Alonzo Brooks was born May 19th 1980 in Topeka Kansas. He was the youngest of 5 children, and though it frustrated him to be the baby of the family when he was young, it made him especially close with his mother Maria Ramirez. Alonzo’s 3 sisters and brother describe him as a “kind, sweet, a little shy but playful kid” who was loving and fun. They say he always got along with everyone.
As his siblings got older and moved out, Alonzo and his mom moved to the town of Gardner outside of Topeka. He kept in touch with lots of his friends from the old neighborhood, but also branched out and made many new friends in Gardner. Still the change did take some getting used to. Gardner was suburban and quiet, without the city life and diverse population he was accustomed to in his early years.
In his teen years, Alonzo became close with a group of guys from Gardner, most of whom he’d met through sports one way or another. Alonzo was an excellent football player, and his friends say that he was an absolute beast on the field but when he’d come off, you could just sit and talk for hours.
The night of April 3rd 2004, one of Alonzo’s friends had heard about a house party in La Cygne Kansas to say goodbye to a guy who was heading off to the service. None of them were really close with anyone at the party, just a couple acquaintances I think, but it was something to do.
Alonzo’s friend Justin Sprague came to his house that night to pick him up with plans to meet their other friends Daniel Fune and Tyler Broughard there in another car. Justin popped in and said hi to his mom, and he remembers specifically that Alonzo was lacing up his boots extra carefully with his sock rolled for some more support, because the week before he’d twisted his ankle playing basketball and it was still bothering him. In addition to his boots, Alonzo wore his signature skull beanie, something he was hardly ever without.
Justin and Alonzo headed out to make the LONG drive because La Cyne was actually quite a hike from Garnder, over an hour. Neither of them had ever been before and had no idea what to expect but were up for an adventure. As they got closer to the party, the roads became more and more rural. They were surrounded by cornfields, and woods when they approached the farmhouse’s long gated driveway. Their friends were already there and the party was already in full swing so they grabbed their beer and got to it.
They describe the crowd as being a lot more country than they were used to, pointing out especially how many cowboy hats there were. There were about 50-60 people there and Alonzo only knew 5 or 6 of them from Gardner. It was immediately evident that Alonzo was the only black person in attendance but he was such a friendly guy and they’d come such a long way that he didn’t flinch and joined right in. Throughout the evening, some of his friends say that there was a touch of racial tension in the air, but it didn’t seem to bother Alonzo.
Alonzo was having a great time that night, playing card games and flip cup, eating and socializing. One by one, Justin’s closest friends began calling it a night and making their way back home, leaving just Justin and Alonzo at the party. Justin needed more cigarettes and Alonzo decided to stay at the party, asking Justin to grab him a pack too. Justin says when he left, he was having a great time so he took off and said be right back.
But Justin got lost. In his own words, he says “I took a wrong turn out of the driveway, got stuck on a gravel road, and ended up 30 minutes north of where I was supposed to be”
Justin realized he was leaving Alonzo a little stranded, so he called his friend Adam who was still there and asked him to drive Alonzo home. Justin says he could hear Alonzo ragging on him in the background for getting lost, that Adam said no problem, and that was that.
The next morning at home, Maria answered a phone call from someone looking for Alonzo. She went to his room to get him and found his bed still made up, meaning he hadn’t slept in it at all. She started walking around the house, yelling and looking for him with no answer. She checked in the basement- no Alonzo. She knew immediately that this was very bad, because her son would ALWAYS come home. She immediately began calling his friends to find him.
His friends all woke up to their phones going off while everyone was reaching out to each other to find Alonzo. I thought he was with you, when did you see him last, who was he with, who drove him home. According to the friends, Adam went to collect him to leave, couldn’t find him, heard he left already, and headed home.
Maria knew this was bad news because it was so out of character for her son. She went down to the police station to file a missing person’s report quickly, but you can guess what she was told. You have to wait 48 hours.
Alonzo’s best friend Rodney from Topeka came to town to help track him down. Justin agreed to take Rodney out to the house in La Cygne since he didn’t know the way. A group of Alonzo’s friends pulled up to the road in front of the farmhouse and decided to inspect the woodline nearby. They made their way across the street when Rodney looked down to find a beanie hat. With a skull on it. Alonzo’s favorite hat! They continued to look and found first one boot, then another. Rodney says they weren’t tucked under anything, nobody had tried to hide them, it looked to him as if someone had just tossed them out a window on their way out of the driveway.
He also says that as they were searching in the brush on the side of the road, someone came down from the farmhouse on a four wheeler and told them to leave. They all could feel the weight and the urgency of the situation with Alonzo’s belongings in their hands as they were kicked off the property.
Even giving the interview, Rodney had the chills being in that area. He’s not alone either. When Alonzo’s big brother Billy came to the area to help search with his wife Cindy, they felt much the same way. That everyone was looking at them everywhere they went. Could it be that black people were unexpected in the white community? Or could it be more sinister- that black people were unwelcome?
