BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — The Barton County Sheriff says a suspect in a 1980 cold case homicide was arrested on Thursday in Sumner County.
Mary Robin Walter was killed on Jan. 24, 1980, just west of Great Bend near the Municipal Airport. She was found shot multiple times in her Nelson Trailer Park home. The park no longer exists.
Sheriff Brian Bellendir said she was married with one child and was a nursing student at Barton Community College. He said at the time, a substantial amount of information had been gathered, and a person of interest, Steven Hanks, had been developed. However, the sheriff says the case went cold before it was reopened in April 2022.
“After taking a fresh look at the case, it became evident that some of the information had been initially overlooked, and some had been added at a later date. This was unknown to the original investigators,” Bellendir said.
The sheriff said he assigned several detectives who tracked down multiple people for interviews. Those extended as far as the Pacific Northwest.
“In October this year, new evidence was obtained that allowed the sheriff’s office to submit the case to the Barton County Attorney, Mr. Levi Morris, for review. After approximately four weeks of review, Mr. Morris obtained an arrest warrant for murder in the second degree and the arrest of Steven L. Hanks, age 68, of Burden, Kansas,” Bellendir said.
Hanks was a neighbor to the victim at the time of the homicide.
This is not his first run-in with the law. Court documents show more than a year after Mary was killed, Hank broke into a coworker’s home and began began “kissing her and fondling her.”
About four months later, records show he broke into the same woman’s home armed with a knife. In 1983, he was convicted of criminal trespass, battery, attempted rape, and other charges.
He made his first appearance in court on Friday afternoon. He is currently being held in Barton County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond and is due back in court on Thursday, Dec. 15.
“At 42 years and 10 months, we believe this is the oldest homicide arrest in the state of Kansas,” said Bellendir.
Bellendir said the arrest clears the last known homicide under the jurisdiction of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m proud of my officers for clearing this case. Hopefully, it brings closure for the family and brings justice for the community,” he said. “These are long, complicated investigations and are tedious. The credit here goes to my people.”
KSN News contacted the victim’s daughter, Pamela Walter Cooper. She said she forgave him (the suspect) a while ago and feels no different today. She says that everyone who would have received comfort is, unfortunately, dead.
Watch the full Barton County Sheriff’s Office news conference below: