Kansas City Star, Sunday 01/11/98

Mystery enshrouds couple's deaths

Answers elude police in Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's slaying, boyfriend's suicide.

Staff Writer

[Please note that Anastasia's family considers this story to have been deliberately sensationalized by its writer, who had an agenda to paint the tragedy in the most lurid manner possible. We feel it has twisted facts to suit its own purposes, and that its writer cared less for the truth of the story than its lure. It was perhaps the only occasion in which the family completely agreed with Byron Case.]
   Anastasia WitbolsFeugen and her boyfriend shared a black cat named Pagan.

   They sometimes ran with a crowd described by a sheriff's investigator as part of the "Gothic scene." Anastasia colored her hair black and sometimes her fingernails, too. Boyfriend Justin Bruton was fascinated by the occult. Among his favorite authors was Anne Rice, known for Interview With the Vampire.

[Here is an example of the writer using facts selectively to suit the picture she wished to paint: Justin Bruton read a great deal, and Anne Rice was among the many authors he read, but because her Vampire novels fit with the theme, she is the only author mentioned.]
   "It wasn't unusual for these people to hang out at cemeteries," Jackson County Sheriff's Capt. Tom Phillips said.

[We are uncertain exactly to whom Captain Phillips was referring when he used the phrase "these people", but we received his assurance that he was not referring directly to Anastasia and Justin when he made the remark.]
   Someone shot 18-year-old Anastasia in the head last fall. Her body was found Oct. 23 near Independence -- in a cemetery.

   Two days later, her boyfriend was found in rural Johnson County, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.

   Before his suicide, Justin, 20, wasn't a suspect in Anastasia's death but was wanted for questioning. Investigators never had an opportunity to hear his story.

   The deaths leave many questions unanswered, primarily, Who killed Anastasia WitbolsFeugen and why? And why did Justin kill himself?

   Authorities, and those who knew the couple, wonder whether their macabre interests played a role in their deaths. Or were they a coincidence?

[Yet the writer never directly quotes anyone among "authorities and those who knew the couple" who actually make such a speculation.]

Anastasia's final hours

   Justin and Anastasia's friends sometimes gathered at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence, but authorities aren't sure what they did there. Investigators believe they dabbled in the Gothic scene but don't know how seriously.

[As it turns out, the only ones of Justin's and Anastasia's "friends" who ever mentioned "gathering at Mt. Washington Cemetery" were Byron Case and a few of his close circle. As we all know now, Case was convicted of Anastasia's murder in 2002, and it can be seen that suggestions as this were self-serving.]
   Police and relatives shared this account of Anastasia's last night:

   About 4:30 p.m. Oct. 22, Anastasia's stepmother dropped her off at Mount Washington Cemetery, where she was supposed to meet Justin and a couple of other friends. Justin wasn't there but showed up later with another couple.

[It should be noted that the remainder of Anastasia's last night are almost solely based on statements from Byron Case and Kelly Moffett, who were at the time trying to cover up the murder.]
   Anastasia and Justin argued. She apparently had asked Justin why he no longer loved her and got upset when he said he didn't know.

   Later that evening, she asked to be let out of Justin's car near Interstate 435 and Truman Road.

   Robert WitbolsFeugen, Anastasia's father, began searching for her about 9 p.m. after arriving home in Independence and learning that she hadn't returned. He returned home a couple of hours later and received a call from an upset Justin, who also was trying to find Anastasia.

   "He called and said they'd had an argument," the father said.

   A Jackson County sheriff's deputy on patrol discovered Anastasia's body the next day at nearby Lincoln Cemetery. Investigators think she was killed at the cemetery but aren't sure.

   Robert WitbolsFeugen doesn't deem Justin capable of killing his daughter.

   "There are too many things that are unexplained by that," he said. Justin's father, John Bruton of Tulsa, Okla., said he didn't hear from Justin after Anastasia's body was discovered. He had seen and last spoken to his son the weekend before the two deaths and discerned no signs of trouble.

   "I'm convinced that Justin had nothing to do with her death," he said. "We didn't find anything peculiar or unusual about the relationship. Anastasia was a real sweet girl."

