"Do You Want to Know the Truth?" 

Ken Allen's killers left him hog-tied on the floor. When prosecutors called it an accident, his daughter fought back

click to enlarge After Ken Allen's death, his daughter Kallen began poking holes in the prosecutor's story.


After Ken Allen's death, his daughter Kallen began poking holes in the prosecutor's story.

On the morning of November 3, 2016, Ken Allen was found dead in his dining room in Washington, Missouri, his hands and legs hogtied with phone cords, his stomach and chin resting on the blood-stained tiles. The medical examiner would later conclude that he'd been put into a sort of wrestling hold, with his assailant pressing against his airways as he choked to death.

Within 24 hours, three people were charged with Ken's death. But they were not charged with murder. Instead, the prosecutor insisted that his death was somehow an accident, the result of a robbery gone fatally wrong.

The facts of the case were puzzling, particularly for Ken's only daughter, Kallen, who couldn't help but wonder about the signs of a struggle noted in the police report, the pool of blood at the crime scene and the injuries to Ken's body. Then there was the fact that Ken had known the suspects.

The pieces didn't line up, and Kallen's maelstrom of grief and discovery came to a head during a meeting in a courthouse conference room in 2017, the moments captured by a camera secretly recording from Kallen's wristwatch.

"Do you want to know the truth?"

The question, posed by the county prosecutor to Ken's surviving family, would shatter their sense of equilibrium and begin Kallen's quest for truth and justice for their family.

According to the prosecutor, Ken had been a pedophile.

Born as Kathy Allen, Kallen (who now uses gender-neutral pronouns) was a freshman in college when they came out as gay to their father during Thanksgiving break in 1990. Then, three weeks later, it was Ken's turn. In an emotional phone call to Kallen, he himself came out as gay. That bond would tie the father and daughter together over years and miles, but as Kallen sought the tolerant social climate of San Francisco and a career in startups as a systems engineer, Ken remained closeted in Franklin County. And though Ken came out to his wife, they opted to remain married.

Ken had met his future wife, Janet, at Southwest Baptist University, and after living on a military base during a stateside deployment during the Vietnam War, the two moved to Franklin County in 1975. That's where Ken's career as a probation officer started to take off.

About an hour's drive west of St. Louis, Franklin County might generously be placed on the outer-most exurbs of St. Louis County sprawl. The county's 100,000 residents are spread over 110 square miles in a handful of tiny towns and two modest cities, Union and Washington. Ken made his home in the latter for more than 30 years.

In Franklin, the rules of small communities everywhere prevailed; standing out wasn't encouraged. Growing up, Kallen quickly figured that out at the hands of school bullies. When a boy in high school showed up to class wearing makeup, Kallen recalls, he "got the shit kicked out of him."

Kallen believes that kind of intolerance surrounded and shaped their father from birth.

"He was not able to live his truth," Kallen says today. "He was a baby boomer, grew up on a farm in rural bootheel Missouri and was more or less a public figure in Franklin County. How do you know how to be gay? How do you be an out gay man in such a place? The answer is you don't."

Not long after moving to Franklin County, Ken was assigned to supervise a newly hired probation officer named Roger Cook. It was the start of a friendship that stretched more than four decades.

"He was a very dedicated professional — he seemed to have it together," Cook says. He remembers Ken as a natural businessman. In the mid-1970s, Cook says, Ken established the area's first programs designed for defendants with alcohol and drug abuse, and eventually he founded a private treatment company — a rarity for a rural area like Franklin County. Ken's ambition grew, and in a matter of years he was managing multiple treatment centers and a host of other probation and social services. And in 2000, Ken's Meramec Recovery Center began handling the treatment requirements for every drug-court participant in the county. The arrangement continued for more than a decade.

But in 2013, the Office of State Courts Administrator terminated its contract with Meramec nine months early, and around that time Ken sold the business to a longtime employee. With his treatment center in new hands and his other businesses largely shuttered, Ken found himself in late-life crisis.

click to enlarge Growing up, Kallen (pictured here as an infant) decided early to flee Franklin County's intolerance. Ken, though, refused to leave his home.
  • Growing up, Kallen (pictured here as an infant) decided early to flee Franklin County's intolerance. Ken, though, refused to leave his home.

