KANSAS CITY (MCT) — Paige Hueser had stared at the police sketch for months.
It was the face of the man a witness had seen walking from her mother’s south Kansas City house in October 2011, after leaving 75-year-old Nina Whitney dead at the bottom of some stairs. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed 22 times and strangled.
Hueser focused on the man’s cropped hair and oval glasses.
“Do I know anyone who looks like this?” she asked herself, never finding an answer.
In late May, as she drove along U.S. Highway 71, she glanced up at a billboard bearing a large version of the sketch and noticed something she hadn’t before.
“That chin,” she said. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning.”
It reminded her of a former boyfriend from the late 1980s — former Grandview, Mo., police officer Jeffrey D. Moreland.
According to Internet records, Moreland was a 1977 graduate of East Union High School. Afton city records indicate Moreland was also a former Afton police officer. He was hired as a part-time police officer effective August 1980. His resignation was accepted Jan. 8, 1981.
Hueser called Kansas City police, who by then had linked similarities and DNA evidence from her mother’s case to the unsolved 2008 rape and shooting of Cara Jo Roberts in Harrisonville, Mo. Despite the connection, police had no viable suspect.
Hueser’s call May 31 changed all that.
Last week, police matched DNA from Moreland, 52, to the deaths of Whitney and Roberts. He was in a Missouri jail Friday with a bond of more than $1 million.
“My mom would have let him in her house,” Hueser said Friday. “He knew she would be alone. He knew she would be vulnerable. He knew.”
Police asked Moreland on June 16 for a DNA sample, but he refused.
A rape in Harrisonville two weeks ago also played a pivotal role in the charges. Police were able to get a search warrant for the former officer’s DNA after a woman accused him of offering her a ride and then raping her June 30.
The woman told police she feared he was going to strangle her, but she talked her way out of his Harrisonville home after the attack, according to court records. She later led officers to his home.
Prosecutors from Jackson, Mo., and Cass, Mo., counties on Friday announced charges against Moreland, who medically retired from the Grandview department. In June 2005, Moreland, who has Parkinson’s disease, had to retire from police work. That was before Roberts was killed.
He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed criminal action, two counts of sodomy and one count of rape.
Police arrested him Wednesday in Iowa, where his parents and other relatives live. Police and relatives said he fled and attempted suicide after he knew police were closing in on him.
Moreland is married and has two young children, as well as several adult children from previous marriages and relationships.
Although Moreland had a connection to Whitney, authorities didn’t say whether he had a link to Roberts.
Police said they were still looking at other unsolved cases.
After leaving Iowa, Moreland attended Central Missouri State University and was hired as a Grandview police officer in 1984.
Hueser said Moreland earned a master’s degree in criminology.
“He was a good person,” she said. “He loved being a cop.”
Moreland was separated at the time from his first wife — a girl he had dated in high school — and was living in an apartment in Grandview.
Hueser and Moreland broke up in the spring of 1987 and he later finalized his divorce.
Moreland met a college intern at the police station who became his second wife in 1989 or 1990.
They had a daughter, but the marriage was troubled, according to an acquaintance.
The couple divorced in 1994, according to Missouri court records.
Moreland met his third wife in Iowa, through his parents. They married in the mid-1990s, and she began working as a Grandview court clerk and later, a clerk at Harrisonville municipal court.
They lived in Harrisonville and had two children, who are now about 9 and 11.
His wife, Carmalee Moreland, stood in court Thursday when Moreland faced the rape and sodomy charges. Moreland reportedly told her and other relatives that the rape accusation was bogus and the victim was a prostitute who wanted more money.
But his wife wasn’t in court for the murder charges Friday. She left town with her children for Iowa Thursday night, telling relatives she wanted to avoid the expected media crush.
Despite the differences in the victims’ ages and deaths, the Roberts and Whitney cases had similarities, investigators said.
Both women were sexually assaulted in their homes, there were no signs of forced entry and bathtubs in both homes were filled with water.
Roberts’ murder on Nov. 5, 2008 — which happened in broad daylight on a weekday in a quiet neighborhood — shocked the community and stymied investigators.
Her husband found Roberts’ body in the bathtub in their home. He had come home from work after being unable to reach her by telephone. He later said the bathwater was red with blood.
An autopsy concluded she had been sexually assaulted and killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head. Investigators found zip ties and duct tape.
A witness saw a man walking in the neighborhood that day, and police generated a composite sketch. After months of investigation, Harrisonville police turned the case over to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Nearly two years later, on Oct. 29, 2010, a man talked his way into Whitney’s house in the 11800 block of Belmont Avenue in Kansas City. Police said Whitney was wary of strangers and unlikely to open her door to someone she didn’t know.
The man sexually assaulted Whitney, then started running the bath water, presumably to try to destroy DNA evidence. Whitney apparently tried to flee the house. Her daughter later found her body at the bottom of stairs amid signs of a struggle. The daughter also found the water-filled tub upstairs, with both faucets still turned on full.
Police also released a sketch in Whitney’s case, based on a witness who saw a man with a cell phone walking down the street away from Whitney’s house about 2 p.m.
The man, who had a limp, got into a black Jeep, the witness said.
Tipsters called with leads, but none panned out.
Until Hueser called.
Police confirmed that Moreland owned a black Jeep and thought he matched the sketch. But he wouldn’t allow officers to take a DNA swab.
After police confronted him, he went to Iowa — where he grew up and where his parents still live — and tried to commit suicide by overdosing on medication, according to a relative and an acquaintance of Moreland.
Relatives took him to a hospital, where he spent Father’s Day.
Two weeks later, a woman walking home from a Harrisonville business accepted a ride from a man in a black Jeep.
She told police it was a very hot that day.
But the man did not drive her to where she wanted to go. She told police he drove fast and at times erratically to a house in Harrisonville, an address listed as Moreland’s residence.
According to court documents, she said to him: “Just don’t kill me.”
As the man pulled off her dress, he told her she was stupid for getting into a vehicle with a stranger and that he had picked her up because she looked vulnerable.
She later struggled with her attacker and he hit her on the head, the documents say.
After raping her, he told her to get dressed, gave her two $50 bills, told her he would give her another $100 the next day and drove her home.
She did not call police until the next day when, after spending the night with a friend, she returned home and saw the man sitting in his Jeep in front of her house.
When Moreland learned of the rape accusation, police said, he fled again to Iowa.
He tried to commit suicide a second time, a relative said. He was treated at a hospital and headed to a mental hospital, according to the relative. Moreland was arrested in Des Moines.
Moreland declined to talk to detectives about the rape or murders.
Moreland appeared Friday afternoon before a Cass County judge to face the murder charges. He was rolled in sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a gray-and-white-striped jumpsuit. His hands, below his handcuffed wrists, shook as he told the judge he could not afford a lawyer.
A judge entered pleas of not guilty for Moreland.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Kansas City Star, Mo.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
The Creston News Advertiser contributed to this story.