Local student not among this world’s “well-to-do” society
The Floyd County Times, Prestonsburg, GA


The October 16th edition of the Floyd County Times reported—finally—the finding of a local student who had been missing since September 20, 1992.

I only met Walter Cropper a few time(s).  He was a likable young man—though not among this world’s “most bright and beautiful people.”

Which is what causes me to wonder…

Walter was missing as of September 20; why is it that nothing was said or written by the news media until his body was found and positively identified almost a month later?

Would things have been handled differently if his parents had been “well-to-do” influential members of the Prestonsburg society?  Or if his family had “known someone who knew someone” etc…?

Would his description and picture have been on local newscasts and the front page of the Floyd County Times—if he had been a well-known, well-liked student from PCC or Prestonsburg High School who disappeared under “mysterious circumstances”—instead of “just another runaway from the Job Corps Center?”

Given the problems of the Job Corps Center has encountered in the recent years, I am beginning to wonder why anyone would send their child there.

I guess it’s not hard to understand why things were handled in such a “hush-hush” manner.

There are those who would say Walter was over 18—a young adult—and besides, police have to wait 72 hours before someone is considered “missing.”

But if my memory serves me correctly, a year or so ago a local man, from the Martin area, well over the age of 18 was also “missing” and it was broadcast everywhere before the 72 hours were even up!

I hardly knew Walter Cropper; yet he haunts me…

I mourn the loss of Walter and my heart and prayers go out to his mother and family.  And the families of countless other young people in the U.S. who “disappear mysteriously.”  Who are suspected victims of “foul play,” and whose bodies are hard to I.D. due to “extenuating circumstances!”  Victims whose cases are not widely published—because they are not among the societies, “bright and beautiful” or “well-to-do.”

I think asking for information a month after the fact is perhaps too little—too late!

Mrs. Kim Slone


Mother criticizes handling of 1992 cold case
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 3:48 PM EST

Staff Writer

A Florida woman, whose son disappeared from the Prestonsburg area in 1992, openly criticized the Prestonsburg Police Department for mishandling the case in a recent interview.

"I have never in my life dealt with anything like what I dealt with there," said Kathy Cropper-Powe, the mother of Walter Joseph Cropper.

Powe, in an interview on Missing Pieces, said that she called Prestonsburg Police twice after she learned that her son had been missing, once before "the 24-hour mandatory wait period for missing persons," and again after that time had expired. Powe said after 48 hours Walter Cropper's name had still not been put on the BOLO (Be On the Look Out for) list.

"We were told by the police that they were looking for my son, that there were persons out, that they had questioned everybody," Powe said.

Powe said that Ricky Conn, formerly a detective with the Prestonsburg Police Department, had said, "Well you know, he could be out partying somewhere."

The body of Walter Cropper was found along the roadside one month later in Adairville, Ga. According to Powe the body was so decomposed that dental x-rays were needed to identify the body.

Greg Hall, who was police chief at the time of Cropper's disappearance, said on Friday, "We did conduct several interviews, though our involvement was minimal."

Powe said later she and her mother and sister came to Prestonsburg looking for answers and that the detective would not see them, "because he was too busy moving into his new home."

In an Oct. 16, 1992, issue of The Floyd County Times, the discovery of Cropper's body was reported. According to that report, Cropper had been attending career retraining courses at the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps Center, when he disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Cropper had last been seen at 1 p.m. on Sept. 20, 1992.

In a letter to the editor in The Times on Oct. 23 of that year, Kim Slone, then of Bevinsville, said, "Why is it that nothing was said or written by the news media until his body was found and positively identified almost a month later?"

In the letter, Slone continued to assail the lack of attention Cropper's disappearance had generated, saying, "Would his description and picture have been on local newscasts and the front page of the FCT - if he had been a well-known, well-liked student from PCC or Prestonsburg High School who disappeared under 'mysterious circumstances' - instead of 'just another runaway from the Job Corps Center?'"

Ricky Conn was not immediately available for comment.

After leaving the PPD Conn went to work as a Kentucky State Trooper.

Conn, now retired, was recognized for heroism for a 2004 incident in which, after an explosion occurred in his Ivel neighborhood, he rescued a mother and child from their burning home, despite suffering severe burns himself.

In 2005, Gov. Ernie Fletcher presented Conn with the Governor's Medal of Valor, which is reserved for troopers displaying conspicuous heroism in the line of duty under circumstances of extreme danger.

According to the Georgia Department of Investigation, police in Florida arrested a Floyd County man in February of 1993, Harry Eugene Hale, 46, of Martin, for questioning in Georgia in connection with a missing Swiss exchange student, Chris Zahn, sexual assaults against young males, and possibly the slaying of Cropper. According to reports, Hale was a resident of Austell, Ga., at the time of Zahn's 1992 disappearance. He also owned homes in Kentucky and Florida.

No evidence ever came forward linking Hale to Cropper's murder, though he was incarcerated for credit card fraud after being filmed using cards belonging to Zahn. Hale is currently serving a prison sentence in Georgia and will not come up for parole until 2013.

