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Biggest (and best) busts

Scandals, crimes, failures and hilarity in mid-Missouri

December 17, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST

As Vox began romping through the archives in search of mid-Missouri’s superlative busts, we soon discovered that the best ones weren’t necessarily the biggest. Some were simply funny. Some were ironic. Others were jaw-droppingly dramatic. We found that small busts can sometimes make the grandest tales, so we included them alongside the national news-makers and the sizable stories.
We also realized that more happenings related to the word bust than we had anticipated. Sure, getting “busted” can mean you’ve been arrested or caught doing something forbidden, be it selling drugs or preparing food without the requisite hairnet. But one can also bust out of the slammer or bust a big glass window. A terrible loss on the football field is certainly a bust, as is any other utter failure. And, if you want to get literal, a bust can also refer to the torso of a big ole sculpture.
There wasn’t room for the entire list of our findings, but we’re proud to present the following selection. They might make you laugh, they might make you cry, and you’ll certainly be entertained.

Academic Hall’s fiery demise

The Mizzou columns stand on Francis Quadrangle bare of their building. Thousands see them each day, yet few know the tragic background of these ionic (and iconic) pillars.

Academic Hall, the precursor to Jesse Hall, was reduced to ashes on the ill-fated night of Jan. 9, 1892. As the Athenean Literary Society gathered in the building for an exhibition, the lights flickered, and an electric chandelier crashed to the floor. No one was hit, but due to faulty wiring, a fire quickly raged throughout the building. With an inadequate water supply from the basement and a nearby pond, the fire blazed until midnight. All in all, the firefighters’ performance was mediocre at best, and the six columns are all that remain of Academic Hall. Luckily, Columbia has a more responsive fire department these days. And Mizzou has a cool scar to flaunt. — Briehn Trumbauer

“Allygator” splish splash

Under Columbia’s dangerous exotic animal ordinance, residents can’t own bizarre, potentially harmful pets inside the city limits, but that doesn’t stop some defiant reptile enthusiasts from trying to do just that. In July, animal control officers busted a local resident for keeping a 4-foot alligator nestled in the bathtub. The owner, Aaron Sebacher, housed the reptile in his apartment off Nikki Way until his landlord discovered the pet, along with a boa constrictor, while checking for property damage.

The officers picked up the beast and transferred it to the Central Missouri Humane Society, where employees cared for the oh-so-lovable creature in a plastic pool and affectionately dubbed him ‘Allygator.’ After a couple of months, he was moved to the more stable home of a St. Louis sanctuary. Given Ally’s talent for upgrading his digs, the Anheuser-Busch mansion is probably next on the list. — Amber Wade Return to top

Bangkok Crash

Some people just can’t help themselves when it comes to Asian cuisine.

In September 2008, one such individual clearly couldn’t wait for his pad Thai. And he busted through Bangkok Gardens’ front window at 2:37 a.m. — with his SUV. The restaurant’s security cameras caught the blast, as well as the driver backing out and driving off. He later confessed over the phone and said he would “take care of it.” Here’s hoping that next time he gets a hankering for an eatery with an intended drive-thru. — Jason Scott

BCS balloon burst

In 2007, MU football fans and the college football world were in an uproar when archrival KU was selected to play in the Orange Bowl instead of the Tigers.
A week prior to the selection, the Tigers beat the Jayhawks 36-28 at Arrowhead Stadium. That win led the Tigers to the Big 12 North crown and to a date with Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game — a game the Tigers lost. The Orange Bowl selection committee cited this loss, (MU’s second of the season, the other also coming at the hands of the Sooners) as the reason for overlooking the Tigers. KU only had the one — the one MU handed them.
Jason Scott

Biden’s bumble

While campaigning in Columbia this past fall, notoriously gaffe-prone vice president Joe Biden asked former state senator Chuck Graham — a paraplegic since age 16 — to stand up to receive recognition from the crowd. Biden quickly rebounded by asking the crowd to stand and applaud Graham, but not before the press duly noted his impolitic slip.
Meg Wiegand

The biggest head on campus

The largest statue bust in Columbia is a plaster cast replica of the “Ludovisi Hera,” and she’s housed at the Museum of Art and Archaeology, says Assistant Director Bruce Cox. From up on her pedestal, she towers at 45-and-a-half inches tall and 16 inches wide, making her head and neck bigger than most dorm room mini-refrigerators. Now that’s a sizeable bust.

Lisa Appleton

Bustin’ out, MacGyver-style

During a 1929 holdup of First National Bank in Mexico, Mo., three robbers locked five employees and several customers in the bank’s vault as they escaped with $22,000 (about $278,000 in today’s moolah). But with dexterity and guile that would make Harry Houdini proud, the captives escaped from their prison using a monkey wrench and a screwdriver — items bank employees kept in the vault in case they were locked in during a robbery. Now that’s some strategic planning.

Meg Wiegand Return to top

Chuck Graham, “40 oz. to Freedom (Reelection Remix)”

Politicians get busted too, and those busts often haunt officials straight to the polls.