In November 2015, Kallen returned to Franklin County for a 25th high school class reunion, only to find Ken a shell of anxious desperation. He stockpiled guns, maintained multiple phones and fretted to friends about the cars with tinted windows that apparently rolled past his home at all hours. His friends' attempts at intervention were met with vague dismissals.

On that trip home, Kallen remembers asking Ken, for what felt like the hundredth time, if he wouldn't be happier in St. Louis. There, he could experiment with living openly as a gay man; he could abandon his fear of the small-town rumor mill or what his clients might say. "It didn't go well," Kallen says now. He had refused to move, insisting, "This is my home."

When Ken finally offered an explanation for his anxiety, it made Kallen more worried. He claimed that people were spreading rumors about him, and that he'd been targeted for harassment. He had apparently come home one day to find that someone had poured sugar in the gas tank of his vintage Volkswagen Beetle.

But what the harassment and rumors added up to, exactly, Ken never fully explained. Still, Kallen could tell he was obsessing over it, and that it terrified him.

Cook, too, remembers a change coming over his friend. Over lunch in April 2016, Cook says Ken complained about a Franklin County Sheriff's lieutenant named Jason Grellner. Ken claimed Grellner was the source of the harassment — and that the cop and others had used subterfuge to snatch away his company's contract.

Later that year, Ken would file suit against Grellner, Franklin County and the competing treatment center awarded the contract over Meramec. The lawsuit accused Grellner of interfering in Meramec's recovery program by pressuring participants to serve as confidential informants.

Grellner, the lawsuit alleged, had threatened potential snitches with being dropped from the recovery program unless they helped him build drug cases, and, ultimately, aided his political ambitions as a candidate for county sheriff. Grellner, the suit claimed, had also been "spreading false rumors" about Ken to members of the state board that awarded the contract.

By the time Ken filed the lawsuit in August 2016, Grellner had already lost his bid for county sheriff. (Reached by phone, Grellner "completely, 100 percent" denies any wrongdoing.)

Still, Ken was set in his paranoia. To friends and family, he claimed the harassment and rumors were only getting worse. And always, somehow, Grellner was behind it.

"Grellner had apparently made a statement, 'We're going to take care of Ken Allen,'" Cook says, recalling the April conversation with Ken. "That could mean anything, but Ken took it as violence, and a serious threat." Ken told Cook he'd started carrying a pistol.

Cook recalls feeling shaken after his April meeting with Ken. "I really felt sorry for him, the state he was in," he says.

It was the last time the two spoke. Seven months later, Ken was dead.

click to enlarge In Franklin County, Ken Allen was known as a trailblazer in private probation and drug treatment. His violent death altered that legacy. - COURTESY OF THE ALLEN FAMILY
  • In Franklin County, Ken Allen was known as a trailblazer in private probation and drug treatment. His violent death altered that legacy.

Blake Crews had been one of Ken's success stories. In 2008, a drug charge put him in Meramec's treatment program as a condition of his probation. Coincidentally, he had started a job at Arby's across the street from Ken's office.

Crews wasn't one Ken's immediate clients, but Ken took an interest in his life. For the next five years, Crews worked for the wholesale business Ken owned on the side, functioning as a kind of bodyguard during buying trips to the East Coast and overseas.

On November 2, 2016, Crews and Ken shared a beer on the front porch at the older man's home. But Ken seemed like he was somewhere else. Crews remembers his friend's eyes repeatedly dropping to his phone to check his texts.

By now, Crews knew all about Ken's fixation on Grellner, and so he asked if the texts were new salvos from the cop. Crews remembers Ken responding vaguely — he said people were gossiping about him being gay and a child abuser.

