Barton County sheriff: Man arrested for 1980 murder, cold case thawed

Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 7:04 PM CST
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GREAT BEND, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir released details on Friday about the arrest of 68-year-old Steven L. Hanks in connection to the 1980 homicide of Mary Robin Walter who went by “Robin.”

Bellendir said on the evening of Thursday, January 24, 1980, the Sheriff’s Office received a call at about 6:50 PM from an individual reporting homicide. The location was given as the Nelson Trailer Park, RR1 Lot 9. This was about 10 years before there was a 911 system or locator addresses in Barton County. The location of the incident would be near the intersection of SW. 40th Ave. and Anchor Way adjacent to the Great Bend Municipal Airport complex. The trailer park no longer exists.

Upon arrival deputies and investigators located the body of a female victim who had been shot multiple times. The victim was identified as Mary Robin Walter who lived at the residence. Walter was 23 years of age at the time, married with one child. She was a nursing student at Barton County Community College.

Several law enforcement agencies including the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Great Bend Police Department assisted the Sheriff’s Office with the investigation. Numerous interviews of witnesses and follow-ups of leads were conducted. A substantial amount of information had been gathered and a person of interest, Steven Hanks, had been developed, but the case went cold. Law enforcement was not able to submit the case for prosecution.

Over the years, numerous detectives have looked at the case and were not able to obtain information that would assist in prosecution.

In April 2022, while recovering from Covid, Detective Sgt. Adam Hales of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office reopened the Mary Robin Walter homicide case. After taking a fresh look at the case, it became evident that some information had been initially overlooked and some had been added at a later date. This was unknown to the original investigators. After reviewing the case with Sgt. Hales, I directed that the other two detectives, Detective Alex Lomas, Detective Bryan Volkel as well as patrol Sgt. Travis Doze be assigned to the case as time allowed. Lieutenant David Paden supervised the operation. The Sheriff’s office tracked down numerous individuals that had been involved in the case in the 1980s and many interviews were conducted as far away as the Pacific Northwest. Several meetings were held with the KBI who assisted with this investigation.

In October of this year, new evidence was obtained that allowed the Sheriff’s Office to submit the case to Barton County Attorney Levi Morris for review. After approximately four weeks of review, Mr. Morris obtained an arrest warrant for murder in the 2nd degree and the arrest of Steven L. Hanks age 68 of Burden, Kansas. Hanks was a neighbor to the victim at the time.

Yesterday, December 8, 2022, agents with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation arrested Hanks at a location in Oxford, Ks. Agents turned Hanks over to Lieut. David Paden and Detective Sgt. Adam Hales to be transported back to the Barton County Jail. Hanks is currently being held in lieu of a $500,000 bond.

At 42 years and 10 months, we believe this is the oldest homicide arrest in the State of Kansas, it may be one the oldest homicides cleared by arrest in the United States. This also clears the last known homicide in a non-incorporated area under the jurisdiction of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office.

In response to the break in the case, Mary Robin Walter’s niece, Leslie Schrag, issued a statement on behalf of the family, saying in part, “We are grateful for detectives’ efforts to bring Robin’s murderer to justice.”

“Robin was truly beautiful inside and out,” Schrag said. “This world was robbed of her presence, and we will never know how that has shaped our lives. [Friday’s] news is bittersweet. Many of those who knew Robin are gone. Her parents, husband and a sister will not get to share in our collective relief that Robin’s case will have a conclusion.”

The Barton County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday an arrest has been made in the 1980 homicide of . The crime occurred on January 24, 1980.

The sheriff’s office said , the suspect in the case, was arrested in Oxford, Kan. He is being transported to Barton County.

The Barton County Sheriff’s Office, Barton County Attorney’s Office and Kansas Bureau of Investigation will hold a joint press conference on Friday to give an update on the case.