Former state Sen. Chuck Graham, a democrat from Columbia, was part of one such bust when he was arrested for drunk driving after rear-ending a minivan near his home in October 2007. Graham’s plea agreement cost him 90 days of restricted driving privileges and, arguably, his reelection to the senate. One bust leads to another. — Meg Wiegand

Columbia’s clueless convicts

It’s normal to question the morality of a criminal, but these villains are going to make you worry for their intelligence. Read on to learn five common-sense tips about what not to do when involved in illegal activities.

Crime tip #1: Make sure your victim is not an undercover officer.
In September, David W. Riley failed miserably in an attempt to snatch a man’s wallet at the Ultra Mart on Paris Road when his potential victim pulled out a badge instead of a billfold. The crook struggled with police and tried to escape, perhaps in an attempt to top off his wildly unsuccessful crime.

Crime tip #2: Cover your tracks, especially when lying and wearing a bloody shirt.
In 1912, Lee Moore murdered his mother and grandmother with an axe but neglected a basic lesson from Crime 101: Always have an alibi. Between the lies about his arrival time in Columbia, the blood on his clothing that he insisted was paint (good one) and his pending inheritance, Moore was, clearly, busted. His messy crime earned him life in prison.

Crime tip #3: Don’t pawn off expensive items from major corporations.
Marina Somers, an MU teaching assistant, tried to get away with selling 16 MU computers in October 2007. What she didn’t realize was that pawnshop items are put into a police-tracked database, complete with serial numbers. Somers was sentenced to five years supervised probation, but only after receiving a forgery charge for attempting to cash a fake $1,500 check.

Crime tip #4: Once you’re in the system, you’re in for good.
Johnny Wright might have a case of amnesia. After 33 years of being on the run for allegedly strangling a 23-year-old MU student in August 1976, he applied for a job and let a potential employer run a background check on his real name. Wright was apprehended earlier this year, and Columbia police extradited him from Georgia. (On Dec. 11, the Boone County prosecuting attorney was granted a continuance to locate witnesses. The next hearing is set for Feb. 5.)

Crime tip #5: Do not identify yourself in front of someone you’re about to rob.
James Grayson had an ingenious plan: He would pay for his videos at the Venus Adult Megastore and then steal the cash from the register with a fake gun. Unfortunately, he showed the clerk his real ID when he opened his wallet to pay before the failed robbery. The clerk remembered the robber’s name and was able to identify him this September. Busted, moron.
— Katlyn Keller
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Drug rocket men

The June 2005 bust of a couple crafty meth dealers gave new meaning to the phrase “failure to launch.”

A Missouri Highway Patrol trooper pulled over the two Kentucky men for speeding on Interstate 70 in Callaway County and opened the trunk of their Ford Thunderbird. Inside, he found two pounds of crystal meth — with a street value of $145,000 — packed into a strange cylindrical device. Thinking they could outsmart the police if pulled over, the two men had created a cigarette lighter-powered, drug-launching rocket that could theoretically eject the drugs from their vehicle at a moment’s notice. But alas, when the meth masterminds tried to put their ingenious invention to the test that day, they neglected one teensy detail — keeping it plugged in. As if finding the rocket wasn’t shocking enough, police also discovered three phony pipe bombs filled with more contraband and a bundle of $12,000. One of the men claimed he had earned the money from his $40,000-a-year job as a “chicken catcher” for Tyson Foods. (Priceless.) Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, though the chicken-chaser received a harsher sentence. He also helped to confirm a truth many have perhaps suspected: Drug dealing is definitely not rocket science. — Amanda Miller Return to top

E. coli surprise

As of May, E. coli could be found in two well-known locales: the toilet and the Lake of the Ozarks. The public, however, was not notified of the latter discovery until June, which means they spent weeks, including Memorial Day, bathing in harmful bacteria without being the wiser. And between the initial problem and delayed notification, someone was clearly going to take the public fall.

First to the chopping block was Director of the Department of Natural Resources Mark Templeton, who was suspended for two weeks without pay in September for failing to close State Park Beach No. 1. But he was reinstated in mid-October after it was found that DNR Deputy Director Joe Bindbeutel was really the one to blame for the belated public alert. (He confessed.) The official line from his spokeswoman? They didn’t want to report the information prematurely and harm the lake’s tourism business. Bindbeutel, a long-time loyalist to Gov. Jay Nixon, was soon fired (by said governor) from his brand-new high-paying post in Nixon’s administration, but the busting wasn’t over yet. Three more of the DNR’s top administrators were let go in late October, arguably for their roles in the contamination fiasco. Looks like the lake’s infamous Party Cove has a rival for most indecent exposure. — Amanda Miller Return to top

False alarm

These druggies thought they had it all figured out. Their home near Cosmo Park was armed with an alarm system, and if it rang, they’d hide the goods before any cop was the wiser. Flawless, right? Not quite.