Crews pressed his friend for details and specifics, but Ken never showed him the text messages. Who was feeding him these rumors? Who was he texting? Ken waved the questions off, and the subject was dropped.

Crews planned to return to Ken's house at 7:30 the next morning to help with some furniture he needed to move. "Before I left, he grabbed me on the arm," Crews recalls. "He said, 'Hey Blake, if you show up here tomorrow and I'm gone, or something happened to me, I just want you to know, Jason Grellner did it.'"

Crews laughed it off, though Ken's intensity unnerved him. It wasn't the first time Ken had made such declarations, and sometimes they came as a kind of joke — Ken poking fun at his own paranoia.

The next morning, when Crews knocked on the front door, there was no answer. He went around to the side of the house. Through one of the large windows, Crews glimpsed a lamp overturned on its side, the bare bulb pressed into a couch cushion.

Crews returned to the front door and tried the knob, and it turned, unlocked.

"I open the door and Ken is right in front of me," Crews recalls. "His hands behind his back, beat, tied-up, and just looking straight at me, eyes wide open." Ken had been stripped to his boxers, his chin and lips wet with the blood that pooled around his head. He was dead.

In retrospect, little details in the scene stand out to Crews. The seemingly expert knots and loops in the telephone cords binding Ken's arms and legs, the purple bruises on his neck, the struggle that had knocked down lamps and decorations throughout the room.

"The whole scene was gory. It was evil," Crews says.

He felt for a pulse and started CPR, but the body was already cold and turning blue. Crews couldn't stop thinking about Grellner and Ken's final warning.

After Crews called 911, officers took him into custody as a potential suspect. Crews was never charged. But the next day, while he was in a protective custody cell near the jail's front booking area, he got a glimpse of the three people who were: Timothy Wonish, Whitney Robins and Blake Schindler.

As the three were led down the hallway, Wonish spotted Crews in the cell and shouted a greeting — "Stay strong man! Don't give up! Don't let them turn you!"

Crews remembers being confused. He recognized Wonish and the others because he and Ken had been at their house only a few days before, dropping off groceries. Ken had told him the groceries were meant to sustain the trio while they kicked heroin.

"They were heroin junkies and shitty people," Crews says now. "But I didn't think of them as killers. I didn't think anybody could get that fucked up, to kill somebody like that."

click to enlarge Ken Allen's daughter, Kallen, organized protests to oppose the plea deals offered to their father's alleged killers. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Ken Allen's daughter, Kallen, organized protests to oppose the plea deals offered to their father's alleged killers.

In the aftermath of Ken's death, Kallen began making regular return trips to Franklin County. The house where Ken had died was gutted and sold at a loss. In lieu of a funeral or memorial service, Ken was simply cremated. His remains now reside in a mason jar in Kallen's home. The family has yet to organize a memorial service or formal funeral.

While still mourning, Kallen started emailing the prosecutor's office about the case. But even with suspects in custody, the circumstances of Ken's death didn't add up.

"It didn't make any sense," Kallen recalls thinking at the time.

And like Crews, Kallen couldn't help but wonder about Ken's conspiracy theories and his complaints of harassment. Was it ever more than paranoia? Kallen studied Ken's lawsuit, his allegations against Grellner and the local drug task force. By now, Crews had told the grieving Kallen about Ken's last words to him, and Kallen couldn't help but wonder if there was any truth to them. On the other hand, Kallen had to admit that being tied up and suffocated by a trio of dope fiends seemed like a strange tactic for a police hit squad.

What evidence existed seemed to suggest robbery. Hours after Ken's body was discovered on November 3, 2016, Schindler, Wonish and Robins were located in south St. Louis County with nine of the dead man's credit cards, as well as seven of his checkbooks.

In court documents, a Union Police Department detective noted signs of a struggle at the death scene, and that "multiple pieces of property appeared to be missing."

At the time, Robins, 28, was the only one to offer a statement to police. She was dating Wonish, 30, who at that point had a couple of low-level drug charges on his record. Schindler, who is Robins' half-brother, had just turned seventeen.