Missing Pieces is a weekly one hour public service broadcast aired over the internet at

According to its website, The Lost & The Found Global Resource Center provides news and highlights existing programs and services, in the volunteer sector, that assists law enforcement identify the deceased as well as help locate the missing.


Detective defends cold case investigation
Friday, February 15, 2008 4:24 PM EST

Staff Writer

PRESTONSBURG - A former detective expressed regret this week in an interview with Times staff saying that the Prestonsburg Police Department had done everything within the scope of their authority to solve the 1992 disappearance of Walter Cropper.

"Not a week goes by that I don't think about him," Ricky Conn said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "That was the unsolved case that sticks with me the most."

Times staff had attempted to reach Conn for a story it published last Sunday after renewed interest in the 1992 case was spawned by a radio show featuring the victim's mother. Conn said the victim's mother, Kathy Cropper-Powe, of Florida, has in the last 10 years begun to blame him for not solving the case. Conn alleged that the victim's mother had attacked him in a letter to The Times sometime around 1998.

"I can't imagine what that feels like to lose a child," Conn said. "If using me for a punching bag can make her feel better, I can take that."

As was reported last week, Cropper-Powe was recently interviewed on Missing Pieces, a one-hour internet radio show that helps people both deal with their loss, as well as generate interest in their cause. The show deals specifically with cold cases and missing persons.

On the show, hosted by Todd Matthews, Cropper-Powe said that she "had never dealt with anything like what I dealt with there (Prestonsburg)," adding that she felt the local police were less than enthusiastic about her son's case.

One specific charge she leveled on the force, and Conn in particular, was that they had not listed her son on a missing person's report for 48 hours after she notified them of the disappearance.

"That is kind of true," Conn explained. "There was some detail, and I don't remember specifically what it was, some little protocol, on the missing person's report that was incorrect, which caused NCIC (the National Crime Information Center) to kick the report back to us, so there was probably a 24-hour gap."

Had Cropper been stopped or detained for any reason by authorities in the previous 24 hours, Conn said, Prestonsburg Police would have been notified.

Conn said the delay wasn't a factor but, "It was a mistake on our part, and I'll take credit for that." Conn said he apologized to the victim's mother for the error at the time.

During the interview, Cropper-Powe also said that when she had come to meet with Conn, that he refused to see her saying he had to move into his house.

"She was supposed to come up the week before. I had told her I would be busy the following week," Conn said, adding that when she insisted on coming up the week he had told her he would be busy, he arranged for her to meet with the FBI agent who was handling the case. He said she seemed happy with that arrangement, and made no complaint at the time.

"If she had insisted that she talk to me, I would have met with her."

Conn said that he put in probably a month of footwork on the case after the disappearance of Cropper, conducting over 90 interviews. "We talked to everybody."

Conn said that his best lead had come in an interview with a local couple whom the victim was known to consort. One of them admitted pawning a .25 caliber pistol two or three days after Cropper's disappearance.

According to Conn, autopsy reports said that Cropper had died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head, and that the caliber had been the same.

"I went and picked up the handgun at the Hock Shop in Prestonsburg, and sent it off to GBI (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation) to try and match the ballistics," Conn said. "When I got the call from GBI, I really thought that was going to be it, but the bullet found at the crime scene didn't match with the gun." Conn said it was just a strange coincidence.

According to Conn, he exhausted every possible local lead and was forced to release the case to the FBI, saying, "The city wasn't going to pay me to investigate a crime that couldn't be placed in Floyd County."

Conn believes that Cropper "walked off" from the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps Center and met with foul play elsewhere. Conn said the autopsy report confirmed that the victim died at the location where his body was found.

"We were getting an average of 10 calls a month for walk-offs from the Job Corps at that time," Conn said, adding that while there was no documented history of harassment, he had gleaned from the interviews that Cropper was bullied and picked on often.

"A lot of them didn't really have much to say. He didn't really have any friends; kind of a loner," Conn said.

The file, case information and evidence was turned over to the FBI after it was determined that no crime took place locally.

After leaving the PPD. Conn went to work as a Kentucky State Trooper. Conn said he continued to make inquiries into the case while he was with KSP.

Conn, now retired, was recognized for heroism relating to a 2004 incident in which, after an explosion occurred in his Ivel neighborhood, he rescued a mother and child from their burning home, despite suffering severe burns himself.

In 2005, then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher presented Conn with the Governor's Medal of Valor, which is reserved for troopers displaying conspicuous heroism in the line of duty under circumstances of extreme danger.

According to the Georgia Department of Investigation, police in Florida arrested a Floyd County man in February 1993, Harry Eugene Hale, 46, of Martin, for questioning in Georgia in connection with a missing Swiss exchange student, Chris Zahn, sexual assaults against young males, and possibly the slaying of Cropper. According to reports, Hale was a resident of Austell, Ga., at the time of Zahn's 1992 disappearance. He also owned homes in Kentucky and Florida.

Conn said that he had also investigated Hale at the time.

