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More pleas expected in 2018 carnival murders
new_re_Muder_Michael Fowler Jr. Mug.jpg
Michael Fowler

Some of the defendants charged in connection with the 2018 murders of an elderly couple at the Barton County Fair had status hearings last week in Barton County District Court and more hearings are scheduled for July and August. The cases stem from the murders of Alfred “Sonny” Carpenter and his wife Pauline Carpenter, a Wichita couple in their late 70s who were vendors at the fair and were killed July 14, 2018.

Investigators believe carnival workers killed the Carpenters, who sold crafts, jewelry, purses and other handmade items during the fair. The suspects allegedly used the couple’s recreational vehicle to drive the bodies 320 miles to Van Buren, Arkansas. Their bodies were found on July 16, 2018, next to a creek bed outside the small community of Natural Dam in the Ozark National Forest.

Probable cause affidavits and sworn testimony in the case were sealed last December by Barton County District Judge Scott McPherson. District Judge Steve Johnson was later assigned to the case, which has mostly been handled via telephone conference calls with the judge, defense attorneys and attorneys from the office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Possible motive

Authorities suggested the motive behind the killings was robbery, but the police in Van Buren, Arkansas, also said Michael Fowler Jr. reportedly told investigators that he thought the killings were an initiation into the “carnival mafia,” a group they said doesn’t actually exist. Van Buren police said Kimberly Younger posed as a carnival mafia member named “Frank Zaitchik” and texted others to kill the Carpenters.

Five suspects implicated

Michael Fowler Jr., 54, from Sarasota, Fla., entered a guilty plea in March to two counts of first-degree, premeditated murder. In exchange for the plea, a charge of capital murder was dismissed.

Still facing capital murder charges are Kimberly Younger, 52, from McIntosh, Fla., and Rusty Frasier, 35, from Aransas Pass, Texas. Two suspects facing lesser charges are Christine Tenney, 38, Santa Fe, Texas, and Thomas Drake, 31, Van Buren, Ark.

The following updates to the cases are on file at the Barton County Courthouse:

Michael Fowler Jr. - He has not yet been sentenced and a status hearing is set for 2 p.m. on July 15. 

Rusty L. Frasier - A status hearing was held Tuesday, June 18. The parties have requested a continuance, which was granted, as parties work on plea negotiations. The next status hearing will be at 10 a.m. July 8 via telephone. In addition to a charge of capital murder or the alternative of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder, he is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree, premeditated murder.

Kimberly Younger - A status hearing was scheduled for June 18 and the parties requested a continuance. Judge Johnson granted that continuance and scheduled a hearing via telephone for Aug. 20.

An earlier development in her case came last February when the defense filed a motion objecting to the State’s intention to seek a warrant for her to submit a handwriting sample that can be examined for a forensic handwriting comparison. In addition to a charge of capital murder or the alternative of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder, she is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree, premeditated murder with Fowler and with solicitation to commit premeditated, first-degree murder by allegedly “commanding, encouraging or requesting” Fowler to commit the crime. She’s also charged with theft of the Carpenters’ Dodge Ram truck with attached camper and trailer.

Thomas D. Drake - In May, a report was filed by an employee at The Center for Counseling and Consultation in Great Bend, which concluded Drake is not competent to stand trial. The State filed an objection and Judge Johnson agreed in June to order a second evaluation by the High Plains Mental Health Center in Hays. Drake is charged with three counts of obstructing apprehension as the state alleges he assisted Fowler, Frasier and Younger while knowing they had committed first-degree murder.

Christine M. Tenney - She entered a plea on May 14 and is in custody at the Ellsworth County Jail. She waived a preliminary hearing before Judge Johnson and her plea was to three counts of obstructing apprehension (of Fowler, Frasier and Younger) and to one count of aggravated robbery. The case was scheduled for a status review on June 18 and her attorney asked for a new date. The parties have agreed that sentencing will be delayed until the resolution of other cases involving her codefendants. Tenney had agreed to pay restitution as ordered and to cooperate fully and testify truthfully.