In a probable-cause document, Robins told police that she'd helped tie Ken's legs together, and that Schindler and Wonish "had participated in the event."

But in spite of the fact that the suspects left a man dead or dying inside the home, the three were initially charged with felony burglary and receiving stolen items.

(Wonish and Robins did not respond to requests at the jail seeking comment. Schindler's lawyer did not respond to multiple voicemails left at his office.)

To Kallen, the picture seemed to indicate more than just robbery. Ken's death certificate had listed the causes of death as asphyxiation and neck compression. But in a February 2017 phone call, County Prosecutor Robert Parks asserted to Kallen that Ken's death appeared to be accidental. Parks suggested that one of the suspects may have sat on Ken's back during the struggle, inadvertently suffocating him as he lay restrained on his stomach.

Parks' explanation — and the lack of murder charges — rankled Kallen.

click to enlarge Kallen and their supporters protested the plea deals that two judges deemed "too lenient." - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Kallen and their supporters protested the plea deals that two judges deemed "too lenient."

"When you come into my house, our house, and you strangle my dad until he is dead, that doesn't sound like involuntary manslaughter," they say.

Kallen's increasing skepticism led to the purchase of a wristwatch with a secret video camera built into the face. And when the Allen family met with Parks before a September 2017 court hearing, Kallen hit the record button.

At the meeting, Parks explains that he expected Wonish and Robins to plead guilty to an updated set of charges, first-degree burglary and involuntary manslaughter. Footage from Kallen's camera shows the prosecutor saying that he is "99 percent sure" Schindler will eventually take a plea deal, "but we got to talk him into going back to jail." Schindler had been allowed to stay on house arrest after a stint in drug treatment earlier that year.

On the day of Ken's murder, Parks tells the family, "these three people were all extremely high on drugs." And the available evidence, the prosecutor insists, doesn't support a murder charge. For one thing, the perpetrators are claiming they had been too high to remember the events of that incident. Parks cautions that it could be difficult to prove the element of intent needed for a felony murder charge.

"[Involuntary manslaughter] more closely fits the physical evidence and the scenario that we have," Parks says.

Kallen asks Parks if he recalls the February phone call in which he had claimed that the suspects hadn't physically strangled or choked their victim, rather that Ken had suffocated "while one of them was sitting on my dad's back or had his knee in his back."

Parks nods. "That's right," he says.

Parks was about to realize that he'd been maneuvered into a corner. The day before, Kallen had spoken with (and recorded) the forensic pathologist who performed Ken's autopsy.

The pathologist, Kallen announces to the room, didn't agree with Parks. "He stated that my dad died from asphyxia from neck compression."

Parks cuts Kallen off, and he snaps, "What's your question? Let me put it this way, I have made the choice and we're going to do this."

Kallen won't have it. "They strangled him," they say.

"They didn't strangle him," the prosecutor shoots back. "They sat on his back. I'm not going to sit here and argue with you."

But Kallen has been waiting for this argument, and begins to pantomime the sort of "wrestling hold" described over the phone by the pathologist. "He died in this position," Kallen urges.

Parks again cuts Kallen off. "I'm not going to argue about this," he repeats.

At this point, Jeff Allen, Ken's brother, shouts at Parks to let Kallen speak, and the outburst quiets the room for a few moments. Breaking the silence, Ken's widow, Janet, asks whether the prosecutor's office had actually tested the suspects for drugs. Was there proof that they were high beyond comprehension at the time of Ken's death?

And finally, the prosecutor breaks.

"Do you want to know the truth?" Parks asks Janet Allen. "The truth was your husband was a pedophile."

The room explodes in a chorus of angry rebuttals. "Bullshit!" Kallen says,

But Parks pushes through. He says Ken was under investigation for more than two years over patterns of abuse. Though Parks doesn't mention Grellner by name, he acknowledges later in the recording that the investigation targeting Ken included the Franklin County Sheriff's narcotics unit, which Grellner commanded.