By the time Billy and Cindy made it to the farmhouse to investigate, the property was completely vacant and looked clean and bare, as though no party had even occurred. They learned that the property was a rental, and the tenants had been evicted. It was unclear to me in my research whether or not the tenants were the ones who threw the party or if the party was thrown by people who were just using the space
Billy and Cindy went to the La Cygne Sheriff. They found him to be dismissive, as he repeated what the police had told Maria. He’ll turn up, he’s just out walking around. Cindy said “How many people do you know walk around for two days with no shoes in the rain? Something is wrong”
Paul Filla was sent in to take the initial search and report. In present day, Filla is the Sheriff, but at the time he was a uniformed deputy sent out to the scene to take a look. His report was as follows:
“Alonzo wasn’t in the house, we walked the creek bed that night, there was no indication that he was there. I reported negative contact with Alonzo or anyone at all there, and the case was turned over to the KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigations)”
Over the next eleven days, the family held their breath while extensive searches were done of the property and surrounding areas led by the KBI and their evidence recovery team. They searched the creek bed looking for evidence, they brought in air scent tracking dogs, and even deployed helicopters for aerial searches for Alonzo. Lee’s Summit Underwater Rescue and Dive Team was brought in. They reported that the water was at most 3 feet deep, so that teams of three were going all the way across and clearing out brush. All of the searches turned up not one speck of evidence that could be linked back to Alonzo, or any indication of what could have happened to him.
While searches were being conducted, the KBI also conducted hundreds of interviews with party goers and Alonzo’s friends. His closest group of friends that he went to the party with all say they were interrogated for hours a day, for days on end, and were all more than willing to cooperate in any way possible. They do however still say that this feeling of dismissiveness seemed to carry through, and they found it frustrating. Their friend was not walking off a bender for 11 days with no shoes. Where was he? Find him.
The Sheriff reports that countless polygraph exams were done in the investigation, but Alonzo’s friend Daniel openly claims that many people lawyered up and refused the test, something the Sheriff left from his interviews.
For three weeks, the family called the KBI every single day. They’d ask for updates, and beg to go search the area themselves. They were always told to stay away from the search area, and at one point Cindy claims she was told to stop calling and let them do their job. After nearly a month, the family was finally given permission to go search the property themselves.
They gathered a search party of friends and family and formulated a plan. Spreading out across the area, Alonzo’s uncle Edward Ramirez headed toward a white shed nearby to have a look. As they approached the shed, something behind it in the creek caught their eye. He headed down the embankment to get a better look and came upon the lifeless body of his 23 year old nephew. They radioed the group of searched “We’ve got him, we’ve got Zo”
Billy got a call from his uncle with his location, and he ran down toward his brother’s body. Edward stopped him and held him back, reminding him not to touch the body, while he fought to make his way to his baby brother’s remains.
When Alonzo’s body was discovered the area descended into madness as the agencies arrived on scene. Alonzo’s family held hands as they gave a press conference, while his body was transported for exam.
Dr. Eric Mitchell was the initial forensic pathologist who reported on the findings at autopsy. His description was that the body was “decomposing, it was fully clothed with several personal items including a ring. He says there were no penetrating injuries as cause of death, no evidence of acute bone fracture, no evidence of a sharp force injury, no gun shot.”
He goes on to say “Could he have drowned? Yes, but there are no specific anatomical signs to show drowning. Could he have been strangled? Yes, but the soft tissue was gone. If he’s been beaten, there’s nothing left identifiable. I do not know the circumstances of his death. I do not know the cause of his death, whether it was an accident or whether it was purposeful involvement”
Now I want to take a quick moment here to interject some personal opinion, which I know I don’t usually do at this point in the story telling, but since the forensic pathologist is obviously not a person of interest in the crime itself, I’m gonna.. I did not like Dr. Eric Mitchell AT ALL in his interview. I found him to be cold and have a complete and total absence of empathy. I think he seemed defensive of his exam, which makes sense given the criticism he soon would face after this report. But I just needed to get that off my chest because he gave me the FULL ick factor.
After the initial report came out which stated that Alonzo’s cause and manner of death was ruled undetermined rumors took off both locally and online. His family and friends found it frustrating to keep track of what could be true, and what was ridiculous. Investigators have been tight lipped about what the party guests report that night, but they did make it clear that all of the rumors matched their interviews on one factor- a thread of racial tension. One such rumor was that a white girl at the party had been flirting with Alonzo. Either way, the predominant rumor seemed to be that Alonzo was jumped by a group of guys. At some point, among the small town gossip, the FBI became involved to investigate the possibility of a hate crime.
But one major question that no one could seem to answer was WHY hadn’t Alonzo been found in the 27 days since he’d been missing! His body was a mere 650 feet from the house that had the party. Where had he been this whole time?? Everyone who searched, even the Lee Summit search team, all agreed his body had absolutely not been there before and if it had been they would have found it. Billy said “You do all these searches for weeks and don’t find him, we do a search and find him in 30 minutes?” Make it make sense. Sheriff Stites believes it may have been placed there sometime after the last search.
