Man Killer

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

Hughes says officers found no signs of a stranger inside or outside the Prewitt house. "It was a rainy night, and usually, an intruder doesn't wipe their feet at the door," he says. "There were no muddy impressions."

Officers did find pry marks on the family room door and a piece of wood missing near the lock. But Sheriff Charles Norman later testified that the damage appeared old.

On the afternoon following the murder, Hughes interviewed twelve-year-old Sarah, who says she told the deputy about hearing noises in the basement and seeing a light beneath the basement door as they were fleeing the house.

The Prewitt daughters (from left: Jane VanBenthusen, Sarah Lewis and Carrie Melton) all believe their mother is innocent.
Jennifer Silverberg
The Prewitt daughters (from left: Jane VanBenthusen, Sarah Lewis and Carrie Melton) all believe their mother is innocent.
Patty’s sister, Mary Longaker, and Patty’s granddaughter, Abbey Lewis.
Jennifer Silverberg
Patty’s sister, Mary Longaker, and Patty’s granddaughter, Abbey Lewis.

Hughes says Sarah told him the story days after the murder. (None of the police reports obtained by the RFT detailed conversations investigators had with the Prewitt children.) "Patty was good about planting things into her kids' minds after the fact," Hughes says.

At 32, Sarah says her memory remains clear. Thinking the house was on fire, she had bolted into the living room to rescue her flute. "I saw this light under the basement door," Sarah recalls. "I thought Dad was down there. I remember driving to the neighbor's house thinking Dad was in the basement fighting the fire."

The basement door was closed when they left, she says.

A week after the murder, when Patty's friends were cleaning the house, they took pictures of man-size footprints on the dirt floor of the basement. "They led from the window to a little room behind the stairs," Mary O'Roark Englert says.

Police later said the footprints were not there when they arrived on the day of the murder and probably belonged to officers who searched the house.

When Deputy Hughes read Patty her Miranda rights on February 20, she didn't think she needed a lawyer. "I thought only guilty people needed lawyers," she says now.

She talked to investigators for the next seventeen hours; only the first fifteen minutes were taped. Hughes says he didn't record the full interrogation because "the sheriff's department was on a shoestring budget."

Patty claims Hughes would scream at her, then another deputy would try to calm Hughes down. At one point Patty remembers saying, "You know, I've seen Starsky and Hutch."

"Hughes had a reputation for being able to make a rock talk," Patty says. "I'm the one he couldn't break."

Hughes remembers it differently. "Patty has a lot of charm and she uses it well. She gave me the impression that she was used to manipulating men. She thought whatever she did, she was going to be believed."

At her trial Hughes testified that when he asked Patty about her affairs, she told him, "My fire burns hotter than most."

Patty insists she would never say anything that stupid.

The trial began on April 16, 1985, in Sedalia. More than 100 people from Holden, mostly Patty's family and friends, along with Bill Prewitt's relatives, packed the small courtroom. One juror remembers Patty appearing stoic as the soap opera unfolded.

Jon Hancock, the son of the mayor who called himself Boss Hogg, testified he and Patty had an affair in 1978 and that she told him she wished Bill would die in a car accident. According to Hancock, she also said she knew where his rifle was and talked about killing Bill in his sleep.

Patty says she may have said something like, "Bill makes me so mad; I wish he'd just keel over and die." But she insists she was never serious.

"If I had a nickel for every man or woman who's having an affair and said something along the lines of, 'I wish someone would shoot that SOB,' I'd be a wealthy and retired lawyer," says Phil Cardarella, the Kansas City attorney Patty retained for her defense.

Hancock wasn't the only one who claimed that Patty wanted Bill dead.

Mike Brown, a former lumberyard employee, told police in the days following the murder that Patty offered him money to kill her husband. But eight months later, in a signed statement, Brown said Deputy Hughes threatened to throw him in jail if he did not cooperate with police. He also said that Bill was present whenever Patty made jokes about having her husband killed.

Brown was not called to testify at Patty's trial. But his friend, Richard Hayes, told jurors that he and Patty had sex three times in 1978. On two occasions, he said, her kids were home, leading prosecutor Tom Williams to say Patty had "neglected her children."

Hayes told officers shortly after the murder that Patty offered to buy him a lumber company if Hayes "got rid" of Bill. Two months later Hayes signed a far more detailed statement prepared by police. In it, he claimed that Patty told him Bill beat her and that his life insurance "would make her a wealthy woman."

Patty insists that she never asked anyone to kill her husband but concedes she told her lovers that Bill beat her so "they wouldn't think badly of me."

At the trial, Hayes admitted that an assault charge was pending against him when he made statements to police. Shortly after, the charges were dropped.

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