Parks lays out his claims: Ken had "enticed young men to come to his house for sex and then gave them either drugs or money to buy drugs and then let them come back to his house to shoot up."

And, he says, in November 2016, the three suspects went to Ken's home with more than robbery in mind. According to Parks, Ken had previously "allowed the brother of one of the people to shoot up in his house and overdose, and Ken had taken him to the hospital." Parks claims that Wonish, Schindler and Robins had confronted Ken, "to tell him to leave the brother alone." (That person was apparently Schindler's elder brother, then eighteen.)

Kallen manages to cut into Park's monologue. What did these allegations have to with Ken's death?

"That's why I don't want to try a felony murder," Parks responds, "because then these people are going up on the stand and they're going to trash your dad."

Kallen scoffs. "If they murdered him, they gotta go away for longer."

"Well, they're not," Parks says as the hidden camera records. "They're not."

click to enlarge After Ken Allen's death, police arrested (from left) Blake Schindler, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins. In October, Wonish and Robins pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. - FRANKLIN COUNTY'S SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • After Ken Allen's death, police arrested (from left) Blake Schindler, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins. In October, Wonish and Robins pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

More than a year later, Kallen stands beneath the shadow of the Franklin County courthouse in downtown Union, a poster-sized photo of Ken raised in the air. In the image, the soft, golden light from a desk lamp in the background forms a kind of halo above his head. He's smiling, a drink in one hand, the other presenting a copy of the Dalai Lama's 1998 book, The Art of Happiness.

Kallen wears a T-shirt with the words "Justice For Ken" printed on the front. On the reverse side it reads, "Evil prevails when good people do nothing." Around twenty protesters are scattered around the sidewalk, some carrying signs of their own. One reads "Ken Allen Was Murdered."

This is the third anti-Parks demonstration Kallen and the protesters have staged at the courthouse. The demonstrations coincided with Kallen's nearly year-long attempt to have Parks removed from the case, but that option ran its course. Although Kallen's petition to boot Parks attracted additional local media coverage and forced multiple delays in the criminal case, it was ultimately rejected.

Now, after months of flights between California and Missouri, Kallen prepares to witness Parks' third attempt at closing a plea deal — a deal allowing Wonish and Robins to plead guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter.

Today is only the second time Kallen has faced Wonish and Robins in person, and the first time seeing Schindler, who is already seated in the courtroom when Kallen arrives. Now nineteen, Schindler wears a crisp gray suit over a blue dress shirt and striped tie. Kallen takes a seat and grasps the binder containing a victim impact statement, its words the product of a week's worth of sleepless nights.

Somewhere nearby, Timothy Wonish and Whitney Robins are waiting in holding cells. In 2017, they were allowed to marry in jail.

Parks' office offered Wonish and Robins their first deal in September 2017 — a chance to plead guilty to burglary and involuntary manslaughter. (Schindler, already out on bail, declined to negotiate with the prosecutor's office.) Under its terms, Wonish and Robins would have faced a maximum of ten years in prison, but there was no mandated minimum sentence. They could qualify for parole after serving just 30 percent of their sentences.

In that first plea hearing, Kallen had taken the stand to blast the prosecutor both for presenting the cause of death as an accident and to reject his claim that Ken was a sexual abuser. Kallen's dad was gay, they revealed to the court, and even if Parks couldn't tell the difference, that didn't make Ken a pedophile.

Kallen's passion didn't go unheeded. One month later, Circuit Court Judge Gael Wood shocked the court's attendees by rejecting the plea deal offered to Wonish and Robins.

"The court finds them too lenient," the judge said. "I'm not going to accept them."

But Wood subsequently retired, and in January 2018, the case was assigned a new judge. Parks presented a brand-new plea deal to the defendants. To Kallen's horror, it was even softer than the first.

At the January hearing, Wonish and Robins were given the option to plead guilty to receiving stolen property and involuntary manslaughter, a sentence that would give them just seven years in prison. Under the deal, they'd serve the two charges concurrently, and with time served, each would technically be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of their sentence. That meant they could be eligible for parole as early as 2019.