No evidence ever came forward linking Hale to Cropper's murder, though he was incarcerated for credit card fraud after being filmed using Zahn's cards. Hale is currently serving a prison sentence in Georgia and will not come up for parole until 2013.

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Text Version:

(Introduction to show begins)

TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host):  I’m Todd Matthews.  This is Missing Pieces and tonight we have Kathy Cropper-Powe.  How are you doing, Kathy?

KATHY CROPPER-POWE (Guest, mother of Walter J. Cropper):  I’m fine.  How are you?

TODD:  I’m doing really good.  We had some terrible storms in Tennessee yesterday, but I think everybody is recovering.  I’m looking forward to talking to you and that was my biggest problem with last night, I couldn’t connect with you.

KATHY:  Yeah, I know.  I was worried about you guys.

TODD:  I know you were.  We lost a lot of power and there were a lot of lives lost night in Tennessee and some other states.  We want to talk about your son, Walter Cropper.  Now, nobody can tell it like you can.  I’ve got a lot of documents that you sent me, and a lot of things that we need to talk about; can you, in your own words…start off?

KATHY:  I’m sorry.

TODD:  Can you hear me?

KATHY:  Yes, I can hear you.

TODD:  Okay, just start out in your own words.  What happened?

KATHY:  When Walter was 18, he wanted to go and get his carpenter’s license, which his grandmother helped him find in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, at the Jobs Corps center, but it had really good program for carpentry school, so we looked it up, it was beautiful, and Walter went there when he was 18 years old.  He was there for 2 years and had graduated, and he had a plane ticket to come home on September 23rd, (1992).  I talked to him on September 19th, and his grandmother also talked to him to him then.  He was happy; full of joy.  He was ready to come home and start his new life.  My family had planned a big get-together, because my sister was coming home from Germany also to see him, and everybody was going to come down to Florida for a family reunion.  On the 19th, the schoolmaster called and asked me if I had heard anything from Walter and that he had not turned up to school the next morning; he had not come in to school the next morning.  I said, “No.  Where do you think he could be?” and they didn’t know so I called the police right away because it had never happened with Walter before, that he had missed anything, or been late to class or anything like that.  They said they couldn’t do anything because he was over the age of 18, and we had to wait 24 hours; so we did.  I was down in Panama City, Florida, at the time, so we did wait, and we put his name back in again after 24 hours and there was still no word.  My Mom had a friend of hers check the BOLO…

TODD:  Be On the Look Out for…yeah, I know what you’re talking about; be on the look out.  It’s just checking the boards to see if he’s out there.

KATHY:  Well, he wasn’t in there.  Pardon?

TODD:  I said that she just basically checked the boards to see if this information was out there.

KATHY:  Right.  And they still hadn’t put his name in, or they had put his name in wrong or something.  So after 48 hours, my Mom corrected it and we had his name in there.  We were told by the police that they were looking for my son, that there were persons out, that they had questioned everybody.

TODD:  And that was in Kentucky, right? 

KATHY:  Pardon?

TODD:  That was still in Kentucky, right?

KATHY:  Yes, still in Kentucky; they weren’t looking anywhere else.  It was the Prestonsburg Police, and the detective, Rick Kahn, he told me that he was going door-to-door, and then he said, “Well, you know, he could be out partying somewhere.”  And I told him that that just wasn’t Walter’s style, and that he could check with the people at the school; he been there for 2 years, that he didn’t just go off partying.  And the next thing…it was a month later that we got the call that they had found a body in Adairsville, Georgia, that could be Walter.  So we had to send X-rays, his dental X-rays and other X-rays that we had and it took them a week, and they said that it was Walter, and because of the circumstances…he was left on the side of the road…I’m sorry, Todd, this is hard…

TODD:  I know it’s hard.  It’s very hard.  It’s understandable that’s it’s hard, so don’t worry about it, okay?

KATHY:  Okay, thank you.  So we had him cremated and we brought him home.  The FBI was involved then, it was the FBI agent who called, and we went to Prestonsburg and Detective Kahn wouldn’t see us; he said he was too busy moving into his new home.  My mother, my sister and I went up there and he said he was too busy moving into his new home, to see us.  But the FBI agent called because he saw us, and he said he had done a lot of questioning and meeting people that Walter knew and with everything that he had found out about Walter, that he would make sure that he found justice for him because he was such a nice person and he couldn’t find anybody who had anything bad to say about Walter.  It was about 6 months later…well before that, I sent you that news article…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …and the lady that wrote the news article saying that the police had never asked any questions or sent flyers or anything out on Walter, and that he wasn’t a local boy and 2 weeks before that, a local boy had gone missing and they had put out all kinds of flyers and put it on the TV, but nobody heard about Walter until after Walter’s body was found.

TODD:  But he had been living there for a couple of years though, right?

KATHY:  Right.  He was a member of the Catholic church there; he was a counselor for the Catholic church’s kids camp.  He was a volunteer for the fire department.  He knew everybody and had all kinds of friends.

TODD:  What do you have to do to be a member of a community?  That’s pretty solid.

