Man Killer

Did Patty Prewitt pump two bullets into her husband's head? It is a mystery that has lingered for twenty years.

But the Prewitt kids say their parents seldom fought. "They danced in the grocery store," recalls Jane, who was fourteen when her dad was killed.

On the morning of February 18, 1984, Cliff Gustin awoke at 3:50 to the sound of someone banging on his front door. Patty Prewitt was standing in the rain with her kids in her arms, frantically screaming. "Somebody pulled me out of bed," she told her neighbor. "I think Bill's been hurt."

When Gustin arrived at the Prewitt home with the Holden police chief and two reserve officers, they bounded upstairs and found Bill Prewitt dead. He was lying on his side, blankets up to his chest, and his head, shoulders and face covered in blood.

Patty’s friend, Mary O’Roark Englert, believes Patty is 
the victim of shoddy police work.
Jennifer Silverberg
Patty’s friend, Mary O’Roark Englert, believes Patty is the victim of shoddy police work.
Patty’s mother, Ann Slaughter, and Ann’s husband, 
Frank, raised the kids after Patty was sent to prison.
Jennifer Silverberg
Patty’s mother, Ann Slaughter, and Ann’s husband, Frank, raised the kids after Patty was sent to prison.

They tried the lights but they didn't work. At 4:29 a.m., Gustin flipped the main switch on the breaker box to "on." A police report said the electric clock in the house was one hour and ten minutes slow -- which meant someone threw the circuit breaker off at 3:19 a.m.

When Gustin restored the power, the lights came on in the dining room, at the top of the stairs and in the basement. At Patty's trial, Gustin, a former police officer, testified that the basement door was open. He said no one searched the house for an intruder.

When Deputy Hughes first talked to Patty on the morning of February 18, she was wearing a red coat over white pajamas and had seven cuts on her neck. "When I saw the marks on her neck, I thought, 'That looks like she did it looking in the mirror with a razor blade,'" recalls Hughes, now a private detective in Wyoming.

Patty told Hughes she had been awakened by what she thought was a clap of thunder. Soon after, she said a man pulled her onto the floor by her hair, yanked her pajama bottoms and panties off and held a knife to her throat as he got on top of her. She said she could not see the man because the room was dark.

At first, Patty told Hughes the attacker did not rape her. She now says she was sexually assaulted but didn't tell the police because she worried that her marriage would crumble again if Bill found out.

"I know it sounds crazy because Bill was dead, but he wasn't dead to me," Patty says. "I was in shock."

When the attacker left, Patty said, she tried to wake Bill but he didn't move. "He was breathing kind of ragged, kind of rattly like a kitty," she told Hughes during the taped interview the day of the murder.

She tried the lights and the phone but neither worked. After checking to make sure the kids were OK, she ran outside to the truck and grabbed a flashlight. "I shined it on Bill and there was blood down the mattress and on down the dust ruffle and I knew this was really bad," she related to Hughes.

That's when she woke her children and told them to get dressed because there was a small fire in the house. "The kids kept saying, 'Where's Daddy? Where's Daddy?' And I said, 'It's okay but we've got to get out,'" Patty told police.

She hurried her kids downstairs in the dark, helped them put on their coats and shoes, then rushed them outside and locked them in the car before running back inside to check on Bill one last time.

At the trial, Johnson County Prosecutor Tom Williams scoffed at the story Patty gave to police. "The defense would have us believe that she took the time to dress the children with Bill still hurt and alive and the rapist about..... I submit to you that is incredible."

At the Prewitt house, blood stained the white curtains and the ceiling above Bill's body. The shades were partially raised.

Hughes observed one gunshot wound above Bill's right ear. Officers later discovered two .22-caliber rifle rounds in Patty's jewelry box and a box of .22 shells in Bill's chest of drawers.

On Patty's nightstand Hughes discovered several Alfred Hitchcock mysteries and a novel called Murder in California, which he said was strikingly similar to the story he had just heard from Patty. Downstairs in the filing cabinet, he found Bill's life insurance policy.

Hughes later testified that he searched the carpet in the bedroom for hair because Patty said she had been yanked out of bed by her long brown hair. None was found.

But Patty's friend, Mary O'Roark Englert, testified she saw large amounts of hair when she dumped water out of the wet vacuum cleaner while cleaning blood from the carpet one week after the murder. If hair had been collected, it could have been analyzed for DNA using today's technology.

Englert says she also found a second shell casing that police had not recovered after a week of searching. On the afternoon following the murder, a deputy found one .22-caliber shell casing after he sat down on a wicker love seat in the bedroom and the evidence fell out.

Hours after the murder, officers also dusted -- unsuccessfully -- for fingerprints on several doorknobs. But they didn't look for fingerprints on the breaker box, a flat surface from which prints could have been more easily retrieved. The person who killed Bill would have touched the breaker box when he or she flipped the main switch at 3:19 a.m.

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