But like his predecessor had done months before for the previous deal, Circuit Court Judge Craig Hellman rejected this one, too, calling it "too lenient."

On October 23, the prosecutor is trying again with a third judge. Once again, Wonish and Robins are facing what Kallen calls "a sweetheart deal": a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The seven-year sentences would again make them eligible for parole in a matter of months.

But first up is Blake Schindler. Taking the stand to address Judge Michael Wright, Schindler pleads not guilty.

Despite objections from prosecutors and Kallen, Judge Wright allows Schindler to remain free on house arrest. He even grants the teen permission to leave home two hours per day to seek employment, though Schindler must continue to wear a GPS bracelet.

Next up is Wonish. Led through a side door in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit, the 32-year-old has grown a long beard since his stubbly 2016 mugshot. Even though Wonish is facing the most favorable plea deal yet, he still has to convince the judge that he's ready to accept guilt.

"What did you do?" Wright asks Wonish. The shackled man responds that he can't exactly remember the day or incident in question.

Wright grumbles and tries again, staring down at Wonish. "Tell me what you did."

Wonish mumbles into the microphone. "I tied up Mr. Allen and left him in the house," he says. "He was deceased." Then Wonish attempts to elaborate, adding that it was just him and Robins at Ken's house, no one else.

At this comment, Wright perks up, since Wonish appears to be attempting to exonerate Schindler, the younger co-defendant sitting directly behind him.

"Oh," the judge says, a bemused note in his voice. "Now you remember."

Under further questioning, Wonish claims that he "had been up for a few days" before November 3, and that he only remembers leaving Ken's house to get more drugs. He testifies several times that no one else was in the house except for himself and Robins.

Wright tries again to pry something more specific from Wonish. All he gets are single-word answers.

"So, you recklessly caused the suffocation of Ken Allen?" Yes.

"So you left him on the floor, tied him up and he suffocated?" Yes.

"Did you grab Mr. Allen around the neck?" No.

The judge calls on Parks, and the prosecutor says that the state can prove that Ken was "strangled from behind," and that the defendants "bound his hands and feet after a struggle and left him for dead in the house." This time, Parks makes no mention of the theory that someone sat on Ken's back or that the suffocation was purely accidental.

Then it is Kallen's turn to read their victim impact statement contained in the binder.

"The only time I see my dad now is in my nightmares," Kallen says, addressing Wonish and Schindler directly. "Did you guys burst the door and rush him? How much terror did you put him in? Your evil faces are the last thing he saw on Earth."

It is not just Ken's killers in Kallen's crosshairs.

"Mr. Parks," Kallen says at one point, turning to the seated prosecutor. "Were you relieved after my dad was murdered?"

At this comment, the air seems to retreat from the room. Parks coughs and rises to object. "This is not an impact statement!" he complains to the judge. "This is a vendetta against my office."

The judge asks Kallen to stick to the bounds of a victim impact statement, but after a pause the statement continues on track — with a fusillade against Parks. Kallen raises various examples of the prosecutor's failings — and suggests he lied about Ken being a pedophile.

"Mr. Parks," Kallen says, staring directly at the prosecutor, "you intentionally tried to mislead this court and mislead me, to make me compliant, and to shut me up so you could benefit these three defendants in their plea."

Kallen adds, "You misjudged me, Bob Parks. I am Ken Allen's daughter."

The court is silent as Kallen leaves the stand.

Next comes Whitney Robins, her hair long and blonde, her jumpsuit matching her husband's. Robins' guilty plea, while halting and interrupted by regular pauses, is far more specific.

"I recklessly caused the death of Ken Allen ... by suffocation," she tells the court. "I tied his feet up ... with a cord. I only have memory flashes. I remember Timothy Wonish helping me tie his feet up."

Like Wonish, Robins attempts to adjust her statement — she tells the judge that only she and Wonish committed the crime. That's even though she's already on the record saying that her half-brother, Schindler, was at the scene as well.

