KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Last week, federal authorities offered a $100,000 reward for help solving a 16-year-old cold case: the death of Alonzo Brooks, a 23-year-old black man.
With the family still seeking answers all these years later, a federal prosecutor and FBI agent have made it their mission to solve this case and gave FOX4’s John Holt an in-depth look at the investigation.
While it might be tempting to link a federal hate crimes investigation in Kansas to the recent resurgence of racial tensions, in truth, the unsolved death in Linn County came to the attention of the U.S. Attorney for Kansas more than a year ago.
It hit close to home for the Republican appointee, who teamed up with a passionate FBI agent to solve the “Mystery of Middle Creek” once and for all.
Carved out of the rural Kansas countryside, Middle Creek meanders quietly through Linn County just east of La Cygne. But along its journey to join the Marais Des Cygnes River farther south, there’s a 16-year-old dark secret.
A former law professor who’s also argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, now U.S. Attorney for Kansas, Steve McAllister embraces a new passion.
“I guess I feel sadness and melancholy, you know, someone’s life lost here,” McAllister said.
On April 3, 2004, Brooks hopped in a car with a friend and went from the Gardner area to a rented farmhouse outside La Cygne for a typical late-night party with teens and twenty-somethings. As one of few African Americans, Brooks wouldn’t know many there that night.
That wasn’t a problem. His mom, Maria Ramirez, said her son knew no strangers.
“Oh yeah, he mixed with everybody, all kinds of people. You know, anybody, you know? He didn’t look at colors,” Ramirez said.
That night, Brooks stayed late at the party, declining an early ride home. He mixed with partiers primed by alcohol and weed. At some point, it’s believed he may have mixed with some trouble.
“That night, it started as a normal party with family and friends,” FBI Special Agent Leena Ramana said.
Ramana joined in a fresh investigation of that night when McAllister reached out more than a year ago.
“And it was at that point where we’re starting to learn more, and we keep, we keep learning more about… something happened to Alonzo that night,” Ramana said.
“Something happened to him, and somebody — my guess is plural, ‘somebodies’ — know what happened,” McAllister said.
‘Nobody just disappears’
In spite of multiple searches by multiple agencies, it took just over an hour for family and friends to find Brooks’ body a month later, tangled in Middle Creek brush.
“What goes through my mind a lot is what he went through that night, what he was saying, what he was thinking. Why?” aunt Angela Cox said.
Cox and brother Billy Brooks have heard all the rumors. There were fights, Alonzo was attacked for flirting with white girls, tortured, his body hidden.
Billy Brooks is certain his brother was the victim of a hate crime.
“He’s the only one of color who never came home. Everybody else went home,” he said.
Local and state investigators came up empty-handed, and a 2008 federal civil rights investigation did, too.
“At least from my perspective, it’s about justice, and it’s about what’s right,” McAllister said.
When the U.S. Attorney learned of the cold case in 2019, he felt a calling, joining with the FBI to launch a second federal hate crimes investigation.
“It is very personal. I also have five children of my own that kind of bookend the age of the victim in this case, and I can only imagine the trauma and the hurt for the family all these years not knowing what happened to their son or brother, their nephew,” McAllister said.
The mystery was deepened by an “inconclusive” autopsy on Brooks’ remains and a “cone of silence” from that night’s young party-goers.
“Maybe they were scared 16 years ago to talk to the police or they didn’t really know back then what happened was wrong,” Ramana said. “And as they grow, as they have their families, they know what they may have seen is just a little piece of a puzzle.”
That missing puzzle piece is one that family desperately wants found, to shed light on that “dark secret,” to solve the mystery of Middle Creek.
“Nobody just disappears. You know somebody knows what happened,” Billy Brooks said.
“I just want to know, you know? What happened to my son? And why? Because it’s been too long,” Ramirez said.
McAllister said since the reward was announced last week they have received some tips and some new information, and they hope by speaking up they can keep that flow of information coming.
The U.S. Attorney also added that new forensic DNA testing technology may help solve the case, too. Brooks’ boots and a hat were discovered across the road from the farmhouse the day after he disappeared.
And investigators have not ruled out exhuming Brooks’ body, which is interred in a Topeka cemetery. Though no decision on that has been made, McAllister confirms the family has been consulted about that possibility.