Police knew years ago that DNA tied suspect to unsolved 1998 murder in Kansas City, Kansas

The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department

Kansas City, Kansas, detectives were aware that DNA tied a former trucker to a woman’s 1998 killing as early as 2003 — two decades before he was charged this month.

The FBI’s national DNA database informed the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department of the “hit” in 2003, allegedly connecting Gary Dion Davis Sr. to the fatal beating of Christina King, 26, on Christmas Day 1998, according to police records obtained by The Star.

Now 52, Davis is accused of killing King, who was found behind an abandoned building at 27th Street and Sewell Avenue, as well as Pearl Barnes, who also went by Sameemah Musawwir, who was found two years earlier, in 1996, in a vacant house in the 700 block of Lafayette Avenue in northeast KCK.

The charges against Davis — two counts of second-degree murder — were announced Wednesday as the police department’s recently formed cold case unit revealed it had solved four homicides.

The other two solved cases did not involve Davis. But detectives suspect he has killed more people, and they have sent his DNA for testing in two additional cold cases, police told The Star.

During a press conference Wednesday, Police Chief Karl Oakman, speaking generally, said even once detectives get DNA, they still have to “figure out how all this happened.” Oakman, who took over as KCKPD’s chief in 2021, praised his detectives, saying it was their recent work that brought the victims’ families answers.

“The DNA may tell you something, but to get a case, you got to make sure you have a thorough case, a thorough investigation,” he said. “And there is still no substitute for outstanding investigators.”

Asked why Davis was not arrested sooner in King’s killing, given the DNA evidence, police spokesperson Nancy Chartrand provided a timeline of events and said until Oakman created the cold case unit in 2022, detectives worked them when they had time as “they juggled their current caseloads.”

“As for the lack of charges being filed, in order to effect an arrest and ultimately charges, multiple requirements must be met for the detective to submit an affidavit and at that time, they were not able to do so,” she wrote in an email.

Two months after King’s body was found, detectives in February 1999 sent DNA from the crime scene to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Chartrand said. At the time, the KBI could only say the DNA came from a male. No match was made.

In 2001, Davis was arrested for domestic aggravated battery and burglary, police said. When he was convicted, he was swabbed for DNA, which was entered into the national database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

Then in 2003, KCK detectives were informed that Davis’ DNA “matched” the evidence collected at the scene of King’s murder, police said.

“In the aggravated battery,” an officer wrote in a report at the time, “he beat this woman with his fist, similar to King’s death.”

About 14 months went by before detectives brought Davis in for questioning, Chartrand said, though after 20 years, it is unclear why he was not interviewed sooner.

“Mr. Davis may not have been responsive to detectives’ requests, he may have canceled meetings and more likely than not, detective availability may have delayed things,” she wrote.

Once detectives brought Davis in, in 2005, a “known sample” was taken and sent to the KBI, Chartrand said. Testing again tied Davis’ DNA to King’s murder, she said.

There have been numerous KCK police chiefs since the DNA discovery.

The Star could not immediately reach King’s daughter, April Parks, for comment. During a vigil in 2021, at the scene of the murder more than two decades later, she told FOX 4 she was left with many questions, like how someone could kill her young mother.

“Who did it? Why?” she asked in an interview with the station, later adding: “Her autopsy — there are so many injuries and so many abrasions and bruises.”

KCKPD in touch with ‘multiple’ agencies

Oakman said Wednesday that detectives continue to investigate Davis in cold cases in the Kansas City region and other parts of the U.S. Davis was an over-the-road truck driver in the 1990s, a fact that was corroborated by his ex-wife, police said.

Detectives have been in contact with “multiple agencies” in Kansas and have initiated contact with “several others outside the state,” Chartrand told The Star.

In reviewing KCK’s more than 280 unsolved homicides, Oakman said cases with physical evidence and possible, identified suspects take precedent.

“Our mandate is to review every open case that we have,” he said.

In charging documents, prosecutors listed 13 police witnesses in the case against Davis, including seven officers or detectives who have since retired. One of them is a detective who was informed in 2003 of the DNA hit. Nine other witnesses are named.

Before he was arrested, Davis lived near Interstate 635 in KCK’s Turner neighborhood, records show. Until recently, he wrote in court documents, he worked in logistics in Lee’s Summit.

Across the state line in Missouri, Kansas City police said Davis is not a suspect in any homicides there.

The Star obtained the police records through a court action last year. The newspaper sought to make records public in an unrelated wrongful conviction lawsuit, and a federal judge ruled that lawyers involved in that case could disclose KCK records about city personnel and criminal investigations.

Attorney Cheryl Pilate supplied The Star with a few redacted files of KCKPD’s investigation into King’s homicide. The initial police investigation, she said, itself “should be investigated.”

Davis remains in the Wyandotte County jail on a $500,000 bond. The Star could not reach his listed attorney for comment.

A hearing in his case is set for Oct. 3.