Judge Wright asks if she is trying to protect her brother. "No. I'm aware of what I said," Robins tells the judge. She claims she can't remember making the statement to police. "That's a blank spot in my head."

In her flashes of memory, what she does remember are scenes of Ken kicking his bare feet and she and Wonish tying him in up with a telephone cord, she says. Then the memories skip to the hospital where she was transported after the arresting officers realized she was suffering an overdose. Under the judge's grilling, Robins repeatedly insists she doesn't know how or why Ken suffocated. Maybe, she theorizes at one point, she climbed on top of Ken for leverage while tying his feet together — or maybe that was Wonish, or even someone else she can't remember. She repeats, "I'm sorry, all I have are flashes of memory."

In the end, Judge Wright relents. He accepts both guilty pleas, adding the maximum possible fine, $5,000, to go along with their single felony charges for involuntary manslaughter.

Kallen moves toward the aisle to leave but shouts two words, loud enough for the room to hear: "Evil prevails."

click to enlarge Before his death, friends of Ken's worried that he was being exploited by a group of drug addicts. He insisted he was helping them recover. - COURTESY OF THE ALLEN FAMILY
  • Before his death, friends of Ken's worried that he was being exploited by a group of drug addicts. He insisted he was helping them recover.

There's still no clear answer as to whether the death of Ken Allen was murder or, as Parks has argued, the accidental byproduct of a robbery gone bad. Physical evidence from the scene remains sealed pending Schindler's trial.

It's also not clear what tactics Schindler's legal team may take at trial. Even if Robins attempts to retract her 2016 statement to police implicating Schindler, Kallen believes video footage from the house's surveillance system will put the matter to rest.

Still, the defense may dredge up exactly the sort of information about Ken that Parks claimed he was striving to suppress — that Ken was fueling Schindler's and others' drug addictions.

Those claims appear to contain some elements of truth. Ken's friends knew of his attempts at "helping" Schindler and the others beat their drug addiction, and they acknowledge that they advised him that his relationship with much younger drug addicts was, at best, unseemly — particularly when he was suing the highest-profile anti-drug warrior in the region.

And those same friends acknowledge that Ken's generosity had a compulsive quality that verged on self-abuse. "He wanted to help anybody and everybody," says Jimmy Dyer, who became one of Ken's probation clients following a DWI in 2005.

Ken had given Dyer a job painting houses, and over the next decade a friendship blossomed. But around 2014 Dyer had decided he had to stop coming by Ken's house. The issue was a heroin addict whom Ken claimed to be helping, a shifty character in his late twenties. The guy made a habit of showing up at Ken's house and office begging for cash or favors. Dyer says Ken paid the addict's rent and living expenses. Yet Ken's yard tools and appliances still seemed to be disappearing.

Ken seemed unable to confront reality, even when he had to buy back the items the young man and his friends had pawned. "He was constantly getting robbed [by them] and it didn't seem to bother him," Dyer says of Ken. "He would tell me, 'These guys are clean, they're OK.' And then the next day he would tell me, 'Well, this guy just OD'd in my bathroom and I had to bring him back to life.'"

Asking Ken to explain himself was rarely fruitful. Sunny Lim, one of Ken's business partners who co-founded a wholesale garden and home supply business in the mid-2000s, says Ken would often describe the woeful circumstances afflicting the young men he was trying to help. There were tales of family abuse, untreated mental illness and desperate poverty.

"It was his nature," Lim says. "If someone came to him in trouble, he wanted to do something to relieve whatever problem they were facing."

Jennifer Lagerhausen, who worked for Ken for fifteen years before buying one of his other side businesses, suggests that Ken may have seen the young men the same way he viewed drug-court participants, as potential success stories in the making.

"He helped a lot of kids in the past, and they would come back and visit and say thanks," she says. "No matter how bad things got, that pushed him."

According to his friends and coworkers, Ken provided financial support to at least five drug-addicted individuals over the final two years of his life, including the trio implicated in his death. None were underage, though they were far from Ken's peers. (Of the five, seventeen-year-old Schindler and his eighteen-year-old brother were the youngest.)