Police responded to an alarm at their house one morning in 2008. The dealers answered and told the fuzz the alarm was false, but the residents’ shifty movements and nervous behavior were enough to get the police suspicious. Oh yes, that and the overwhelming smell of pot. Acting on such suspicion, the officers entered the house and found a gold mine of drugs, including 40 grams of marijuana, 1,800 Ecstasy pills and nearly two pounds of cocaine, 68 grams of which had been hidden ever so classily in a Pringles can. The police also found $34,000 cash and a gun equally well-stashed in a shoe. — Drew Deubner Return to top

Getting your kicks on I-70

In May, an intoxicated Stephanie Prestage of Kansas City got involved in a chase with highway patrol troopers. “For the fun of it,” she said. According to court documents, Prestage played a real-life version of bumper cars after fleeing the scene of another accident. She hit two trooper cruisers and another vehicle during the incident. It finally ended with Prestage’s Toyota Tacoma flipping over near the 120-mile marker on Interstate 70 right outside CoMo. But hey, at least she had fun. According to court documents, Prestage said, “The excitement was great.” — Jason Scott

Growing, growing gone

There’s nothing wrong with a little indoor garden. Having a few potted plants sprouting up around a living room can give the space nice ambience and make it seem alive. Having a few pot plants sprouting up in your living room, however, might be a bit of a problem.

A March 9, 2009 search executed by the Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Drug Group Drug Task Force investigated two houses and uncovered 450 live marijuana plants. The growers had, futilely, gone to extreme lengths to keep their potted plants from going to pot: Both houses contained elaborate false walls that were meant to hide the goods. Steven Maurer and Anthony Phillips were arrested in connection with the growing operations. Police believed the two houses were working together, which accounts for the simultaneous bust. Before his arrest, Phillips worked as a lawyer in Columbia, in addition to being a doctoral candidate and instructor at MU. Seems he should have known which side of the law to stay on. — Drew Deubner Return to top

Halloween holdup

Halloween is a dangerous night to be out. In 2008, two young trick-or-treaters were attacked when a gang of ruffians tried to steal their Halloween booty. “Give me your candy,” they said. After the 12-year-old victims reported the incident, police arrested three juveniles on suspicion of third-degree assault.

Apparently, the assailants had resorted to physical abuse with a rock and BB gun when the two boys refused to give up their goods. Although one of the innocents lost a tooth in the scuffle, they, thankfully, managed to hang on to their candy. The last Laffy Taffy was on the three attackers, who tried to make a Fast Break for it, only to be handed over to authorities. — Laura Li

Homecoming hopes deflated

Friday night high school football games are legendary, but no game is quite as important as homecoming, and in 1984, that match was a super-bust for Hickman High School. It was 8 p.m., and the Kewpies were ready to go. But one thing was missing — the other team. At a random truck stop in Wentzville, the opposing side’s bus sat with a flat tire for an hour and a half. Thirty minutes after the game was supposed to start, the team from St. Louis’ De Smet Jesuit High School finally made it to the field. That’s Bust Part I.

Then comes the sequel: What was supposed to be an easy win against a team with a 1-5 record turned into one of the all-time most embarrassing homecoming showings for the Kewpies as they fell to the Spartans 13-7. (That’s Bust No. 2.) And out of all the excuses in the book, the coaches might have used the most ironic: “We had to warm up twice,” one said. “When you have to warm up for an hour and a half, it hurts,” another echoed. And yet there’s that old adage that practice makes perfect. Bust the Third. — Victoria Uwumarogie Return to top

Identity Issues

A little bit of research might have saved a group of local hunters a whole lot of trouble. On the last day of duck-hunting season in December 2008, they shot and killed five trumpeter swans — a serious no-no in Missouri — when they misidentified a flock of rare birds in a conservation area southwest of Columbia.

The trumpeter swan, once on the verge of extinction, has since rebounded successfully enough to be removed from the federal list of endangered species. But, as these hunters learned, the swan is still protected under Missouri conservation law because there are fewer than 5,000 of them in the Midwest. Six of the seven hunters involved pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay $750 each in restitution to the Trumpeter Swan Society, as well as $1,118.50 in additional costs. They also had their hunting privileges suspended for one year; let’s hope they’re using their free time to brush up on some basic Audubon skills. — Amanda Miller Return to top

James Earl Ray hitches a ride

Missouri might not be the crime capital of the nation, but it was home to one of the most notorious jail-breakers of the 20th century: James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr.

