Man Killer

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

After the judge denied Patty's request for a new trial, her lawyers appealed and Patty remained free on bond. For a year, the family clung to hope. Then on a Friday night in late April of 1986, the phone rang. Patty's appeal had been denied. "They said they could come and get her at any point," remembers Jane, who now is 35.

That weekend, "Mom and all of us kids slept together and she gave all us girls a necklace and the boys St. Christopher medallions," Jane says in a trembling voice. "I can remember Mom and I hanging on to each other as tight as we could all night."

In the morning Patty's father came in the bedroom and said it was time to leave. "I couldn't let her go," Jane recalls.

Top: Bill and Patty Prewitt with their five children in 
1979. Six years later Patty was convicted of murdering 
Bill in his bed while the kids slept nearby. She is 
serving a life sentence at the state women’s prison in 
Top: Bill and Patty Prewitt with their five children in 1979. Six years later Patty was convicted of murdering Bill in his bed while the kids slept nearby. She is serving a life sentence at the state women’s prison in Vandalia.
Jennifer Silverberg

On Monday morning Patty's parents drove their daughter to the county jail. The next day deputies loaded her into a patrol car, only to take her out again at the request of journalists who wanted to photograph her walking with her legs shackled.

"I will never forget that as long as I live," says Patty's mother, Ann Slaughter, "and I hate everyone that did that to her."

Patty was transported to the women's prison outside Jefferson City. In her journal, she wrote about being stripped, deloused and ordered to a holding area where her roommates included a biker heroin addict, a habitual hot-check writer and a chain-smoking killer who told stories about "the gruesome and senseless, Satanically inspired murder she had committed."

None of these women wanted to hear about "Suzy Homemaker and how she ended up in this Hellhole," Patty wrote in her prison journal.

Patty's children went to live with her parents on their ranch east of Lee's Summit. Sarah broke out in hives. The younger kids started wetting their beds again.

The first time they talked to their mom on the phone, after being separated for nearly a week, "they wailed and bawled so hard they barely make sense," Patty wrote. Even the prison guards were weeping when she hung up the phone.

Patty's parents brought the children to see her every month. In a trailer on the prison grounds, they could visit in a setting that felt a little like home. They all cooked together and played Trivial Pursuit and Simon Says.

On a visit in the summer of 1992, Morgan, her youngest son, prodded eighteen-year-old Matthew to show the muscles he'd earned working on a ranch all summer after graduating from high school. That was the last time Patty saw Matt alive.

He was found a week later, shot in the temple and wrapped in a blanket near his grandfather's ranch. Caleb Garrett, his best friend, says Matt had been depressed and drinking a lot. The night he died, he had been arrested for drunk driving.

That's when Matt told Glenn Hite, a former Johnson County sheriff's deputy, that he knew who killed his father. "He said he knew it wasn't his mother and he knew he was going to be dead soon," Hite says. "I told him to come back and talk to us when he was sober."

Matt bailed himself out and walked to Caleb's house, where he had been staying. Shortly after, he apparently shot himself with a revolver that belonged to Caleb's dad.

The family believes Matt may have been murdered. But his friend doesn't think so. "He said he knew things the other kids didn't know" about his dad's murder, Caleb says. "I believe he either saw it or he knew the person who did it. I believe that's why he killed himself."

Patty's daughters look at a family photo album at the home of Mary Longaker, Patty's sister. Sarah sits on the floor of Mary's spacious cabin with her legs outstretched and her one-year-old daughter asleep on her chest. Carrie Prewitt Melton, the youngest daughter, who was only eight when her dad died, wishes she could remember more about that night. Jane says it sometimes feels like they all are living in a nightmare.

A few years ago, Sarah built a Web site ( to tell her mother's story. The daughters theorize that perhaps their dad found out too much when he started investigating drug trafficking in the community as part of the PTA task force. Before Bill was killed, Patty says, he told her he was close to uncovering who was selling drugs in town. She says a notebook he kept in his shirt pocket was gone after the murder.

Jane says shortly after Matt's death, a man called her with an ominous message. "Everything is a sign," the caller told her. "Your brother is a sign."

It wasn't the first time Jane had received threatening calls. After Patty went to prison, someone called and said, "She better never tell anybody what happened. She better keep her mouth shut and rot in prison."

But Patty insists she does not know who killed Bill. "Would I stay in here eighteen years if I knew who did it?" she asks.

Patty, whose gray prison-uniform name tag has faded, is beaming on a recent morning at Vandalia. Her smile accentuates a few wrinkles, but her demeanor is more like a teenager than a 55-year-old grandmother.

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