KATHY:  Yeah, it was.  He had planned on moving back there.  He loved Prestonsburg so much that he had planned on moving back to Kentucky after he came home and saw all the family and got settled.  His girlfriend had graduated and she had moved down to Florida, so the two of them were going to move back to Kentucky.  The whole thing was just so confusing to me.  I had never in my life dealt with anything like what I dealt with there.  When we went to Prestonsburg, they told us that the reason that Walter probably wasn’t looked for was because, when the Jobs Corps had requested the land there, that they had asked…the town had requested that it be 60% black and 40% white population; and it was 80% black and 20% white.  And I asked them what that had to do with my son and justice and law enforcement, and they couldn’t answer me.  The Chief of Police told me that.  And then they thought it was a racist thing because Walter had no problems; the schoolmaster was a beautiful black woman and Walter would put his arm around her and give her a kiss on the cheek, and she wrote me a special note saying how wonderful it was that he wasn’t afraid to do that in Prestonsburg.  So I don’t know exactly what was going on in the town, but at first we thought it might have something to do with that.  Then about 6 months later, we found out about Chris Zahn.  He was an exchange student here in America; he was visiting from Switzerland.  If you look at the pictures of him and Walter, they could be twins.  He disappeared from Atlanta, Georgia, and they found Harry Hale, the man that was using his credit cards, Chris Zahn’s credit cards.  Harry Hale lived in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, and was a known predator of young men around the age of Walter and Chris’s age.  He had been caught before and he was convicted before, and they went to Hale’s house and conducted a search warrant, and I have the paperwork on this.  The first time they conducted the search warrant, they saw a Seiko walk-along recorder that Walter had had when he disappeared, at Hale’s house, but because they didn’t have a search warrant for that particular item, because Prestonsburg Police had not told the Prestonsburg State Police about Walter, they couldn’t touch it.  So they got Chris’s things and they went back to get another search warrant, and when they went back, Walter’s things were gone.  So there was no evidence that Walter’s things were at Harry Hale’s house.  There was evidence that a man fitting Harry Hale’s description had followed Walter one time, and Walter complained to the security guard at the school.  Harry Hale wrote me a letter saying that he knew Walter, and a lot of other terrible things he said about Walter, but he’s in prison in Georgia and they only gave him until 2013 for fraud, for using the credit cards…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …but he’ll be getting out and they couldn’t convict him of murder for Chris because there was no body.  And they couldn’t convict him for Walter’s murder because Walter was out in the elements for so long that there was no evidence.  Walter was shot with a .22 Raven, in his chest, and the gun has never been found.

TODD:  Do you really feel like this is the guy that did this?

KATHY:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I think that there is evidence that leans that way, but nobody is really trying.  I have to say that Agent Scott of the GBI, now, that has the case, I think that he wants to, but because the case is so old and because funds are so limited with cold cases now for law enforcement they can’t, you know, I don’t know what the story is but it just seems like the case hasn’t been worked on, it hasn’t been done.

TODD:  I see your letters where you have communicated.

KATHY:  Pardon?

TODD:  I see where you have communicated with him (Henry Hale) for a number of years.

KATHY:  Yes, because I wanted him to admit something.  When he was first arrested he told me that he never knew Walter, he didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was a crazy woman.  Well, now he admits that he knows Walter, he knew Walter, he met Walter on several on occasions.  I had a lady that does handwriting analysis with the cold case groups and she did a handwriting analysis for me, which was right on the mark.

TODD:  And that’s from one letter that Walter had written, right?

KATHY:  Not that Walter had written, but that Harry Hale had written to me.  It was right on the mark.  She told me things that I didn’t pick up from the letter and so I sent that to Agent Scott and told him about what she had said because I was impressed by it, but then I never heard another word from him.

TODD:  And that’s been how long?

KATHY:  It’s when I first joined your cold case group, so that’s about 4 or 5 months ago.

TODD:  Wow, that’s been quite a little bit of time now.

KATHY:  Uh huh.

TODD:  Who was the lady that did the handwriting analysis?  Is it somebody that I’ve used before?

KATHY:  Pardon?

TODD:  Is it somebody…?

KATHY:  It’s somebody from our group.

TODD:  Peggy.

KATHY:  I don’t know if I can say her name.

TODD:  I’ll just say her first name, Peggy.

KATHY:  That’s her.

TODD:  Okay.  Good.  She’s good.  She’s good, and I’m thinking that she would probably give you a very precise document.

KATHY:  She did.  It was very precise.  She was so on the mark.

TODD:  You know, off record, you know not for the website, I’d like to see it though, at some point in time.  She told me that she had been working on a couple, but I’ve not seen this one; I’d love to see it.

KATHY:  I will send it to you.

TODD:  Hopefully that will keep going forward.  I will say that she has helped in a couple of other cases and it’s been significant help.

KATHY:  For me, it made me see things that I didn’t see before in the letter, and so when I answered him back, I used everything that she told me to use, and I haven’t heard back yet, but I think that she told me exactly what buttons to push, so hopefully it works.