Ray was sent to the Show-Me slammer in 1959 after holding up a grocery store in St. Louis. During his incarceration in Jefferson City, he attempted escape twice before making it out on the bakery truck (in a bread box) in 1967. A year later, Ray confessed to killing MLK and was sentenced to 99 years in prison, though he died before serving them all. While serving that sentence in the early ’70s, he again tried to break out, once by leaving a dummy in his bunk and once by cutting a hole in the ceiling. But those attempts turned out to be busts themselves. He tried his luck but failed again in 1977 when he fled during the chaos of a staged prison-yard brawl. And in 1979, he was busted while crawling along a wall underneath a camouflage blanket. Uh, James, just because it’s camouflage doesn’t mean you’re hidden. — Briehn Trumbauer Return to top

Ken Lay, “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems (Enron Remix)”

Remember that guy who oversaw the $60-billion collapse of an energy empire, cost thousands of folks their jobs and died of a heart attack before he spent a single day in prison? He’s a Hickman High grad and an MU alum.

Former Enron CEO Ken Lay’s bust legacy continued with his 1999 donation of $1.1 million in Enron stock to the university to endow the Ken Lay Chair in Economics. The university cashed in before Enron went under, but Lay asked for the money back in late 2005 and early 2006, first as a donation for Hurricane Katrina victims, then to pay his legal fees. The university refused, and Ken Lay still ranks among Columbia’s most notorious natives, even though the university finally convinced one of their own, Joseph Haslag, to take the tainted chair. — Meg Wiegand Return to top

The library’s traffic-stopper

The yellow beasts flanking the doors of the Columbia Public Library are shrouded in mystery. What are they? What do they mean? Did tax dollars really pay for those? (Thankfully, “no” is the answer to that one.)

Nine years ago, when the library was being renovated, the CPL Art Committee reviewed several artists and chose Albert Paley to produce a piece for the building’s entrance. With an anonymous donation of $240,000 and the approval of the committee, his sculptures, collectively called “Cypher,” were installed in 2002. They’re not symmetrical: One reaches 38 feet, the other 30, and their collective weight is north of 28 tons. Paley says the sculptures are meant to look like guardians and that the intertwining, twisty parts are meant to look like writing scrolls and tools. But anyone who can “decypher” that inner meaning deserves a gold star. Certainly some citizens don’t mind (and some like) the sculptures — the CPL even won an award for them this year — but they were a public bust when they were first erected. The Columbia Daily Tribune interviewed Paley in 2003, during which the reporter mentioned that someone described the sculpture as a “piece of farm machinery that had been caught in a tornado.” In a 2003 Vox article called “Open to Interpretation,” writer Jill Mosebach listed several local nicknames for the sculpture: Flying Mustard, Fire on a Stick, Jagged-Edged Sunburst, Projectile Vomit, Traffic Stopper and Moses’ Other Burning Bushes. And six years later, “Cypher” remains an eyesore for many. “I have no idea what it means,” says Columbia resident Mike Jacobs. “It looks like open flames. If I owned the place, I’d probably set an open flame to it.” — Briehn Trumbauer

Little Miss Moneybags

Imagine the surprise of MU officials when they found out $660,000 had been embezzled from the university. Christy Tutin, an administrative assistant in the MU Graduate School, embezzled the money largely through travel vouchers and work records for family members that she falsified from 1988 to 1993, sometimes taking up to $20,000 at one time.

One might imagine that the disappearance of such a huge chunk of money would be caught, and yet in August 1993, a routine internal audit didn’t even detect the missing money. But someone had a guilty conscience. Tutin turned herself in within the same month because some book-keeping questions (prompted by chance, not suspicion) made her so nervous. MU officials started to investigate officially in February 1994, and the IRS got involved in March. Not surprisingly, MU changed its monetary practices following the incident. — Lisa Appleton

Losing local bragging rights

Every four years Missouri throws on her bellwether gown and celebrates her ability to predict who will take over the White House, but she made headlines in 2008 by selecting eventual loser John McCain.

MU political science professor Marvin Overby points out that Obama only lost the election in Missouri by a relatively piddling 5,000 votes, but the Show-Me streak, solid since 1956 (and before that since 1904) was broken all the same. At least Columbia still got it right: Obama garnered roughly 10,000 more votes than McCain in Boone County. — Lisa Appleton Return to top

Mavericks: Doomed to fail?

John McCain isn’t the only maverick to have blown it. The Mid-Missouri Mavericks, a minor league baseball team owned by brothers Gary and Brad Wendt, was created in 2003 with the hopes of showcasing some sporting talent in CoMo. But this minor team wound up being a major washout thanks to uninspired efforts at MU’s Taylor Stadium and lackluster fan attendance.

In its 2004 season, the club drew a sad average of roughly 1,000 fans per game and had the second lowest attendance out of the 12 Frontier League teams. The solution for the unsatisfactory turnout and a three-year record of 92-186? A new stadium to be created at American Legion Park in east Columbia. Despite opposition, the plans for the $5 million construction were approved by members of American Legion Post 202, who donated 17 acres of the land to the city in 2000 but reserved the right to review plans for its use. In 2005, Gary Wendt announced team play would be suspended until the stadium was built. It’s four years later, and the progress is anything but a home run. No work has been done, as approval from various city agencies has yet to come through. With those plans stunted, the Wendt brothers looked to their other baseball venture, United Sports Equities — and filed for bankruptcy in January. On a happier note, a 2009 poll conducted by the Columbia Daily Tribune showed that if the team were brought back to life, 71 percent of respondents would attend games. But after the three-year circus that was Mavericks baseball, lets just say … they struck out. — Victoria Uwumarogie

A meth of fresh air

Some people have weird neighbors. But the neighbors who stay up until 3 a.m. practicing their Bon Jovi guitar solos and the families with mischievous kids seem relatively innocuous next to the truly bad ones — people enshrouded in clouds of hydrogen chloride gas.

