FactFinder 12 revisits more-than-20-year-old unsolved murder in Reno County

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KWCH) Nearly 22 years ago, a hardworking father died after being shot execution style and left in a remote field.

In December 1997, concern began after Kenneth Lee Collier, or Kenny as his friends called him, for days didn't shown up for work at J&J Drainage in Hutchinson.

"It was so unusual for him not to show, really set off the alarm bells for us," says Mark Smith, a former coworker of Collier.

Friends say Collier was well-liked and goofy, but also a hard worker.

After not seeing Collier or hearing from him for three days, Smith decided something had to be wrong. He called police and reported Collier as a missing person.

Retired Reno County Detective Sheldon Stewart was the lead investigator on the case.

"As I gathered information from (Collier's) coworkers, and his parents, he was a busy man," Stewart says.

The detective says Collier worked two or three jobs and was divorced. Stewart says Collier was also in a relationship with another woman.

Investigators also discovered that at the time of his death, Collier had just received his holiday bonus check. After cashing his check and buying some groceries, investigators believe Collier's last stop was the now-abandoned Jack of Clubs bar in Hutchinson. A couple days after Collier was last seen, his truck was found. Inside his truck, where his groceries. But there was no sign of Collier, People at the bar that night say Collier had been flashing money.

As far as investigators knew, Collier was just taking a few days off and enjoying himself. At least publicly, the bar was the last place anyone saw Collier alive. An unsettling discovery followed in February, 1998.

"A couple of young kids, I don't know their ages, they were just out playing in this pasture, and that's when they saw the body laying there," Stewart says.

The body was that of Kenneth Collier.

"I remember that day being out there. It had now snowed, but not a lot," says Reno County Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Lutz, who is the investigator now assigned to the case.

"I feel he was taken from the (bar), or went with somebody from the Jack of Cubs to that location," Lutz says of the field where Collier's body was found.

Because Collier was taken to a remote location and murdered execution style, Lutz says the crime didn't seem like a run-of-the-mill robbery.

"Our investigation or experience or education tells us that whoever was responsible for this was probably close or somewhat close to him or he knew them," Stewart says.

Lutz does not believe Collier's death was a random crime. Collier's son, Larry, was 17 when Collier died. He says as soon as he was old enough to go into the Jack of Clubs, he was there, trying to find out what happened to his father.

"I turned 18 and I was starting to want to go check stuff out and hang out with people, you know," Larry says. "And I was just wanting to know myself, you know what I mean? Like, eventually somebody would say something or something," he says.

Like police, Larry Collier believes someone who was close to his father is responsible for his death.

"We developed at least a couple, two, tree 'maybe' persons of interest," Lutz says. "I feel I know who took part in it."

Lutz says while he doesn't know who pulled the trigger for the shot that killed Collier, he believes the gunman is among persons of interest investigators identified. At the least. he believes one of them knows who killed Collier.

Investigators did not identify their persons of interest in Collier's case but do say everyone on that list is still living. The hope for telling Collier's story, they say, is that someone will come forward with answers.

"People out there know, and it goes back. Everybody used to say you can't keep a secret between three people because somebody is going to say something," Lutz says.

Smith says Collier was a good man and a good friend, Concerning more than friends and family is that police never did make an arrest in the case.

"For the community as a whole, there's a murderer out there somewhere," Smith says.

Lutz says investigators owe it to the family to at least give them answers into what happened to Collier and what led up to his murder, hopefully leading them to some closure.

Anyone that may have information about Collier's murder should call the Reno County Sheriff's Office at 620-694-2735