Notable Kansas City-area crimes: Who is Kylr Yust, convicted of murdering 2 ex-girlfriends?

·4 min read

In a highly-publicized case, Kylr Yust was found guilty in April 2021 of killing two of his former girlfriends who went missing roughly 10 years apart in Cass County, Missouri.

The case began when 17-year-old Kara Kopetsky was reported missing in May 2007. Another one of Yust’s former girlfriends, 21-year-old Jessica Runions, then was last seen alive in September 2016.

Yust, of Kansas City, had been linked to Kopetsky and Runions early in their disappearances. For months, the families of both women searched extensively for their whereabouts. Their cases remained long-running mysteries in the metro area until a mushroom hunter found their remains in April 2017 in a wooded area south of Belton.

Six months later, Yust was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths. Jurors — brought in from St. Charles County because of the case’s publicity in the Kansas City region — convicted Yust, then 32, of voluntary manslaughter in Kopetsky’s death and of second-degree murder in Runions’ death.

At the trial that began April 5, 2021, prosecutors sought to portray Yust as a violent and merciless killer who took the young women’s lives because he could not stand to see either become romantically involved with someone else. Yust’s defense team, meanwhile, called him innocent and tried to cast doubt on the police investigation, saying no physical evidence connected Yust to the killings.

Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler said Kopetsky had tried to end her relationship with Yust, who admitted to friends that he “‘strangled the (expletive) out of her and threw her in the middle of the (expletive) woods.’”

Yust killed again nine years later when Runions tried to end her relationship with him, according to prosecutors. Yust dumped their bodies in “his spot,” Butler told jurors gathered inside the Harrisonville courthouse.

Between 2010 and 2012, police said they spoke to at least four people who claimed Yust confessed to killing Kopetsky, according to charging documents.

At the trial, jurors heard a 2011 recording between Yust and another ex-girlfriend in which Yust allegedly said he killed Kopetsky.

“This really turns you on that I killed a girl, huh?” Yust asked her.

The prosecution’s witnesses included one of Yust’s former girlfriends who testified that Yust violently attacked her in 2011 and confessed that he had “killed ex-girlfriends” before.

One of Yust’s defense attorneys, Sharon Turlington, told the jury that detectives conducted a “suspect-driven investigation.” Officers failed to collect evidence, including Yust’s phone records with location data, and lost other evidence, she said.

“Somehow Kylr is supposed to have pulled off two murders without leaving a trace,” Turlington said.

The defense’s witnesses included a woman who testified that on the day Kopetsky disappeared, she saw a sedan with four people inside approach Kopetsky before she heard a “blood-curdling scream.”

When he took the stand himself, Yust denied killing Kopetsky and Runions and instead accused his late half-brother, who in 2018 died by suicide while he was being held at the Jackson County jail.

He also denied that he confessed to the several witnesses called to testify.

“I don’t know what exactly happened to Kara,” he testified, later adding: “I didn’t do anything to either of them.”

After the verdict, prosecutors argued for Yust to receive a harsh sentence. Julie Tolle, an assistant prosecutor in Cass County, said Yust for years had shown a “lack of remorse” and failed “to ever accept any responsibility for anything.”

“It is every parent’s worst nightmare to imagine their child going missing,” Tolle said. “There were opportunities for over 14 years for this man to come forward and get justice for these families.”

Yust was sentenced to life plus 15 years in a Missouri prison. Relatives of the slain women quietly applauded after the sentence was announced by Circuit Court Judge William Collins.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, family members of Runions and Kopetsky described a long and difficult path to justice, at times being told the women would never be found.

“We’re very thankful for justice to come,” said Jim Beckford, Kopetsky’s stepfather. “We won. We got them back.”

Yust’s attorneys have indicated they plan to appeal.

As of June 2021, Yust remained at the Western Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center in St. Joseph. He is now prisoner No. 1223401 in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Star reporters Luke Nozicka, Cortlynn Stark, Glenn E. Rice, Bill Lukitsch and Katie Moore contributed to this report.