KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A murder case has been closed, the house where it occurred has been razed and a murderer has been sentenced. Yet a shadow continuously seems to be cast on a Kansas City family.
Since 1985, members of the Merrigan family have forced themselves to attend every parole hearing for Benedict “Benny” Kemper, a man who killed four members of their family 40 years ago in Conception, Mo.
They will be in attendance for his next hearing on Sept. 20.
It’s something the Merrigans wish they could stop, as it still remains an uneasy topic in the family.
They know all the details of the case — about the night of Oct. 10, 1972, when Mr. Kemper, then only 15, took out his rage by cutting the telephone line to the Merrigan family’s house, sneaking in and shooting almost every member of the family, including Marion, the father; Kathleen, the mother; William, his classmate and their son; and Helen Ann, their daughter.
The surviving member of the family, Sue Dorrel, who was not at the residence during the murder, prefers not to talk about it.
Sue’s aunt, Marge Wolfer, is more open, with the hope that no one will forget what the 15-year-old did and why he should never be allowed to be free. In 1973, Mr. Kemper was sentenced to four consecutive 45-year sentences for the murder and an additional six years for an attempted jail escape.
Since he was sentenced, the Merrigans have attended every hearing; they said they never want a single inkling of a chance for him to get out to be given.
“We thought when the judge and the jury convicted him that we wouldn’t have to do this, and you do,” Ms. Wolfer said.
Over the years, things have changed. Family members, supporters, judges and attorneys have died. Yet, the family still continues to show up for the hearings.
“With parole, you have two to five years for another hearing. You always hope it’s going to be five, but it never is,” Ms. Wolfer said.
In a 2002 interview with the News-Press, Sue Dorrel said it was time for the family to go forward and forgive.
“It’s time to move on. It’s time to let go. It’s time to heal, and it’s time to forgive,” she said.
It’s not that easy, Ms. Wolfer said, as the murder affected not only the family, but the whole community. If Mr. Kemper was released, she fears what would happen.
“What would he do? Where would he go? Would he come back? Oh, I think so,” she said.
That is why Ms. Wolfer and her family continue the fight. When Mr. Kemper’s parole hearing is called up this week, she, along with seven other people, will show up to tell the board why he should stay behind bars. It’s the most people that have showed up to represent the Merrigans since they first attended the hearings.
Throughout Ms. Wolfer’s interview with the News-Press, she reiterated that things eventually will improve over time for all people affected by murder. But the scars still show.
“It does get easier, but the pain doesn’t go away,” she said. “You turn on the TV, you listen to the radio, or whatever, and everyday, there’s somebody being murdered. Your thoughts go back — I know where they’re coming from, I know how that family feels, I know the pain and the sorrow and the hurt they’re going through.”
When asked why Ms. Wolfer can’t let go and let the pain stay underneath her skin, she replied that it would be a disservice to both the Conception, Mo., community, the murder victims and her family.
“What they went through was hell, and no one needs to go through that. No human being needs to die like they had to die,” she said. “Forgiving and justice are two separate issues. You can forgive someone, but justice has to be served.”