In July 2001, law enforcement officers detected such ultra-toxic fumes emanating from a property on Old Highway 63. Inside the home was a pressurized container that housed a gallon-size pickle jar. And inside that jar was a half-pound of methamphetamine, for which the owner of the home, Ronald Jay Riley, was sentenced to 70 months in prison. A half-pound might seem small, but for a drug that can run up to $330 per gram, that’s quite a lot. In fact, it’s the most Boone County has seen in a single bust, which begs the question: Do you know what’s cookin’ in your neighborhood? — Drew Deubner

Millions gone to pot

Four million dollars is a hefty sum. That’s 64,615 Texas Bowl tickets. Or 3 million tall Starbucks coffees. Or 118 new luxury Mercedes sedans. It’s also what a Columbia marijuana ring had netted by the time it was busted in February 2007.

After a yearlong multijurisdictional investigation, Columbia police broke up what they consider to be one of the largest rings discovered in the department’s history. In the bust, officers snagged five suspects, confiscated 220 pounds of marijuana and found $10,000 cash between the two houses involved. Although a few dealers were arrested shortly thereafter, Eric McCauley, the man fellow suspects called the “master manipulator,” was on the lam until May 2007. He claimed ignorance about his federal warrant and involvement with the ring. An unidentified “cooperating citizen” tipped off police about McCauley and said the master had continued to deal hundreds of pounds of weed every week. In January 2009, a federal grand jury in Jefferson City indicted him and two other dealers for conspiring to distribute 1,000 kilos of marijuana. They also told the defendants to forfeit the proceeds from their trafficking — which totaled $4.2 million, a sum that could also buy 250 years of imprisonment for an inmate in the fine state of Missouri. — Drew Deubner

Missourian goes metric

Like a wannabe trendsetter whose new look is doomed to the worst-dressed list, the Columbia Missourian decided in October 1973 to adopt the metric system. Beloved by Europeans and science geeks alike, metric measurements — followed by the familiar feet, et. al. in parentheses — were used in all articles, from weather reports to birth announcements. Except football, of course. “In deference to tradition,” said the paper.

The Missourian boasted that it was the first newspaper in the country to make the jump, with the philanthropic intent of familiarizing readers with the system before the predicted nationwide conversion. But the crusade to go metric fell a few inches, or centimeters, short of reality. No one seems to know when the Missourian changed back to the customary U.S. units, but then again, no one can remember if 35 degrees Celsius requires a snow suit or a bikini either. — Meg Wiegand

Monkey Business

Being in the middle of field-and-stream Missouri doesn’t stop Columbia from experiencing a little bit of jungle madness. In September 2007, a Rhesus Macaque monkey bit an 11-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy at Stephens Lake Park. The bites resulted in a two-month man-and-monkey hunt for the owner and her feisty pet, at the end of which officials finally discovered owner Libby Brozovich of Springfield to be the culprit.

Meanwhile, this eccentric animal rampage landed Columbia in the national news when The Colbert Report mocked the scenario during its “Monkey on the Lam” segment. Nothing else says “bust” quite like humiliating national television coverage. — Amber Wade Return to top

The Norman conquest

If you thought this season’s 41-7 Homecoming loss to Texas was bad, get this. On Nov. 8, 1986, under the helm of coach Woody Widenhofer, the Tigers hit an all-time low when they were destroyed 77-0 by the Oklahoma Sooners.

Dubbed the infamous Norman Conquest, after the city of Norman, Okla., where the Sooners stomped the Tigers, it was the biggest loss in Mizzou’s then-96-year football history. It would be another two years before Widenhofer rode his wagon right out of town after racking up a 12-31-1 record during four seasons of dismal coaching. Luckily, today’s Tigers have yet to take a lopsided beating such as that. Knock on Woody. — Victoria Uwumarogie Return to top

Peeping isn’t always creeping

Smithton Valley Neighborhood is a small area of Columbia where noble residents have worked to keep the streets homey and peaceful, à la Leave It to Beaver. But for every noble Cleaver, there’s bound to be a few rascal Haskells.
During the summer of 1999, denizens of the neighborhood noticed some seedy goings-on at a house on West Worley. People were coming and going at all hours of the day. Theft was rampant. And residents soon found that drug dealing was the root.
They continually alerted the cops, who could arrest a few dealers, but soon more ne’er-do-wells would be pushing rock at the same house. Eviction was a result out of the cops’ immediate reach, but it was also the more permanent answer.
So in order to get them out for good, they set up their own citizen stakeout with the help of Columbia’s Community Action Team, whose function is to help with public services that the police don’t have the time or manpower to complete.
Capt. Zim Schwartze of the Columbia Police Department was in charge of the team at the time. “Its mission, so to speak, was to work with those long-term type issues in neighborhoods, such as drug houses,” Schwartze says.
So a number of neighbors kept track of all the questionable behaviors and shady characters they saw around the location. Between their careful observations, those of the Community Action Team and the cooperation of the landlord, the group got the detestable druggies evicted. And with support like that, the crack won’t be coming back, Jack.
Drew Deubner

