clark's described him as "a nice kid" and "one of the most polite people I've ever met."
Clark has not been charged in Bell's death and police have stopped short of calling him a suspect in the murder of Bell, who suffered severe head trauma.
Investigators from the Kansas City Metro Squad - a unit investigating Bell's death until Sunday - executed search warrants last weekend in Bonner Springs and Kansas City, Kan.
The Metro Squad was set to turn the investigation over to Bonner Springs police on Saturday, but physical evidence was returned from the Johnson County Crime Lab. Based on the evidence returned, police obtained three search warrants that led them to Clark.
"His name came up early in the investigation, along with several other names," Metro Squad detective Jeff Cowdrey said.
Bonner Springs Police Chief John Haley requested assistance from the Metro Squad after Bell's body was discovered. A cadre of 14 detectives - including at least five from the Bonner Springs department - was assigned to the case and spent the last week sifting through more than 150 leads.
The squad disbanded Sunday.
Looking for a break
Although the Metro Squad no longer is involved in the investigation, detectives were optimistic a break in the case could occur at any time.
"There is a lot of physical evidence in Johnson County that has not been tested," Cowdrey said. "So it's possible that something could come up and blow the case wide open."
Officers discovered Bell's body Nov. 12 after her husband, Don Bell, Tonganoxie, called police about 2:30 a.m., saying his wife had not returned home from the store, which closes at 8 p.m.
After forcing their way inside, police found Bell's body in the back of the store. A police officer described the scene as "gruesome." Though an autopsy has taken place, investigators have not disclosed the official cause of death.
Officers responding to the scene found no signs of forced entry and had to break into the store to search for Bell. They confirmed that Bell's keys were found on her.
"We looked at that as a possibility that it was an inside job, but there are all kinds of theories," Cowdrey said. "Someone could have been in the store when it closed and she might not have known it or it could have been someone she knew."
In addition, there are other layers of evidence investigators have been sorting through. Officers said money was found missing from the store the night Bell was murdered, but have not disclosed an amount.
"We can only assume on that - that the robbery was used as a cover-up or the original intention was robbery and it went bad," Cowdrey said. "We just know that money was taken."
Metro Squad detectives expressed disappointment in walking away from an unsolved case.
"It's bizarre," Cowdrey said. "Here's a lady who is minding her own business, making an honest living and, by all indications, not involved with anything illegal, and she is murdered in her place of business. Not to solve it is frustrating for us as detectives."
Family in pain
The unsolved murder has also been frustrating - and painful - for members of Bell's family. In a press conference Thursday, Nov. 17, in Tonganoxie, about a dozen family members wore T-shirts with Bell's picture flanked by the words, "You can take us from her, but you can't take her from us."
"As you can see, we're a close family," said Don Bell, who's been married to Robin for the last nine years. "We need some closure."
Don Bell also expressed frustration with not knowing who committed this unthinkable act against his wife.
"I don't care who it is," Bell said. "I'd like to have five minutes alone with them." He added, "Basically, I just want to know why. ... Nobody deserves to get beat like that."
Bell said the T-shirts that family members wore Thursday will become a common sight in the area.
"You're going to be seeing a lot of them," he said.
The family also released a statement thanking area residents and businesses for their help - and encouraging people who have additional information about the murder to come forward.
"Any information is helpful," the statement said. "If (you don't) come forward for Robin, do it for the fact that she was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She will forever be in our hearts and minds and again we thank you all."