TODD:  Well, what about maybe with law enforcement, with that particular analysis?

KATHY:  I sent a copy to them, but it’s like, you know, Todd, I don’t know why I can’t get their attention.  It’s…you know I know people who, when all this thing was going around about the young kids that were murdering young kids and everything, that got all kinds of attention, but if you want somebody to pay attention for justice for a 20-year-old male…

TODD:  Oh yeah, it’s a hard…that’s a difficult age to try to get attention on it, it really is.

KATHY:  It’s like they don’t want to hear it, you know.  And those male figures are sons and husbands and brothers, and it hurts just as much as…

TODD:  Of course.  What do you feel like, looking back and knowing what you know now, about how the system works?  Because you got an education, quite honestly, you learned.  What do you think that you might have done wrong?  That you might have pushed a little harder?

KATHY:  I should have gone to Prestonsburg on the day that Walter disappeared and sat on their doorstep.  I should have never let the FBI give up the case, if there was any way possible to do that, but at the time 9-11 happened, so…

TODD:  Oh yeah.  Well, you’re a polite lady, you’re soft-spoken, you’re quiet, sometimes that doesn’t always win.

KATHY:  I’m not like that all the time.

TODD:  You can get loud then, right?

KATHY:  I can get loud when it comes to my son.

TODD:  Sometimes ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ just doesn’t seem to go places.

KATHY:  I’ve done begging and crying.  My sister, Nancy, she was the first person to contact you…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …in the beginning.  She is dying.  She had a heart disease that can’t be cured and she doesn’t mind if that’s on the interview, and her wish is that somehow we find some kind of answers, and she found out about you and got me in touch with you.  She’s the one that is pushing the hardest, you know, because she doesn’t understand any of this either.

TODD:  Sometimes, just to have an opportunity to speak and gather your thoughts together, sometimes really helps.  At least at the end of this interview, I might not…I’m not going to say that I can find out exactly what you need to solve this, but I think that we can create you some type of document, because this will be transcribed, and at least you’ll have something in written form that you can help push things.  And we’ll continue to push things.  There are several different ways. 

KATHY:  Great.

TODD:  We have a lot of listeners that are from other media outlets and I have some contacts with media outlets, and I try to find places for these stories when I do talk to media.  “This is a really interesting story.”  And, “This story has this,” because it’s almost like you’re marketing something.  You know you’re trying to show them something and show them that it’s worthy of publication.

KATHY:  It is.  Not only just for Walter, but for the other young men out there.  I worked for ‘Parents Of Murdered Children’ for a long time, you know, worked with other people who had lost their children, beating my head up against the wall trying to deal with law enforcement to help those people.  I just don’t think there’s enough caring out there.  When I first started doing this, I was writing letters to everybody and trying to get answers, somehow.  Now, President Clinton answered me.  He was the only one, and he got me in touch with the director of the FBI, and that was how many years ago, and yes, the director of the FBI did give me answers, I think I sent that to you?

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  That was the only time that I have gotten through to anybody, was then.

TODD:  Do you feel like that helped?  I mean, obviously, it didn’t get you what you needed.

KATHY:  It was like Natalee’s mother, Beth Twitty, on ‘20/20’ when she said it’s not all about the justice, it’s about the answers, knowing, you know.  Right.  The answers, we’ve seen the answers, and not just the murder, but why was my son so important, that he would be ignored?

TODD:  You know maybe it’s because they really feel like they know what happened to him, and there’s no way to prove it with evidence.  Is that what they’re trying to tell you, basically, in some of these letters?

KATHY:  I don’t think they even tried.  I don’t think they even tried because he was a 20-year-old male…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …and, you know, you want to help, you want to help the beautiful, female, pregnant ladies, and the children that are young males.  I don’t know, mine does every time I see one now, but even before Walter was killed, I’m not sure if I did; if my heart went out so much to those young males that were missing as much as it did to the young females and the children.  And I know that sounds horrible, but…

TODD:  It’s true.  You’re saying something very true.  It has taken personal experience to actually give you a change of heart.

KATHY:  Uh huh.

TODD:  That’s a good point you brought up.  I really like the way that you put that.  Even you didn’t see, and you had a son that you loved very much, but people don’t tend to see their sons are victims as much as…

KATHY:  Right.  You don’t want to see you son as a victim.

TODD:  No.

KATHY:  That’s a big part of it.

TODD:  You know everybody tends to take care of the girls a little more, but you know, sometimes sons are a little different.  They see them as more independent people.

KATHY:  Right.

TODD:  My life was a little different growing up, you know, I wasn’t allowed to do anything.  The night before I got married, I had to be home at 9 o’clock because my Daddy said so, and I was an 18-year-old adult.

KATHY:  Uh huh.

TODD:  And he was really…I don’t want to say strict, but…

KATHY:  Well, I’m that way with my other sons.

TODD:  Well, how do you feel this changed…how did it change after this happened?

KATHY:  I was suffocating with my children after that.  I had to learn to let go a little bit because…in fact, my son…my oldest after Walter, he’s 30, and he’s just now moving out of the house with his wife and son because I was so afraid, so afraid that if he went anywhere that something would happen to him.