The PlaigArena

When you’re an heiress to the Walmart fortune, the world is your 72-count, vacuum-sealed frozen pack of oysters. Elizabeth Paige Laurie must have been feeling optimistic about her prospects in October 2004 at any rate, when the new home of Mizzou basketball opened up and had her name on it.

The $75 million facility was financed in large part by Paige’s parents, Bill and Nancy Laurie, who donated $25 million to the project. (Nancy is the daughter of Bud Walton, who co-founded Walmart.) In return for their donation, the Lauries were allowed to name the new building, in addition to getting other concessions. They had already named a family company, which owns the St. Louis Blues, after their darling dear. It looked to be the start of a veritable empire. The arena was pristine, with more than 320,000 square feet, 15,061 seats and luxury private suites, not to mention facilities for the basketball teams, Mizzou’s Athletic Hall of Fame and a whopping 77,400 square feet of carpet. Paige Sports Arena, it was called. Has a ring to it, right? Oh, life must have been sweet for Paige as she cut that ceremonial black-and-gold ribbon. She got the longest applause of any during the dedication ceremony, even in spite of some people’s consternation about the fact that she never attended MU. She told the crowd that her love of film drew her to the sunny coast where she attended the University of Southern California. “I had to leave in order to study and pursue that California-based feel,” she told the adoring crowd. “And when I did leave, it became immediately apparent that this will always be my home.” But all the warm fuzziness died away only one month later. Applause turned to jeers as Paige Arena began to be mockingly referred to as ‘PlaigArena’ after the namesake was accused of buying her way through college at USC — on ABC’s 20/20, no less. On a nationally broadcast interview, Elena Martinez, Laurie’s freshman roommate, said that Paige had paid her a sum of roughly $20,000 over the course of 3-and-a-half years to do her homework. The Lauries relinquished their naming rights after the incident, and MU officials quickly and unanimously renamed the facility Mizzou Arena. Looks like Paige’s oysters must have been a bit spoiled. — Jason Scott

Playing with fire

Former Fire Chief Steve Paulsell’s later professional life was engulfed in a series of busts and scandals until what he called his “forced” resignation in 2008. Between an affair at the office and his questionably high paycheck, the “former” in the title is duly noted.

Sharon Curry began working as a secretary for the fire department in 1996. Within nine years, Paulsell had promoted her to assistant chief and given her almost $70,000 in raises. He soon became the subject of steamy rumors and would later confess to having workplace relations with Curry, whom he eventually married. Disgruntled employees complained about Curry’s position, and former Chief of Staff Rob Brown filed suit after Paulsell unlawfully fired five employees who had all previously spoken out against Curry’s treatment of other employees, their hostile work environments and sexual discrimination. While Brown’s and similar lawsuits ran on ablaze, rumors spread that Paulsell was wrongfully using fire district funds to take trips. When the Missourian requested the public documents related to his expenses, however, they had mysteriously gone up in smoke. The Fire District board also realized that Paulsell had received a $38,000 salary increase without also receiving the OK from the board, his pay then topping $175,000 and making him one of the highest paid fire chiefs in the country. The mysterious money was the third strike, and he was pressured out in November 2008. But that’s what you get for playing with fire. — Katlyn Keller

Putting tolerance on trial

Columbians might like to think of themselves as a generally forward-thinking bunch, but they weren’t all so accepting in 1948. That was the year that Emery K. Johnston, a 24-year member of the MU journalism faculty, was arrested with several others for allegedly heading a “homosexual ring” and hosting “mad homosexual parties,” according to newspaper archives. More than 35 students, as well as local businessmen and out-of-towners were said to attend the meetings, both in town and in a cabin out in the country. Johnston was officially charged with sodomy.