   Justin's body was found Oct. 25 at a vacant De Soto store in western Johnson County. Investigators say Justin purchased the gun he turned on himself after Anastasia died, but they haven't ruled him out as a suspect in her death.

   "I don't understand why Justin killed himself," his father said. "He had the kind of life I wish I'd had when I was in my 20s."

   Phillips said investigators would especially like to know of anyone who spoke with Justin before his death.

   "One, we need a murder weapon," he said. "Two, we just need help."

The Gothic scene

   Interest in Gothic is a trend for some teens. They may wear white makeup or stay out of the sun to keep their skin pale. They may sport dark clothes and enjoy Gothic literary characters, such as Dracula and Frankenstein.

   Their tastes in music often run to alternative bands with dark lyrics, including Sisters of Mercy and Marilyn Manson.

   "My understanding of the (Gothic scene) is they have groups and act out things," Phillips said. "I don't know if they (Anastasia and Justin) were into that."

   Friends said Anastasia was no Gothic.

   "Anastasia wasn't what I considered `Goth' like everyone thought she was," said Peige Turner, a high school friend.

   Another friend, Daniele Fields, said Anastasia just experimented with Gothic music and clothing.

   "It was more like a trendy kind of thing," Fields said.

[What follows in the next four paragraphs has no relevance to Anastasia's murder, but placing it in the story at this point is a way to make the reader believe that there was a connection between the murder and "Goth" culture.]
   Gothic is a term related to art and literature that dates back centuries, according to Jerrold Hogle, a member scholar of the International Gothic Association and University of Arizona professor of English.

   Many people enjoy Gothic role-playing games or reading Gothic literature.

   "It's a way of getting vicarious indulgence without actually doing the worst thing you could do. Without, for example, carrying out murder," Hogle said.    "For the most part, that in itself is a safety valve. It can also be carried too far."

   At the Broadway Cafe in Kansas City, where Justin and Anastasia were well-known, a 17-year-old was having coffee one recent evening. He had a Gothic look of dark hair and clothing and pale skin but said he didn't consider himself Gothic.

   "It's trying to have fun when you're really depressed," said the boy, who didn't want to be identified. "It's embracing death."

[Again, we question the relevance of any of the preceding four paragraphs, except to create a connection between the murder and "Goth" culture where one does not exist in reality.]

Boy meets girl

   Anastasia and Justin met through friends. She fell hard for him. They began dating about six months before they died.

   While in high school at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, she had studied French and Latin and was a member of the Latin club.

   By June, she had graduated and moved into the Country Club Plaza condominium where Justin lived. His family purchased the apartment when he moved from Tulsa to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

   Anastasia spent less time with friends and more time with Justin. She chose to go to school in Kansas City because of him.

   "They just stopped coming out," said Jason White, an acquaintance from the Broadway Cafe. "They dropped out of Westport."

   Last summer, she dyed her hair black and wore more dark clothing.

   Anastasia's mother, Betsey Owens of Raymore, thinks her daughter's changes in appearance were, more than anything, an effort to be more congruent with her tall, dark-haired boyfriend.

   "I think it was a way of looking a little bit more like Justin," Owens said.

   But by summer's end, her mother said, Anastasia was excited to return her hair to its natural light-brown color.

   John Bruton said he never saw his son dress in the Gothic fashion.

   "He knew it wouldn't be permitted," John Bruton said. "We would not support him to live that lifestyle."

   Like Anastasia, who was an avid reader, Justin also preferred solitary recreation such as writing poetry, rock climbing and scuba diving.

The riddle remains

   By September, the relationship was on and off. Anastasia and Justin quarreled around the time she was to start school, her mother said, and she didn't take fall semester classes as she had planned.

   She moved back to her father's home but still saw Justin frequently.

   "She was madly in love with him," Owens said. "She did not feel he entirely reciprocated. One day he wanted to see her. The next day he didn't.

   "That was confusing for her."

   John Bruton said his son wanted to be only friends with Anastasia.

   Nearly three months after their deaths, their end is still a mystery.

   Family and friends are posting fliers about her death throughout the coffee shops Anastasia frequented in Westport and on 39th Street. They've also started a Web site to honor her.

Previous article.

Next article.>

Return to list of news accounts.