TODD:  Does he understand that?  Because…

KATHY:  Yes.

TODD:  …there were reasons why my mother and my father were so protective of me and my brother; my surviving brother.  I know why and I tried to be understanding, because even though I wanted to do what I wanted to do, I did understand the circumstances, and I will say that sometimes my wife doesn’t understand.

KATHY:  But I’m lucky because my boys’ wives do understand.  I am so blessed because I got married and had 4 more children into the mix; I have 3 more sons and another daughter, that are my stepchildren, but my children.  And the boys were very young when we got married and they could not go down the street, just walk down the street, and it was hard for them to change from their mother’s rules to their stepmother’s rules, but they were so wonderful about it.  And even though they never met Walter, because he had passed before we were married, they understood…

TODD:  Yeah.

KATHY:  …that it was because of their brother, Walter.

TODD:  I try to appreciate it more than I resist it.  Even today, you know I’ve got a son who will be 16 in March, and my parents keep tabs on him every inch.  You know if I let him go somewhere, they say, “Why did you let him do that?  You shouldn’t have let him do that.”  And it’s just normal growing up things.  It wasn’t easy and I don’t just say, “Well, do what you want to do,” but there are things that I have to let him do, and I prevent him from doing some things, and when you do let him go, you know I’ve got another wall to go through because I have to go back to my parents and they might not agree.  I know they want me to understand our own past and it’s not easy, it’s a balance, and my son, he doesn’t understand fully, so it’s hard.

KATHY:  You lost your siblings.

TODD:  Yeah.

KATHY:  And that was a terrible, terrible pain.  When you lose a child, you feel that terrible, terrible pain, but you feel a lot of guilt too.  Like you didn’t watch your son enough, or your child enough; or you didn’t…I never should have let him go to Kentucky.  His father, we were separated when Walter was a baby, but his father lives in Massachusetts and he asked why I let him go to Kentucky.  Walter was 18, you know, and I couldn’t have stopped him if I had wanted to.

TODD:  No.  Well, you could have put a lot of pressure on him but it would have been difficult.  You know I worry every time I let my son take a step, and I have to second guess, and then I think, “Well, I’ve got to let him go some places,” but I worry the whole time.  I think that if something happens to him, not only is that going to be difficult in itself, but it’ll destroy me because I’m not going to be able to, you know, “Why didn’t I not let him go?”

KATHY:  In your case, it’s so hard because you deal with this every day.

TODD:  And I tell him that.  I said, “God son, please, look at some of these things.”  And I will say that I’ve had a unique opportunity to take steps that I think have helped prevent something from happening.  I’ve got a real good chain, we’ve got real good communication, I’ve got eyes and I take extra steps because sometimes I think, “Well, what if I’m a target?  What if I’ve stepped on somebody’s toes by doing something like this and they want to pay me back for it?”  You know, I don’t know but I’m paranoid but I try…

KATHY:  No, not really, not in today’s world.

TODD:  No.  No, no, no, you can’t be.  You know I always think that there’s a stranger on the corner when maybe there’s really nothing, but sometimes there are.

KATHY:  Yes.  There’s a stranger on every corner that’s dangerous.  As a grandmother now, I’m paranoid.  I had to learn to let the boys have their space and let them grow up, you know, and make very difficult decisions, but I think that having a sibling that something has happened to, has made them more cautious, so they’re careful and they’re more cautious about other people and they’re also more open to other people’s feelings about a loss in the family.  They went through a lot of trauma losing their sibling, but in so many ways, if there’s any way to say that something horrible has also blessed the family, I guess the blessing is that they have gotten close and really believe that Walter is safe in Heaven.

TODD:  You know I have the same, same feeling.  The same feeling; I try to look for the blessing.  It’s not like you are blessed because of it, but you have to look for the blessing in the tragedy.

KATHY:  That’s it.  That’s it, perfectly.  You said it perfectly.  There is a blessing in it and we feel him with us all the time.  My sister feels him with her and you know she’s going through her pain with what she’s going through, and the blessing of the 18 years that we had him in our life, you know.  The last years he was up in Kentucky and all the wonderful things that he accomplished.  He loved it up there and he was just a happy, happy boy.

TODD:  Has there been a lot of media coverage at all of this, I mean, even years ago?

KATHY:  No.  There was…in our hometown in Panama City, Florida, there was the one page that I sent you…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …that was on there, ‘Local Family Asking Questions About Their Son.’  And then there was a lot of media coverage about Hale and the fraud charges.  But as far as Chris Zahn is concerned…his mother, I don’t know how to contact her, and I’m not sure if that would be the right thing, but his mother hired a private detective agency; Hale told me about that, and they did as much as they could, but his body has never been found.

TODD:  I do think that you should try to contact his mother, absolutely.  In fact, that was one of the things that I was going to speak to you about off the air, if you hadn’t have brought it up, but what an incredible ally that person could be, and all she could do is not want to, and do you really think that she’ll not want to.