Johnston’s roommate and other arrested parties described the “unlawful” acts of Johnston in sworn statements. They called it a sort of sordid fraternity that met to “boast of conquests” and “indulge in abnormal sex acts,” such as watching Johnston with other men. And in a move showing the compassion that only late 1940s America could have provided, Johnston was fired within a week of his arrest by MU officials — before his trial had even started. According to A Journalism of Humanity, Steve Weinberg’s history of MU’s journalism school, Johnston initially pleaded not guilty but began to fear he would have to out other homosexuals in his own defense. So he switched his plea in an attempt to save them from losing their jobs or being publicly disgraced and was sentenced to four years of probation. That era was not, however, entirely without redeemers. The dean of the journalism school and other faculty members testified to Johnston’s worth as a professor in order to lighten his sentence and spare him jail time, thus proving that not everyone was so short-sighted as the curators. — Morgan Browne Return to top

Quin doesn’t win

Coach Quin Snyder had done it all: he played in three Final Fours under the helm of the iconic Mike Krzyzewski at Duke in the late ’80s and went on to be associate head coach for him from 1997-1999. In his first few years as Mizzou’s basketball coach, Snyder helped make MU a force in the NCAA, which included taking the Tigers to the Elite Eight in 2002. He seemed heaven sent.
Four years later, the Tigers were anything but “elite” with a sorry 3-7 record in the Big 12 and a next-to-last standing in the conference. Game photos of Snyder showed him screaming and moping. On Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, he “resigned” after failing to provide the winning season, solid Big-12 standing and trip to the NCAA tournament that athletic director Mike Alden said Snyder needed to keep his job. And he headed for the exits with a contract buyout of $574,000 in his hand. (He also left with some whiffs of other scandal in the air, including problems with point guard Ricky Clemons and NCAA gift-giving restrictions.)
Under the leadership of assistant coach Melvin Watkins, the Tigers finished the 2006 season with a 5-11 record in the Big 12. The NCAA tournament? Well, they watched it on TV with Snyder and the rest of the beaten and broken Tiger fans.
Victoria Uwumarogie
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Raining on the acid parade

In 1990, LSD was about as easy to buy in Columbia as a black-and-gold T-shirt. After an 18-month undercover operation dubbed Operation Acid Rain, the Columbia Police Department issued 24 arrest warrants. In the process of building the case, they had bought more than 4,331 doses of the drug with $20,631 of taxpayer money. It was the largest LSD bust in the city’s history.

Some of the paper tabs were decorated with Grateful Dead album covers, others blue unicorns. And many of the dealers got their goods at or around Grateful Dead concerts — the silver lining being that the acid at least did some service in helping thousands get through wandering 45-minute guitar solos. — Morgan Browne

Real estate bubble burst

From August 2007 through September 2009, there were 761 foreclosure sales in Boone County, according to the Columbia Business Times. And if the market continues this trend, they reported, there will be 295 foreclosures in 2009, the second highest annual number on record. In November and December 2008, as well as January 2009, pre-owned sales in central Missouri had dropped almost 50 percent compared to a year earlier.

Point being, last year was not the prime time to change house, and 2009 hasn’t been much better, so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if it ain’t falling apart, don’t move. — Kathryn Clark

Ricky Clemons, “Since U Been Gone (Missouri Basketball Remix)”

Former Missouri point guard Ricky Clemons propelled Missouri’s team into national headlines ­— for all the wrong reasons. Clemons’ claims to fame include a jail sentence for choking his ex-girlfriend, an ATV accident at former MU President Elson Floyd’s house and the shame of breaking the hearts of Missouri basketball fans everywhere circa 2003.
Following his antics, two coaches lost their jobs, Mizzou was embarrassingly placed on NCAA probation for three years and prohibited from off-campus recruiting for one year. Thanks for nothing, Ricky.
Meg Wiegand

Rock or not?

One of a musician’s worst fears is to step on stage in front of a barren, lifeless audience — or worse yet, to no audience at all. And when Les Bourgeois of Rocheport held Rocktoberfest in 2007, a wine festival with evenings of music and drinks, the event didn’t rock at all.
The vineyard and restaurant provided a free shuttle to transport people between Columbia and Rocheport, and on Oct. 6, not a single soul boarded the bus. The culprit might not have been the event, however, given that the concert was scheduled on the same day as the Nebraska vs. Mizzou football game. Let that be a lesson to booking managers everywhere.
Kathryn Clark
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See Spot fall apart

Sometimes Europeans just do it better. Such is certainly the case with mosaic tile artwork. They have pieces that date back thousands of years, while in the middle of America, a decorative emblem on the MU campus can’t hold up for a decade.

In Lowry Mall, a dirty tarp sporting the MU logo conceals Tiger Spot, a tiger-head mosaic with a 30-foot diameter that was made by local artist Paul Jackson from nearly 1.5 tons of Italian glass. After a hefty price of $180,000, Tiger Spot was unveiled Oct. 12, 2001. The idea of classy mascot art seemed great at first but later proved to be an expensive failure. The Spot continually sustained weather damage and required repairs. MU even installed a new $11,000 draining system in an attempt to keep water off the mosaic, but by 2007, some officials admitted defeat, and the Spot has been covered up indefinitely. The project took two years to complete and involved students, city residents and faculty members spending hours laying down 2-by-2-foot squares, which each took 15 hours to assemble using 1,800 tiles. Now, all the hard work has seemingly gone to waste. The lesson? Mosaic-making is Greek to Missourians. — Kathryn Clark Return to top

Terrorism in the heartland

In October 2004, federal agents raided the United States Branch of the Islamic American Relief Agency, which was then headquartered in Columbia. In 2007, the agency and five of its officers were charged for “illegally transferring funds to Iraq, laundering money, stealing federal funds, and obstructing tax laws by, among other things, falsely denying that a procurement agent of Osama bin Laden had been an employee of the charity,” according to an FBI press release. All told, it was a 33-count indictment handed down from the Western district court that lead to many subsequent court dates and appeals.

