Weeks after residents of a Kansas City, Missouri neighborhood said they complained to police that Black women were missing, authorities are facing community backlash after a Black woman says a White man held her captive.
A 22-year-old woman, identified by police in court in a probable cause form as T.J., escaped on Oct. 7 from the Excelsior Springs, Missouri, home of Timothy Marrion Haslett, Jr. – a man whom she accuses of kidnapping and raping her after he “picked her up” in Kansas City in early September.
Excelsior Springs is part of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
“It was readily apparent that she had been held against her will for a significant period of time,” Lt. Ryan Dowdy of the Excelsior Springs police told reporters outside Haslett’s home. He said investigators are still processing evidence taken from Haslett’s home and that the investigation is ongoing.
According to the probable cause form, T.J. said she escaped from a room in the man’s basement. Haslett’s neighbors told KMBC and KCTV that TJ went to multiple homes to seek help while Haslett took his child to school. T.J. also said there were other women, but police have found no evidence of others so far.
The woman’s escape comes weeks after community leaders said they told authorities that they believed a potential predator was targeting Black women in the Kansas City area. Authorities from the Kansas City Police Department initially called the reports of a serial killer targeting Black women “completely unfounded,” according to a statement published by the Kansas City Star newspaper.
T.J. was wearing latex lingerie, a metal collar with a padlock, and had duct tape around her neck when she escaped, according to the probable cause form.
Lisa Johnson, a neighbor of Haslett whom T.J. encountered during her escape, told KMBC that T.J. feared Haslett would kill them if she called the police. Johnson told affiliate KCTV she called police after TJ ran to another home for help. Ciara Tharp told CNN affiliate KCTV that her grandmother let T.J. in when she came to her house for help.
Tharpe says once her grandmother let T.J. inside, she said that Haslett had kidnapped her and killed her friends, according to KCTV. The probable cause form identifies the woman who contacted police as Lisa Cashatt. Cadaver dogs were seen searching Haslett’s backyard, KMBC reports, but investigators have yet to find other missing people in the man’s home.
“We have no further victims that we are aware of at this specific moment in time,” Dowdy told CNN affiliate KCTV. “She made mention of other victims, but there’s no signs of them at this time that we have found.”
Haslett was arrested on Oct. 7 and was charged with first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault. He’s being held on a $500,000 bond. His bail reduction hearing was originally scheduled for Tuesday but has been postponed to Nov. 8 per his attorney’s request. Haslett’s public defender told CNN they have no comment.
“We know certain things because we have charged an individual in this horrific crime but by no means do I know all the details,” Robert Sanders, Clay County, Missouri, Prosecuting Attorney told to CNN affiliate KMBC. “We need more information.”
The Kansas City Police Department said that “in September we were made aware of a social media post claiming there had been four black women murdered in Kansas City and three black women missing from 85th Street/Prospect Avenue. To date, we have had no reports of missing black females from that area.”
“In order to begin a missing persons investigation, someone would need to file a report with our department identifying the missing party,” said the Excelsior Springs Police Department in a statement to CNN.
The department said it has activated the Clay County Investigative Squad Task Force, which includes members from other local law enforcement organizations, for its ongoing criminal investigation.
But residents and missing persons advocates say T.J.’s account of what happened to her, and Haslett’s arrest, underscore the indifference by some in law enforcement when it comes to reports of missing Black people.
Bishop Tony Caldwell was among the community leaders who first raised concerns about missing Black women in the Kansas City area. Caldwell has been serving the community for years and said that T.J.’s case is part of a much larger problem of Black people being abducted and written off by law enforcement.
“If that young lady would not have escaped, we wouldn’t be talking today,” Caldwell told CNN. He said that when family and friends come forward and tell authorities that their loved ones are missing, they’re often written off as ‘runaways’ and not taken seriously.
Ryan Sorrell, founder of the Kansas City Defender digital news site says police wrote off their reporting of community concerns as rumors.
“Rumors is really a demeaning and almost dehumanizing way for the police to respond to the situation,” Sorrell told CNN, adding the most vulnerable people often don’t have people who can file a formal missing person’s report for them.
“For them to simply say, if you don’t have a formal police report filed in your name, then you don’t matter. That’s what we think is really the worst and most horrific aspect of this situation,” Sorrell said.
It is unclear whether T.J. was ever reported missing.
In response to the community members’ criticism, the Excelsior Springs Police Department also said, “We have checked with law enforcement agencies in the Kansas City metropolitan area and there are no current missing persons reports that correspond with the evidence examined so far in this investigation.”
But Justice Gaston, a local Kansas City activist told CNN she’s not shocked by the police response to community concerns.
“It does not surprise me that we went [to police] and were ignored once again,” she said.
Caldwell told CNN that on Monday night, Kansas City area community leaders met for five hours with residents to discuss their anger about the case and what they perceive as law enforcement’s indifference and the vulnerability of Black women and girls. He told CNN that about 50 people attended the meeting.
He said community leaders don’t want to be perceived as attacking the police. But more important to them than avoiding that perception is knowing that their concerns are taken seriously by law enforcement.
“We need cooperation [from law enforcement] to get people home. We can argue over terminology all day long, but we gotta get people home safe.”
There’s ‘no sense of urgency,’ activist says
Caldwell said he and other community leaders’ concerns were dismissed by authorities when they initially alleged that young women were being abducted from Prospect Avenue, an area of Kansas City notorious for sex workers. Caldwell said that most of the women working in that area are Black.
“They don’t talk to the police department because the police never believe them, or they believe that the police aren’t gonna do anything about it,” Caldwell told CNN, adding that police never go to Prospect Avenue to investigate missing person reports but instead frequently visit the area to make arrests for prostitution.
While TJ said she was kidnapped by Haslett near Prospect Avenue, CNN has not been able to ascertain if she was a sex worker.
When reached by CNN about the concerns raised by Caldwell and others, the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) said, “we respond every day to Prospect Avenue for calls for service.”
KCPD also said the department will continue to be responsive to community concerns and incidents that are reported to them. They encourage the public to report any missing person so their circumstances can be investigated.
Caldwell said it’s time authorities take reports of missing women seriously, even if the person reporting it has limited information about them.
“People use street names all the time, and just because you don’t have 99% of the information about a person doesn’t mean that they’re still not worthy of being looked for,” Caldwell said.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder and CEO of the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., agreed with the sentiment that law enforcement isn’t taking these cases as seriously as they should.
“Quite frankly, there’s no sense of urgency in finding them, because there’s the perception that they ran away. So, whatever happens to him or her, they brought it on themselves,” Wilson told CNN.
“And when it’s adults, law enforcement likes to associate their disappearance with some sort of criminal activity, and it really desensitizes and dehumanizes the fact that these are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. They are valuable members of our community, and they deserve the same resources in finding them.”
Despite only making up 13% of the United States population, Black people comprise 34% of missing person cases in 2021, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.