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Fair murder suspect pleads guilty
Michael Fowler enters plea Monday afternoon
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Accused murderer Michael Fowler Jr., center, is escorted into the Barton County Courthouse in this file photo from March 2019 for a plea hearing. Fowler pleaded guilty to murder charges in connection to the deaths of a couple at the Barton County Fair in July 2018. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Michael Fowler Jr., one of the three individuals charged with capital murder in the deaths of a couple at the Barton County Fair last July, pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree, premeditated murder and one count of theft in Barton County District Court Monday afternoon. In exchange, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office agreed to drop capital murder charges against the 54-year-old Fowler.

In December, three suspects were charged with capital murder in connection with the two deaths, and two others were charged with related crimes. The charges are in connection with the deaths of Alfred “Sonny” Carpenter and Pauline Carpenter, both of Wichita, at the Barton County Fair. 

Attorney General Derek Schmidt in December filed murder charges against Fowler, Sarasota, Fla., Kimberly Younger, 52, McIntosh, Fla., and Rusty Frasier, 35, Aransas Pass, Texas. Also charged were Christine Tenney, 38, Santa Fe, Texas, and Thomas Drake, 31, Van Buren, Ark.  

Wearing an orange and white-striped jump suit, a grizzled, soft-spoken Fowler with tasseled hair and bushy beard stood as Chief 20th Judicial District Judge Mike Keeley explained the plea and its ramifications. With his state-appointed attorney Jason Smartt at his side, he quietly uttered “guilty” as Keeley went through the plea, charge by charge.

Sentencing will be delayed pending the outcomes of the remaining cases. However, a status review for Fowler has tentatively been set for 2 p.m. July 15 following a pre-sentencing investigation.

The next court appearances for the remaining defendants were not known as of press time. Fowler, Younger and Frasier are being held in the Barton County Jail, and Tenney and Drake are being held elsewhere.

The crime

Deputy Kansas Attorney General Vic Braden, who is handling the prosecution, outlined the details of the killings. The state would make its case via physical, scientific and cyber evidence, as well as observations and witness statements.

Between July 11-14, 2018, Fowler, Younger and Frasier, all employees of the Wagner Carnival set up at the fair, hatched the plot to kill the Carpenters, who were vendors at the fair. They based this on “their vulnerability, the desire to kill and to obtain their possessions,” Braden said.

He said the plan early in the morning on July 14 was to have Younger distract Alfred Carpenter, who was outside behind the trailer. Fowler, who was armed with a knife and a 9 mm handgun, was going to come up behind him and slit his neck.

However, a struggle ensued and Braden said Fowler ended up stabbing Mr. Carpenter in the chest. The victim was dragged face-up into the trailer where Mrs. Carpenter was asleep in a loft.

Once inside, Mr. Carpenter was shot in the chest. Mrs. Carpenter was shot twice in the face and twice elsewhere in her body as she slept.

An autopsy indicated the cause of death for Mr. Carpenter was the stab wound, while Mrs. Carpenter died from the gunshot wounds, Braden said.

After a clean-up, the three took the Carpenters’ Dodge Ram pickup with the camper trailer and the bodies to Arkansas, where the bodies were dumped near the Natural Dam in the Ozark National Forest.

The most serious charges against the remaining individuals are as follows: 

• Younger is charged with one count of capital murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, one count of criminal solicitation and one count of theft. Bond has been set at $1 million.  

• Frasier is charged with one count of capital murder. Bond has been set at $1 million. 

• Tenney is charged with three counts of obstructing apprehension. Bond has been set at $10,000.  

• Drake is charged with three counts of obstructing apprehension. Bond has been set at $10,000.  

The defendants were held in Crawford County, Ark., before being extradited to Barton County. Fowler, Younger and Frasier are being held in the Barton County Jail, and Tenney and Drake are being held elsewhere.

Suspect reportedly posed as ‘carnival mafia’ member

According to earlier reports, Van Buren, Arkansas, police said Younger posed as a carnival mafia member named “Frank Zaitchik” and texted others to kill the Carpenters on the fairgrounds at Great Bend, where the couple sold handbags, trinkets and other items. They died on July 14, 2018. Fowler reportedly told investigators that the killings were an initiation into the carnival mafia.

Arkansas police also reported that there is no such thing as the “carnival mafia.”

Alfred and Pauline Carpenter