KATHY:  No, I don’t think that she’d not want to, I just don’t know how.

TODD:  Well we’ll figure that out.  We’re going to help you figure that out.  There’s got to be a way to do that.  That, I think, we need to do.

KATHY:  That would be great.

TODD:  You definitely need that person in your life if she is willing have a relationship and communicate with you.  And there’s more.  Have you talked to other parents of murdered children?  You said you worked with an agency.

KATHY:  Well, I was with ‘Parents Of Murdered Children’ and I helped people when they first went through it, and then there was a lady, her daughter’s killer was coming up for parole in Texas, when I was in Texas and we had to fight the system there so that he didn’t come up for parole.

TODD:  Wow.  You said you…and I hate to ask you difficult questions, but we need to get them if we can. 

KATHY:  Uh huh.

TODD:  You had Walter cremated?

KATHY:  Yes.

TODD:  Do you…you know years ago, we didn’t know about DNA, of course we didn’t; I’ve actually had cases that I worked with where DNA was destroyed by soaking the bones in bleach to clean them, that’s before we knew about DNA and they actually destroyed the DNA, not on purpose, they just didn’t know that it was there; do you ever think that possibly if you hadn’t have cremated that you might have the opportunity for a new clue in the future with a new tool that could possibly come along?

KATHY: I think of that all the time.  During that time…

TODD:  Uh huh.

KATHY:  …during the time of Walter’s death…after I got the call from my mother and my mother said to me, “Kathy, it is Walter,” I blanked, I could not tell you anything that happened all the way through the funeral service, and I didn’t make those decisions about the cremation and everything.  They told my mother that because of the condition, you know, to have him…and it’s hard to say…to travel back to Florida, that this would be the best way, but I have to say something, Todd.  I have never been totally convinced that that is Walter.  And so I’ve held onto the ashes all these years, I made a vow that when I passed on that Walter’s ashes would go into the ocean, like he wanted, because he loved the beach, and I knew he would want that.  Or if there was a conviction, then I would take my son’s ashes and put them on the beach.

TODD:   But you can’t let go of it yet.

KATHY:  A big part of me doesn’t believe that I have Walter’s ashes.  If you look at Chris Zahn’s picture and Walter’s picture, they look so much alike.  And I got in touch with his visiting family and asked them about that, to check again with Chris Zahn’s records, with the people that did the autopsy report because Walter had a broken leg and a broken clavicle from a bike accident.  Well, the clavicle happened at birth, but the broken leg happened in a bicycle accident when he was 14, and they never even looked at those; it was dental records, and they never even looked at the dental records that I had, it was dental records from up in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, somewhere.  And I looked at the autopsy report and it said something about an indenture in the head and he had a scar on the head, and I know Walter never had any head injury.

TODD:  Hmm.

KATHY:  And, to me, you know, I’ve been talking to D'ana, and with D'ana, I spilled my heart out on this one, I am not so sure that I have my son’s ashes.  I might have Chris’s ashes and that’s why I’ve held onto them because I’m not positive that, as crazy as it sounds, that they did a complete…there was such a rush to judgment in all of this, that I’m not positive that they did a complete autopsy report.  I have the autopsy report, and from what it says, there really wasn’t that much there to do anything.  They didn’t do any DNA testing at the time.  And according to the report that was there, that the hair was dark brown; Walter had strawberry blond hair.  And I know that nature can change things but I’m just not sure.

TODD:  Well, you need to convince your own heart, and I think that a lot of that is going to come with actually contacting his family.  You know, what should you do when you’re not sure?  You should take step to try to ensure yourself.  If you knew for sure, I think you’d be a lot closer to closure.  If you knew…

KATHY:  If I knew, because I can’t do anything with these ashes without knowing what I am doing, taking another mother’s son’s ashes and putting them in the water, you know.

TODD:  I know exactly what you mean.  Well, what we’ll do, after we get done tonight with what we’re doing, we’ll look at your autopsy report and we’ll look at some of the media and look at some of the angles, because I don’t really think that we’re going to do anything that is going to hurt this case because I think that they’re basically pretty much done with it.

KATHY:  Yeah.

TODD:  So far.

KATHY:  I asked Agent Scott about re-opening the case and he told me that they just didn’t have the manpower.

TODD:  Well, maybe there’s another way.  We’ll definitely try.  I think that there are some opportunities there to get a little closer to closure for you, whatever that might be, and I think that you’re willing to accept whatever you know will be the truth.  But we’ve definitely got some things that I know we need to do, so we’ll try to work on doing that.  We’ll have this show transcribed so that you’ll have a tool, so that when you’re trying to tell this crazy story…you know, even here, I read some of this stuff, I didn’t see the depth of this story until I spent a half-hour with you now tonight on the phone, and you’ve really just painted a whole picture for me.  Can you imagine what you can do with that document?

KATHY:  That would be fantastic.

TODD:  It makes a big difference, I think.  At least you finally made your statement.

KATHY:  To make them pay attention.

TODD:  Excuse me?