To his friends, Ken's unwillingness to acknowledge the addicts nodding off in his living room seemed like uncharacteristic naivete. After all, he'd worked around addicts for decades and knew their patterns of manipulation and empty promises. ("He knew everything there was to know about addiction," Crews says.) Ken's friends wondered if he was depressed or perhaps so crushed by loneliness that he would allow himself to be exploited and lied to.

But to the county government that had only recently contracted with Ken's drug treatment company, it may have looked far more nefarious, and perhaps likely that Ken knew exactly what he was doing. At the very least, it was a tawdry arrangement for a 70-year-old man.

Citing the upcoming trial — and the fact that he may be called as a witness — Lt. Jason Grellner declines to discuss his knowledge of the police investigation into Ken's allegedly abusive behavior. But when it comes to Schindler's trial, Grellner predicts Ken's actions will make the prosecutor's job harder.

"If all the information comes out at trial about his abuse of position," Grellner says, "what does that do to a jury?"

click to enlarge Kallen, photographed here with Ken after their graduation from Yale. - COURTESY OF THE ALLEN FAMILY
  • Kallen, photographed here with Ken after their graduation from Yale.

Blake Schindler's trial, scheduled to begin next month, is set to start just weeks before Wonish and Robins become eligible to make their case to a parole board for early release.

By then, Parks will have retired, and the case will fall to incoming Franklin County Prosecutor Matthew Becker, a former cop.

But in his final weeks in office, Parks still found a way to throw a new curve ball into the case. On November 27, the prosecutor filed a superseding indictment against Schindler, which included a new charge for second-degree murder. A conviction would carry a 30-year prison term and a mandatory minimum sentence of 85 percent.

It was exactly the charge Kallen had asked for in previous meetings with Parks. Yet the development is not cause for celebration; Kallen considers it both too late and too meager, and it raises the question of why Robins and Wonish were allowed to plead to involuntary manslaughter at all.

"Why in the fuck weren't Wonish and Robins re-indicted too?" Kallen asks.

To Kallen, the murder charge against Schindler comes after two years of misery in the legal system. It doesn't change the brutality of their father's death or alter the fact that what was once a childhood home was transformed into what Kallen now calls "the house of murder."

Kallen acknowledges that Schindler's future trial may uncover a darker side of what had seemed to be Ken's self-destructive sense of goodwill. But even if he had inappropriate relationships with local drug addicts, it doesn't change Kallen's feelings about his killing. Kallen also questions the legitimacy of the investigation Parks described in the recording of the 2017 meeting.

"Whatever sources are making these claims, I'm going to question their motivation," Kallen says. "And even if some of these things are true, does that mean he deserved to be murdered?"

The trial is far from the only thing that torments Kallen about their father. Kallen thinks about him growing up on a farm and realizing he was gay, building a business in Franklin County and a life on a foundation of secrets. Kallen thinks of Ken's decision to remain married, even after coming out to his wife, and then the years spent worrying about his reputation and what people were saying behind his back.

To Kallen, it seems clear that the very homophobia Ken experienced in Franklin County lives on in the heart of Parks' allegations and soft plea deals. It's a strange, vile irony: The homophobia that kept Ken scared and isolated in life — and drove Kallen to flee to California — has reached him in death, with Parks robbing him of his legacy as a pioneer in drug treatment and casting him as a pedophile who preyed on drug addicts.

That's not who Ken was, his daughter insists. And no matter what Parks' plea deals or indictments read, Kallen is certain that Wonish, Schindler and Robins murdered him.

There is a second tragedy. Trapped in Franklin County, Ken had already been suffering for a long, long time. Kallen believes he lived scared of the area's homophobia, and in the end that fear won out. He was never able to live his truth.

"It's a frustrating mystery for me, to figure out my dad," Kallen muses. "He kept so silent about who he really was, and he hid it. I believe it got him killed."

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March 25, 2020


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