Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler’s suggestion to transfer the funds from an account that has not been used in at least 14 years has helped supply funds to the Franklin County Crime Stoppers.
During the Crime Stopper’s meeting on Monday, a donation of $5,005.96 was accepted from the Secret Witness Fund account, which was originally established in 1978 in order to pay rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons involved in crimes, according to The Herald archives.
“When I learned of this fund a few years ago, I didn’t know much about it,” Butler said. “It was established before my time as police chief. When (the account) came to my attention recently, it sounded like (it was set up for) the same purpose as what Crime Stoppers does. I suggested that the money would be better used in Crime Stoppers.”
Crime Stoppers was founded in Franklin County in 1998 as a partnership between the community, law enforcement and news media in order to provide monetary rewards for tips that lead to arrests for felony crimes in the county.
Butler said one of the people he pitched the idea to originally was Ottawa Herald Editor and Publisher Jeanny Sharp, who represents The Ottawa Herald on the Crime Stoppers board. Upon hearing the idea, Sharp researched more about the original Secret Witness Program.
“I went into The Herald archives to find news stories that said this money was donated for this purpose, and this money was donated for that purpose,” Sharp said.
What she found from the April 26, 1978, issue of The Herald was that a grant of $2,000 came to The Ottawa Herald to pay for rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons involved in capital crimes, according to The Herald archives. The late A.B. Hudson, then president of the Highway Oil Co. Inc. of Topeka, was the sender of the grant. According to the archives, Hudson contributed $20,000 to establish similar funds in 10 other Kansas communities.
Upon further research, Sharp found in the June 29, 1978, issue of The Herald that law enforcement officials offered $1,000 from the secret witness program for information leading to an arrest and conviction concerning the death of eight-year-old Charles Hahner. Skeletal remains that were found during the week of June 29, 1978, seven miles southwest of Princeton were believed to be Hahner, according to the archives. Several items of clothing including swimming trunks, a tennis shoe, a sock and a towel were confirmed by Hahner’s mother as belonging to him, and matched the clothing described when Hahner was last seen at the Forest Park swimming pool July 13, 1976.
The funds described by both of the articles were specified to go towards their original causes at the meeting Tuesday afternoon. It was accepted that $2,000 of the donation go towards aiding major capital crime investigations, $1,000 go towards solving the Charles Hahner disappearance case, which coincidentally is the Crime Stopper’s crime of the week, and the remaining $2,005.96 balance be used for general operations of Crime Stoppers.
“It was a complete coincidence that the Hahner case was the crime of the week at the same time (as the donation),” Butler said. “When they have an unsolved case of that magnitude on the anniversary, they generate publicity for the case. You never want to give up on a case.”
Butler is one of several members of Crime Stoppers who think the donation money will be put to good use.
“It is a great opportunity for Crime Stoppers to grow for our community,” Tammy Alexander, law enforcement coordinator for Crime Stoppers, said.
Randy Allen, Ottawa Police captain, agreed.
“From my understanding, the money has been sitting in an account,” Allen said. “It was designed for the same purpose as Crime Stoppers. It is good to see it be put to good use.”
Sharp, who has been with The Ottawa Herald 14 years in December, said nothing has been paid out of the Secret Witness Fund since she has been with The Herald. Sharp, along with the Franklin County sheriff and Ottawa police chief, have been the only signees on the account.
Both Sharp and Butler said that once the decision was made to move forward with the transaction, they both met with county attorney Stephen Hunting, former Franklin County Sheriff Craig Davis, current Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Richards and legal counselor Blaine Finch. There was no debate about executing the transaction, Butler said.
“We all decided that it would be a great idea,” Butler said. “There was no contentious discussion.”
Butler also said he hopes that the fresh funds for the capital crime investigations do not have to be in use any time soon.
“Hopefully, that money will sit there for a while, so we don’t have any capital crimes,” Butler said. “When money is gifted with a designation, it is important that (the designation) is honored.”