Lisa Appleton

That’s the way the cookie crumbles

A man walks into a Subway, buys a cookie and steals the cash register? Stirling J. Harris was definitely not a smart cookie on Oct. 26 when he waltzed into a Subway restaurant on Paris Road and attempted to do just that. “He looked just like a regular guy,” says store manager Jean Warford. “It was 3:30 in the middle of the afternoon. He bought a cookie, I opened the drawer to put the change in, and then he jumped and leapt at me, grabbed my hand and tried to take the cash register.” Warford then scuffled with him and ripped his watch off his wrist. “I kind of punched him, then he told me to back up,” she says. “I didn’t know if he had a gun or not, so by the second time he told me to back off, I did.” Harris then managed to wrestle the bulky register out of her hands, but Warford still refused to give up and chased him out of the store. After calling the police as soon as he escaped, they found him in 30 minutes outside the Petco Animal Supplies Store at the Crossroads Shopping Center. Certainly makes you wonder whether he would spring for a cheeseburger before robbing a fast food joint. — Linden Wilson

To eat or not to eat?

The health department reveals what many eateries wish it wouldn’t — all of their mistakes.

The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services categorizes these blunders into two categories: critical and noncritical. Critical violations are likely to lead to food contamination, illness or an environmental health hazard and need to be rectified within 72 hours of inspection. Noncritical is, well, everything else. Gerald Worley, environmental health manager for the department, says more than 10 critical violations, 25 noncritical violations or 30 total violations during a

single inspection lead to a suspended permit. But if a restaurant is brave enough (or dumb enough) to operate without key elements such as running water, it can immediately say goodbye to its permit with just one violation. The business operators are then forced to shut down until they fix their problems.

These visits happen two or three times per year, depending on several factors such as the volume of customers, Worley adds.
Click here for a look at some businesses that squeaked by during the past six months (and one that didn’t), along with some revealing spoiler alerts taken directly from the reports.

The toilet paper jailbreak

When one of Missouri’s less-famous jailbirds, Curtis Jones of New Franklin, tried to flee the Boone County area, a double bust ensued.

Jones had previously escaped from Howard County’s old prison in 1996 by shimmying through a hole in the ceiling, and apparently the guards didn’t learn their lesson. This past June, he was being held in the new Howard jail on suspicion of anhydrous ammonia theft, and he jammed the lock of his cell with a cardboard toilet paper holder to make his second breakout. Two days later, Columbia police officers responded to a tip of his whereabouts and chased him on foot before sending him back to the big house. Jones is now back in the Howard jail. This time, let’s hope the guards monitor his trips to the loo. — Briehn Trumbauer Return to top

X-rated journalism

Amy Maxwell helped put her boss in jail during her first year of college at MU. In fall 1990, police charged Tom Bradshaw, owner of Columbia novelty shop You’re Kidding, with promoting prostitution. Located on Cherry Street, the store sold costumes and delivered singing telegrams, the latter of which sometimes evolved into nude dancing (and more).

That October, Bradshaw hired Maxwell to perform for the Westminster College Beta Theta Pi fraternity. She reported to authorities that the job involved nudity and oral sex. And later, she and some frat members gave testimonies against Bradshaw after being granted immunity. He was given a five-year sentence but allowed to remain free pending his appeal. But he apparently didn’t learn from Felony No. 1. On an assignment from MU’s Professor George Kennedy, Missourian reporter Eric Dietz abetted the police in another arrest of Bradshaw by posing as a customer while wearing a wire. Another MU student at the time, Beth Darnall, made national news (and got a $150,000 movie offer) for writing a firsthand account of doing dirty work — such as topless dancing — for Bradshaw, and her published work was used as evidence against him. Their accounts, supplemented by explicit secret video footage police seized from the shop, earned Bradshaw a total of 15 years in prison. — Laura Li Return to top

Zero tolerance, my tuckus

When a politician prides himself as being tough on drugs, he should probably let his family in on the policy. Alex Ashcroft, nephew of one such “tough” former Missouri governor (’85 to ’93) and U.S. attorney general (’01 to ’05), John Ashcroft, was caught growing 60 marijuana plants in his Springfield home in 1992. For the number of plants found, Alex received a rather lenient sentence of zero jail time, three years probation and 100 hours of community service. (Compare that to a1993 incident, in which a Pineville, Mo., man had to serve two years in federal prison for growing 51 marijuana plants on his property.) But a little nepotism never hurt anyone, right? It’s not quite as painful as the hypocrisy, anyway. — Morgan Browne

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