KATHY:  To make them pay attention.

TODD:  Yes, to make them actually read it.  And people really don’t know what happened.  I’m sure the people of Prestonsburg, they probably don’t even have a clue of what you’ve told me tonight, and maybe they need to hear it.

KATHY:  Yeah, I think they do.  That one lady was pretty angry that they hadn’t done anything before then.

TODD:  Well, I’ve got another lady that’s friend of mine in Kentucky, that’s sort of in the same boat that you’re in.  Afterwards, I’m going to introduce you to her, and her being in Kentucky might help you.  She’s the mother like you; she recently had a painful anniversary with her son, Bo Upton (Episode 18).  Sherry Smith is the mother and we actually did a show with her and we’ll actually reference that show in with this so that we’ll have a little bit of a connection there.  It’s a real painful anniversary that came up and no answers.  It’s 6 years and she sent me a letter the other day that I’ve got to answer and what I’d like to answer her letter back with is possibly an introduction to you and maybe what she’s learned about the system there trying to get resolution for her son’s case, might be something that could help you.

KATHY:  That would be fantastic.

TODD:  And at least you’ll have somebody to talk to a little bit that actually has some clue of what you’re going through.  I think I know, but I can’t…it’s just what I’ve learned from talking to people, but I’m sure that I would never want to do it.

KATHY:  No.  No, I wouldn’t want you to ever…you were close enough with having your siblings.

TODD:  It definitely made an impact.  It definitely made an impact with me and it wasn’t even a homicide, it was just nature, but it just…there are just some things in life that you can’t get over and it wasn’t really their passing, it’s was my family’s reaction to it…my mother’s reaction to it changed the course of my whole existence.  It just did.  I don’t know why but it did.  Everything was just totally a different color for me.

KATHY:  I can understand that.

TODD:  Well, I’ve enjoyed having you here tonight.

KATHY:  And I’ve enjoyed talking to you.  Thank you.

TODD:  And you’ve been way too nervous.  You shouldn’t be nervous.  You’re a lovely lady.  Just take your time when you’re trying to talk to people about this.  We’ll say goodnight to our audience and I want to hang on to the line and talk to you just a little while longer.  So, until next week, goodnight everybody.

KATHY:  Goodnight.


Walter Joseph Cropper Case:
Walter was attending school in Prestonsburg, KY, he had been a student there for 2 years and had a plane ticket to come home to Panama City, Florida; where we lived on September 24, 1992.  I talked to him Saturday, September 19, 1992.  His grandmother talked to him Sunday, September 20, 1992.  He was happy and anxious to come home.  He had graduated and had a job.  He also had a girlfriend waiting for him in Panama City. His aunt was flying in after four years in Germany.  The entire family was planning a get together to celebrate both of them coming home.

On September 20, 1992, the school called and asked me if I had heard from Walter.  They said he had not returned to class on Monday and that was not like him. I told them "No, that he had called over the weekend but he was there in Prestonsburg, KY."  We called the Prestonsburg police, the school also called them.  We were told because he was over 18, we had to wait 24 hours to file a report.  After 24 hours we called back and his name was put into the Nationwide info center.

On October 6, 1992,  Walter's body was discovered in Adairsville, GA.  He had been shot and left there.

The GBI has taken over the case.  Harry Hale is the prime suspect. The same year, Christoph Zahn was traveling around the USA and disappeared.  Harry Hale was filmed using his credit cards (See case file below)

Christoph Zahn Case:
Zahn took an overnight bus ride from Jacksonville, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia on April 28, 1992. He checked into The American Hotel across the street from the bus station in Atlanta. Zahn placed a phone call to his travel agent in Orange County, Florida at approximately 4:15 p.m. later in the day. He called from a pay phone in Tucker, Georgia at a Denny's restaurant on Mountain Industrial Boulevard. Zahn has never been heard from again.

Zahn's credit card was used 31 times between April 30 and May 11, 1992 in Cobb and Carroll Counties in Georgia. Harry Eugene Hale was arrested in February 1993 and convicted of credit card fraud in Zahn's case in October of that year. Photos of Hale are posted below this case summary. Hale was a resident of Austell, Georgia at the time of Zahn's 1992 disappearance. He also owned homes in Kentucky and Florida. Hale drove a red 1993 Ford Probe with Georgia license plates in April 1992. He is described as 6'1 with thinning, graying brown hair and green eyes.

Authorities suspect that Hale may have murdered Zahn in order to utilize his credit cards, but have never discovered enough evidence to charge him in connection with the case. Zahn's camera and a quilt he purchased as a gift for his mother were discovered in Hale's Kentucky home. Investigators said that Hale had a reputation for stalking bus stations and highways searching for young male transients in 1992. Zahn's case remains unsolved, but foul play is suspected due to the circumstances involved in his disappearance.

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Guest: Kathy Cropper-Powe
Mother of murdered "Walter Joseph Cropper"
Aired: February 06, 2008
Seeking Justice for Walter and Christoph
Harry Eugene Hale, 1992
Special Thanks to
for transcribing this episode!