As law enforcement officers in mid-Missouri conducted a manhunt Tuesday, relatives and friends of four men slain Monday night in Kansas City, Kan., gathered at the scene to mourn those they had lost. David Eulitt and Monty Davis The Kansas City Star
As law enforcement officers in mid-Missouri conducted a manhunt Tuesday, relatives and friends of four men slain Monday night in Kansas City, Kan., gathered at the scene to mourn those they had lost. David Eulitt and Monty Davis The Kansas City Star

Crime

Four shot to death in KCK; fifth killing in mid-Missouri may be linked

By Tony Rizzo, Eric Adler, Matt Campbell, Glenn E. Rice, Brian Burnes and Robert A. Cronkleton

March 08, 2016 07:00 AM

UPDATED March 09, 2016 02:14 AM

Update at 2 a.m. Wednesday:  The Missouri Highway Patrol says that Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, 40, who is suspected of gunning down five people, four of them in Kansas City, Kan., was arrested about 12:18 a.m. Wednesday in Montgomery County, Mo.

Serrano-Vitorino was found lying in mud on a hill just north of Interstate 70 outside the search perimeter. He was armed with a rifle, but no shots were fired.

“He looked exhausted,” said Sgt. James Hedrick of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

There is a culvert that runs underneath the interstate, but it was not immediately clear if that was how Serrano-Vitorino got across.

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The area where he was apprehended is near a McDonald’s restaurant and several motels near the intersection of I-70 and Missouri 19 in New Florence.

Serrano-Vitorino, a Mexican national who lived in KCK, is accused of fatally shooting four men late Monday night at his neighbor's home. He also was wanted in connection with the shooting death of 49-year-old Randy Nordman in Montgomery County.

Serrano-Vitorino is expected to appear later this morning in Montgomery County court.

A warm Monday night. A hail of AK-47 bullets. Four men killed, two of them brothers.

The suspect, identified by authorities as 40-year-old Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, drives past midnight, 170 miles east, away from Kansas City, Kan., into Missouri’s Montgomery County. A fifth man is killed. Police helicopters take to the skies. Dogs are set loose.

A manhunt is on.

Left grieving Tuesday in a tightly knit Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood were friends and relatives who, stunned and in tears, said they were as much in the dark as anyone over the question of why. What possible provocation could have prompted the killing of men described by all here as decent?

“I have no idea. I’m flabbergasted. The neighborhood is mystified,” said one friend agonized over the deaths of Michael Capps, 41; brothers Austin Harter, 29, and Clint Harter, 27; and a fourth victim whose name has not been confirmed and who was less known to those in the block near 36th and Oliver.

“This was a random act,” said Marlena Kyle, an aunt to the two brothers. “They were innocents.”

Serrano-Vitorino — who was charged later Tuesday with four counts of first-degree murder — rented a small house with his wife and two elementary-school-age children next door to the home where the four men were killed at 3036 S. 36th St.

Kansas City, Kan., police released a description of Serrano-Vitorino’s pickup truck after the killings. Police saw the abandoned truck later Tuesday morning on Interstate 70 near New Florence, Mo., about midway between Columbia and St. Louis. Forty-nine-year-old Randy J. Nordman, who lived on a road that parallels I-70 at New Florence, was shot to death soon after. Serrano-Vitorino is being sought in connection with the killing.

Little information was available about Serrano-Vitorino on Tuesday. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did say that he had been deported in 2004 as an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He was detained as recently as September after an arrest on a local charge, but was released on Sept. 14.

When last seen around 7 a.m. Tuesday in New Florence, Serrano-Vitorino was wearing a red and black flannel jacket, a blue hooded sweatshirt and possibly blue denim jeans. Possibly armed with an AK-47, he is considered dangerous. Persons should use extreme caution and immediately call 911 if he is encountered, said Capt. John Hotz, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

As many as 100 law enforcement officers spent Tuesday searching the rural area. Two helicopters hovered over the area. K-9 squads and two tactical teams from the Highway Patrol scoured the countryside. The search continued into the night.

In Kansas City, Kan., devastated friends and family, who scheduled a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night, simply searched in vain for answers.

The killings occurred about 11 p.m. Monday in the home of Mike Capps, known better as “Chainsaw” because of his collection of dozens of the machines.

If there had been any argument or grudge brewing between Capps and Serrano-Vitorino, neighbors said, they had no clue of it.

