Sharon Kinne: The Housewife From Hell

As a young girl, Sharon Hall was a Girl Scout. By the age of 20 she was an Independence housewife with two children. Her husband, James Kinne, was a devout Mormon. Sharon wasn't.Sharon, often described as pretty, felt the world was passing her by. She had champagne tastes and a beer income. She bought stuff, lots of stuff, and let James worry about how to pay for it. She pressured him into buying a new ranch home.By 1960 she was having an affair with a friend from high-school and was facing the prospect of divorce. So she did the only sensible thing, for her: She shot her husband in the head while he was napping and said her 2-year-old daughter did it while playing with daddy's gun. The police bought that story. Shortly afterward Sharon Kinne bought a brand new blue Ford Thunderbird with insurance proceeds. Several weeks later she traded the first Thunderbird in for a second one with air-conditioning. She took a fancy to the salesman who sold her the second car, Walter Jones, and started an affair with him. When she became pregnant by Jones she demanded that he leave his wife and marry her. He refused. Always a practical girl, she lured Patricia Jones to a lonely road in eastern Jackson County and shot her four times. Patricia Jones was at first reported missing. Kinne told Walter Jones that she had met with Patricia, told her that Walter was having an affair with her sister (she had no sister) but that she had then driven Patricia home and let her out of the car. Jones told police that he put a knife to Kinne's throat and demanded that she tell him where Patricia was. Jones said Kinne never flinched.Kinne pretended to look for Patricia Jones, and went to the scene with her high-school boyfriend, John Boldizs, and "discovered" the body. She told Boldizs to say he was alone when he found the body, but he quickly caved in when police began to focus on him, wanting to know why he'd been on a lover's lane alone at midnight (Kinne had torn the victim's clothes, to make it look like a sex crime).When Sharon Kinne was arrested she captured the public's imagination and quickly became a cause celebre. The law took a second look at her husband's death, and she was indicted for both murders. She was tried first for the murder of Patricia Jones. Witnesses had seen Patricia getting into a car with Kinne, and Patricia was never seen again alive. The murder weapon -- a .22-caliber Hi-Standard target pistol -- had not been found, but J. Arnot "June" Hill, the assistant prosecutor handling the case, felt confident he could get a conviction and send Kinne to the gas chamber.The prosecutors proved Kinne had bought .22-caliber Hi-Standard pistol, and that she said she misplaced it or lost it while vacationing in Seattle with her brother. She was defended by the legendary Kansas City criminal firm of Quinn & Peebles, for whom Kinne's mother worked as a legal secretary.This first trial was brilliantly defended by J. Patrick Quinn and Martha Sperry Hickman, and less brilliantly prosecuted by Hill, who even now, years after his death, is remembered as an outstanding criminal lawyer.When the all-male jury acquitted Kinne of Patricia Jones' murder the Jackson County courthouse rang with cheers. One male juror, Ogden Nash, asked for her autograph. Kinne assured the jury they'd made the right decision.Kinne was then tried for killing her husband, even though the case had officially been declared an accidental homicide. Kinne and her lawyers thought the second trial would be a walk in the woods - but she was convicted.Kinne quickly adapted to jail life - becoming a tough con who ran her jail tank, and got sexually involved with an older woman, Margaret Hopkins. Kinne drew up a formal "marriage contract" with her lover, which eventually became public. Kinne was such a dominating personality at the Jackson County Jail that the authorities shipped her off to state prison while her appeal was pending.The Missouri Supreme Court overturned her conviction. (During the trial, the prosecution had impeached one of its own witnesses when the witness had not said what the prosecution had hoped he would say.) Kinne was released from prison on bond. Her third trial ended in a mistrial, and a fourth ended in a hung jury.At the urging of her lawyers, Kinne was keeping a low profile. She met a small-time thief and con artist, Samuel Puglise, and began an affair, which led to another "marriage contract." She decided to go to Mexico for several weeks to vacation, according to the author. Before leaving, however, she wrote a series of bad checks -- which tells me she was not planning to return. Sharon Kinne was a clever woman -- clever enough to know the Jackson County authorities would use those bad checks to bury her in prison.In Mexico she left Puglise at the motel room they'd rented, then picked up Francisco Ordonoz and went with