OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in eastern Kansas said Thursday they have arrested a 27-year-old convicted felon in the deaths of three people whose bodies were found on a farm, and that a fourth victim — an 18-month-old girl — is presumed dead.
Franklin County Sheriff Jeffrey Richards said during an afternoon news conference that the prosecutor has 48 hours from the time the suspect is arrested to file formal charges. He was arrested early Thursday and is being held at the Franklin County jail on a first-degree murder charge.
The man previously served prison time for shooting a former employer in 2005 after being fired, according to court records and interviews with that victim's relatives. Franklin County Attorney Stephen Hunting said earlier Thursday that the man does not have an attorney in the latest case.
Richards declined to discuss a possible motive for the deaths, but said the investigation remains active.
"Any lead that is coming in we are going to continue to follow up on that lead," the sheriff said Thursday morning. "Just because we have one person in custody doesn't mean we are going to stop. I believe the victims deserve that, and I believe everyone here is going to demand that."
He later declined to say whether there are any other suspects, but said there are no apparent public safety concerns.
He said the suspect in custody was located in Emporia, about 50 miles southwest of the Ottawa area farm where the bodies were discovered, but did not say when he was found or what led police to him.
Emporia police on Tuesday also found the car that 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey, of Olathe, and her 18-month-old daughter, Lana Bailey, were last seen in before they were reported missing last week.
Kaylie Bailey's body was found Monday at the farm west of Ottawa, where she had gone to drop her daughter off for the day with her friend, 30-year-old Andrew Stout, at his home. Friends who had gone to check on Stout found Bailey's body under a tarp in the garage and called police, who then found the bodies of Stout and 31-year-old Steven E. White, who also lived at the home on the farm.
Richards said he could not release causes of deaths because of the ongoing investigation. He said Lana Bailey is now "presumed" dead, although the child's body had not been found as of late Thursday afternoon.
"Finding Lana is a top priority for our investigators," Richards said earlier Thursday. "We will exhaust every lead and follow up every tip until we bring her home."
During the afternoon news conference, the sheriff said investigators were "ramping up" their search for the child. Law enforcement teams were scouring the area around the farm on horses and all-terrain vehicles and on foot. The FBI was searching by plane and the Kansas Highway Patrol by helicopter.
"We have to be very meticulous. We have to go fast, but not so fast we're going to miss something," Richards said.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the agency was sending staff to Franklin County. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is assisting with the investigation as well.
Relatives of Steven Dale Free, the victim of the 2005 shooting, have long complained that the suspect got off too lightly in that case. The suspect pleaded no contest in August 2005 to a reduced charge of attempted second-degree murder in Free's shooting and was sentenced to five years in prison. He also was ordered to pay about $78,000 in restitution.
The Kansas Department of Corrections said the suspect was placed on parole in July 2009 and released from parole in April 2012.
Free's sister, Stephanie Ingram, said Free fired the suspect from a $10-an-hour-job tearing down mobile homes because he would "kick rocks around, sit down, and he wouldn't do what Steve told him." The next day, Free was playing pool with Ingram's son in a detached garage, left to use the bathroom and was shot five times. Ingram recalled that the gunfire sounded like fireworks.
Although Free survived, he was never able to work again, Ingram said. She said her brother was only paid a few hundred dollars of restitution before he died of lung cancer in December 2011 at the age of 53.
Ingram said her brother mistook the initial symptoms of cancer for side effects from the shooting, which left him with bullet fragments in his lung.
"I think somebody needs to answer for them not doing their job the first time," said Ingram, 51, of Ottawa, referring to the five-year sentence. "If they would have done their jobs when he unloaded a full gun on my brother, he wouldn't have been out to do it. Basically they slapped him on the wrist and said, 'OK, do it again.' That's really how it feels."
Hollingsworth contributed from Kansas City, Mo.