Nor could they think of anything between the Harter brothers and Serrano-Vitorino. In fact, neighbors said they thought that Serrano-Vitorino had only rented the house for about a year. In that time, he came and went, often driving his truck with a trailer attached. Neighbors said they thought he did solo landscaping or yard work.

They more often saw his wife when she walked the couple’s two children, a boy about 8 and a girl age 5 or 6, to the end of the block to catch the school bus. She would meet the children at the end of the day at the same corner.

“She just stood at the corner, just be there standing and waiting,” said neighbor Stephanie Crable, a resident for 31 years.

Those in the area who had dealings with Serrano-Vitorino said that he paid his rent on time and always politely. He was a good tenant. If he stuck out in any way, neighbors said, it was in how he more often than not would return from work and just stay in his home.

He didn’t behave oddly or threateningly. They knew of no reasons why a generally quiet neighbor allegedly grabbed an assault-style rifle and stormed into the Capps home.

A woman living close by Capps’ home said that she heard nothing unusual Monday night to give her concerns. She went to bed about 10 p.m., she said. She woke, shortly after 11 p.m., when one of her dogs began barking.

“I heard screaming,” she said. She described it as panicked, coming from Capps’ house.

“I didn’t hear gunshots,” she said.

By the time she gathered herself and made it to the front door, she said, ambulances and police were already on the scene. She saw Austin Harter, whom she knew, bleeding on the front porch of the small frame house. After police left the scene Tuesday morning, she was among the friends and relatives washing blood off the porch.

Relatives and friends remembered Capps and the Harter brothers as good men linked by their love of cars.

Capps was described as a father who loved his two young sons more than his own life.

“They were his whole world,” said Capps’ sister, Megan Capps, 30. “He helped anyone who needed it. He had a heart of gold.”

A man who lived nearby but declined to give his name said of Capps, “As a neighbor, he would give you the shirt off his back .… He always talked about his kids.”

Capps also had worked at an auto body repair shop for seven or eight years.

“He was the hardest-working guy, the most thoughtful guy,” owner Ron Butler said.

He said Capps had a tough childhood and was dedicated to making sure his sons had a better life.

One woman said she had known him since he was 9 and he called her “mom,” although they were not biologically related. She was too distraught Tuesday morning to comment further.

A friend, Cristi Beck, said she had known Capps for about 10 years. He used to bring her mother Coca-Cola Classic.

“I think he was a great man,” Beck said. “He was a man with a big heart. I love him and will miss him very much.”

Kelly Capps was once married to Capps and is the mother of his two sons, 7 and 3. She said they still had a good relationship.

“He was a great guy who you wanted to have on your side,” she said.

When a friend wearing pajamas came to her house late Monday night, she said she knew something was very wrong. “It’s just surreal. I’m just in shock.”

She had to tell her sons that that their father was gone.

The older boy stared straight ahead as tears ran down his cheeks. She is not sure her youngest son understands what happened.

“I told him that daddy went to sleep and won’t wake up anymore,” she said.

His boys adored him, she said. “He was just a big kid himself.”

The Capps family and the Harter families know each other well. Mike Capps’ mother lives in Kansas City, Kan., directly across the street from the mother of the Austin and Clint Harter.

Clint Harter was married. His wife is eight months pregnant. They have a 2-year-old child. They live less than two miles from where Harter was killed.

Neighbors there described Clint Harter and his wife as amazing.

Audrey Ragan’s mother, who suffers dementia, lives across the street from the Harter home. Ragan cares for her mother. Clint and his wife always waved happily, Ragan said. The couple on occasions would care for Ragan’s mother and even baked her a birthday cake soon after they moved into the neighborhood.

“I was dumbfounded,” Ragan said. “I thought, ‘We don’t even know these people. look what they’re doing.’ 

Kelly Capps said of Clint Harter: “He was the kind of guy who took care of his family. He watched out for his mom and brothers.”

A portrait of Austin Harter was less clear.

Said one neighbor, “Austin was a big tub of love.”

On Tuesday, both the Harter and Capps families spoke of their inability to pay for their loved ones’ funerals. Part of the reason for the candlelight vigil was to raise awareness of their efforts.

Anyone with information about the killings is asked to call the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (474-8477).

The four Kansas deaths bring the metropolitan area’s homicide total for 2016 to 33.