him to his motel room. She shot Ordonoz twice in the heart. When the motel manager entered the room, Kinne was counting Ordonoz's money. Kinne shot the motel manager in the shoulder, but he was able to wrest the gun away from her and hold her for the police. Alex Peebles, one of Kinne's Kansas City lawyers, flew to Mexico to try to help her. The Mexican authorities refused to let him represent her in that country.When Peebles went to visit Kinne, he asked her, "What have you gotten yourself into now?"Sharon "giggled and coyly replied, 'Oh, I ran into a little trouble down here.'"The media, including the Saturday Evening Post, flocked to Mexico to cover Kinne, who had been nicknamed La Pistolera by the Mexican people. When police searched Kinne's motel room, they found a .22-caliber Hi-Standard pistol, the one Kinne had said she lost while vacationing. Ballistic tests determined it was the gun that killed Patricia Jones - but Kinne had already been acquitted of that crime, and could never be retried. After languishing in a Mexican jail for a year, Kinne was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She appealed the conviction, and the Mexican appellate court raised her sentence to 13 years, largely because she was unrepentant.Most Americans fare poorly in Mexican prisons, but Sharon Kinne was no ordinary American. She ruled. She took pride in the fact that her fellow convicts were afraid of her. She also told one interviewer in Mexico, "I'm just an ordinary girl."On Dec. 7, 1969, the "ordinary girl" disappeared from Ixtapalapa Women's Prison and has never been heard from since. James Hays, who works at AlliedSignal Aerospace Co., and is a former mayor of Sibley, Mo., was a small boy living in eastern Jackson County at the time the Kinne case broke into the news. Patricia Jones' body was found on a lonely lover's lane near Hays' home. Hays, like many Kansas Citians, was fascinated by the Kinne Case. The Kinne case took many twists and turns, each more sensational than the last. Many Kansas City writers have talked of writing a book about the Kinne case, but none did. Hays has finally written the Kinne story. The book, The Sharon Kinne Story, was published last week by Leathers Publishing. Hays said he paid Leathers Publishing to print the book. Hays does not hold himself out as a professional writer, so I'll not belabor the stylistic shortcomings of the book. More troubling, however, are the recurring homophobic refrains throughout it. Hays constantly refers to Margaret Hopkins, and Kinne, as sexual deviates -- because of their lesbian relationship in the Jackson County Jail. Hays defends this practice by saying he is quoting official court records -- although no such label was ever affixed to Sharon Kinne in any official proceeding.In 1960, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder by the medical establishment. So when a VA official, at one of Kinne's trials, described Margaret Hopkins as suffering from sexual deviancy, that was the accepted medical viewpoint -- nearly 40 years ago. That medical point of view has long since been abandoned. In choosing to write this book, Hays neglected the responsibility of putting such matters in historical perspective.Hays also portrays Kinne as a rampant whore, yet the evidence is that, at the time of her first arrest, she had slept with only three men, and was married to one of them.The author is irritatingly judgmental throughout the book, and is frequently crude in his thinking, particularly when discussing sex. Also disturbing is the author's penchant for quoting conversations between Kinne and another person, when the author has never interviewed either person. Or telling us what Kinne thought, or felt. Hays admits doing this at the front of the book, but it is still bothersome. Hays was smart enough to figure out that the Sharon Kinne story is inherently sensational -- as close to a sure thing as a Kansas City writer is likely to find.Hays told me he considers himself to be "Sharon's last victim." He said the more he worked on her story the more "pissed off" he got at Sharon Kinne, and the more deeply emotional he got about her victims. All of this is evident in the book.The Sharon Kinne case so deeply affected those involved that even now, more than 33 years later, Hays could not get interviews with Sharon's past lovers or Sharon's family, or for that matter, many of the people involved.In November, "Unsolved Mysteries" will broadcast a segment on Sharon Kinne, which could result in this book becoming a movie. Hays told the New Times he is also in contact with a production company in California, but the uncertainty of Sharon Kinne's fate is often seen as a stumbling block to a movie. I'm sure that stumbling block will be overcome. In the meantime, for Hays' sake, I hope Sharon Kinne doesn't read this book.


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