“It is just as well that justice is blind; she might not like some of the
things done in her name if she could see them”
Not long after turning 18 in 1970, I was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail, Wichita, Kansas. I had just been convicted of burglary by a jury not of my peers. The jail was packed beyond capacity and, because of such, I was housed in one of the segregation cells on the fifth floor. The cell had a piece of plywood and a waffle-sized mattress for a bunk on the floor, and a hole in the floor for a toilet that required flushing from outside the cell. I later learned that this was called a ‘Chinese toilet’, and has, since that time, been found to be constitutionally proscribed (and, if you have ever had the not so good fortune to use one, you will know why). Within a few days, I was moved to a regular cell on the fifth floor with two other inmates, and the stage was being set for yet another not so fond memory to take place…
One of the guys in my cell was Larry Kroff. He was in his mid-thirties, and he told me he was a farmer from Western Kansas. He had been charged with killing three people, and the attempted murder of a fourth person. Later on, he said that he had “shot ‘em down, like the dogs they were”. He pretty much bragged about killing his estranged ex-wife, her boyfriend, and shooting another couple who was with them at a trailer park in Southwest Wichita; severely wounding the girl, and killing her boyfriend. He said that he emptied a .22 caliber rifle shooting these people, and then reloaded and emptied it again. I took him at his word, particularly because the Wichita Eagle had basically attested to these facts in several different articles written on these murders. The other guy in my cell was named Shorty King. He was a midget about Kroff’s same age, and was a pretty nice guy. He liked to play cards, sit around and talk b.s! He supposedly killed his girlfriend, a prostitute, for ripping him off some drugs; although he didn’t really have much to say about it. Another guy I got to know pretty well during my time celling with these two, was a man living in the cell adjacent to ours. His name was Frank Sweeny, and he was also about Kroff’s and Shorty’s age. He had killed two people in Wichita, and another five in Indiana. He told me one night, that a song had been written about him titled, “Indiana Wants You”. He went on, humorously, saying that, “they may want me, but they might not get me!” Needless to say, my little burglary conviction kind of paled in comparison to my new acquaintances, who had killed eleven people between them.
One night, I was jarred out of a sound sleep by a deep grunting sound and commotion at the foot of my bunk. Just a foot off my bunk, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, Kroff was hanging by a sheet wrapped around his neck, which was tied to the cell bars. He was frantically kicking and grunting, with his hands pulling at the sheet around his neck. Jumping up, I tried lifting him by his legs to take the tension off the sheet, but he continued kicking and twisting, making it extremely difficult. He must have weighed every bit of 260-270 pounds – eating 20 to 30 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups every week, at ten cents a pop, he could easily afford them (and did), and now they were taking their toll. Shorty was trying to get the knot untied, but it had twisted to the backside of the bars. I could hear Sweeny and a couple of other guys down the range screaming at the top of their lungs to get the jailer’s attention in the Booking Area on the third floor. People in the courthouse parking lot could have heard them, if it had not been 3am and empty. Even with Shorty trying to help me lift Kroff up, which he really could not manage to do, I was sweating profusely and my arms were giving out. Kroff’s complexion was turning mauve in color, and he had stopped kicking and was now hanging without resistance. Finally, a jailer, Rocky, came around the corner of the walkway and started to ask: “What is all this screaming about?” However, he stopped in his tracks upon seeing Kroff hanging from the bars. Shorty hollered at him that the knot on the sheet was on the backside of the bars and he needed to untie it, which Rocky immediately started trying to do, but to no avail. He took out a pocket knife and started cutting the sheet down. It finally snapped, with Kroff coming down on top of me, and both of us falling on top of Shorty, who landed with a loud moan. About this same time, another jailer was opening our cell door. He lifted Kroff off of me and began doing CPR on him. Rocky entered the cell shortly thereafter and helped Shorty up, who was obviously in pain with a broken arm which was twisted backwards at the elbow. The paramedics arrived, continued CPR, and then took Kroff to St. Francis Hospital, a few blocks away. The next night, Rocky told me and Shorty that, initially, they thought Kroff had fractured the second vertebra in his neck, known as a ‘hangman’s break’, but they later found out that he had suffered paralysis to the left side of his face and arm, as well as severe bruising. Rocky also told us that Kroff wouldn’t be coming back to the jail; he was being transferred by the court to the State Hospital for a mental evaluation first. Not long after this incident, I was transferred to the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory (KSIR) at Hutchinson, to begin my burglary sentence.
Almost a year later, Shorty showed up at KSIR, and told me that he, pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge, had taken a plea bargain for seven to fifteen years. He told me that just a couple of weeks after I left the jail, that Kroff had been brought back from the State Hospital because of an attempted escape. Further than that – which was unbelievable – despite Kroff testifying during his trial – telling the jury just what he had told us about shooting those people “like the dogs they were” – he was still found not guilty of all three murders and the attempted murder by reason of insanity. Shorty said that his family, who had money, had hired a psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, of the renowned Menninger Foundation in Topkea. He testified that Kroff was temporarily insane when he shot and killed those people, and severely wounded the fourth person. So, in combination, Shorty said that by hiring the best criminal defense attorneys money can buy, and this renowned psychiatrist, Kroff walked on all of those murders – although the jury convicted him of the attempted escape from the State Hospital. The court gave him time served. “Unbelievable!”, I told Shorty, “and here I sit serving more time than you and Kroff combined, and I haven’t killed anyone.” Like they say, justice is for those with money, not those who face the justice system with court appointed lawyers (which is synonymous with pro forma representation). As the old adage goes, “Money talks, and b.s. walks”!
|Wesley I. Purkey 14679-045|
United States Penitentiary
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 47808