Further confusing this theory are the rumors that Alonzo had been stored in either a meat locker or a chest freezer during this time period. Billy says that his brother was not at all bloated like he’d been in the water, and his color even looked almost normal, as if he was still alive. The personal items that were found on him were also in pretty pristine condition given the circumstances- papers, receipts, cards in his pockets and wallets all in legible intact condition.
Dr. Eric Mitchell feels differently though, saying he could have just been caught up on a branch in the creek elsewhere and floated down. He said: “There’s no way to know if someone has been frozen and defrosted. The body was consistent with being in the creek for 30 days but I can’t tell the circumstances of how he ended up there… Most people who dispose of bodies do it for convenience. Dumping his body there was not convenient.
After a period of investigation The KBI sent a letter to the family that said, in part, that “no evidence or information came from the investigating indicating that his death was a crime, for this reason the investigation into his death was closed” But many people simply didn’t agree. Over the years, Alonzo’s friends and family have continued their fight for justice and answers in the confusing death.
In March of 2019, Unsolved Mysteries contacted the US District Attorney at the time for the State of Kansas, Stephen McAllister in order to gather information for their upcoming episode on the young man’s mysterious death. McAllister says this triggered him do take another look at the closed file, and it raised enough concerns for him to bring it to the FBI for reopening.
The FBI officially re-opened the investigation of the death of Alonzo Brooks in 2019, and in July of 2020, Unsolved Mysteries aired the episode titled “No Ride Home” His body was exhumed later that month.
We’re going to start first and foremost with the ick factor, the bad vibes, the lack of compassion that raised my spidey senses- one Doctor Eric Mitchell and his analysis of the investigation.
In general, it’s understandable that a body which had been outdoors, possibly submerged in water might have a rate of decomposition which would make it harder to determine the cause and manner of death. But Dr. Eric Mitchell’s past was causing some to question his qualifications and testimony. For starters, according to the NYTimes, Mitchell was pushed to resign from his post as the medical examiner of Onondaga County NY because he “overstepped his authority and mismanaged his office”. One of the accusations in that case is that he removed organs from corpses without the consent of the families. Another is that he improperly stored skeletons and body parts. Furthermore, Mitchell’s testimony on a murder trial in NY was called into question when he changed the time of death at trial, when the prosecutions entire case had been based on his original testimony. This resulted in a hung jury and ultimately his resignation in New York. Another man was convicted of murder based on Mitchell’s testimony, and was later exonerated after serving 12 years when Mitchell changed his testimony to say that the death was actually suicide, not murder. That man was released from prison and died a few months later. There is also at least one more case in the county of this particular investigation, where the defendant was sentenced and is now appealing, based on the defense that Mitchell’s theory of what happened in that wrongful death of a child case had no reasonable medical or scientific basis, that his testimony was little more than storytelling.
After the exhumation of Alonzo’s remains, a new autopsy was performed by an FBI forensic pathologist. The FBI’s released an official statement of their findings, Amelia will you read part of that for us?
“We knew that Alonzo Brooks died under very suspicious circumstances. This new examination by a team of the world’s best forensic pathologists and experts establishes it was no accident. Alonzo Brooks was killed. We are doing everything we can, and will spare no resources, to bring those responsible to justice…The new autopsy focuses on injuries to parts of Brook’s body that the examiner concluded are inconsistent with normal patterns of decomposition. Details of the examination are being withheld for investigative purposes”
So we don’t know the cause of death, which is what physically killed him, though we can assume there was some sort of trauma to the body based on that statement, injuries and wounds of some kind. The FBI is keeping that information to themselves for the investigation, but they have told us that his manner of death was homicide, rather than undetermined, meaning that someone else is responsible for taking his life.
Investigators are hoping that some new incentives will help jog some memories as well. While they haven’t revealed much about the contents of their interviews with party goers, they’ve made it clear that there seems to be a code of silence among many of the kids who were there that night. At this point, they’re all close to 40 years old or more, and maybe their consciences are weighing on them, making it hard to sleep at night. Perhaps they saw the situation differently in their young, naive minds, and are now starting to wonder if some things might need to be shared. Perhaps someone who was there that night saw something and didn’t want to come forward, assuming it wouldn’t be much, it probably didn’t mean anything, I doubt I can help. But if age and maturity aren’t enough to get people to talk, perhaps the $100,000 reward will inspire some people to do the right thing and talk.
I don’t have much more information about the party goers, who the suspects are, who has been cleared, who has passed the polygraphs, any of that. I think thats all being kept close to the vest for investigative purposes. HOWEVER, this case is PROOF that the more attention a story gets the more pressure the investigation goes under, so LETS GO, lets do this. Spread his story far and wide and lets get some of those kids, aka 40 year old grown adults now to TALK. Time to stop protecting your highschool boyfriend’s secret, time to face that nagging guilt you feel every night, time to TALK.
Call to Action:
The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the death of Alonzo Brooks. Anyone with any information about what happened to Alonzo on the night of April 3rd 2004 is encouraged to call the FBI at 816-512-8200. You can also submit an anonymous tip online at tips.fbi.gov
- Unsolved Mysteries “No Ride Home”
- FBI public records
- Luke Martin for NPR: