By Andrea Wood
Police officers from Grandview frequently drove past a large billboard off 71 Highway displaying a sketch of a man suspected in the murder of south Kansas City’s Nina Whitney last October.
None of them suspected that the man in the sketch had been one of their own for more than 20 years.
Last week, Jeffrey Moreland, age 52 of Harrisonville, was arrested and charged in two brutal local murders as well as a recent rape, which broke the case.
For in the end, it was two brave women who put Moreland, a Grandview Police Officer from 1984 until 2005, behind bars.
According to police reports, Moreland told acquaintances that he had “lost his job” with the Grandview Police Department in June 2005 due to a medical condition he called “palsy.”
Following his departure as a police officer, Moreland, his wife, and children settled into their home in Harrisonville, where he was known as a family man. In April 2007, he even ran for a seat on the Harrisonville School Board.
But by November 5, 2008, something had changed.
On that day, according to police reports, Moreland sexually assaulted and killed a young Harrisonville mother, Cara Jo Roberts. When her husband came home from work that day at around 5:30pm, he found his wife in a bathtub full of water and blood, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. He immediately called the police.
Detectives found two zip-ties near the bathroom and a roll of duct tape on the floor of the master bedroom. The Kansas City Missouri Crime Lab developed a genetic profile of the suspect from DNA collected from the duct tape, ties, and male DNA from Cara Jo’s body.
Nonetheless, for years there were no suspects. The case went cold.
Then on October 29, 2010, another violent murder occurred.
Nina Whitney, age 75, was found by a female relative that evening in her home at 11800 Belmont in south Kansas City. Nina had been stabbed multiple times and strangled. As in Cara Jo’s murder, Nina’s bathtub upstairs was filled with water.
There were no signs of a forced entry, which left detectives wondering if Nina had known the man who killed her. Male DNA was collected from Nina’s body, which matched that of the man who had killed Cara Jo two years prior.
During a police canvass of the Crossgates neighborhood, detectives found a male neighbor who described seeing an unknown white male, approximately 45-60 years of age, walking with a slight limp near Nina’s home the day of the murder. The witness said he saw the man get into a black newer-model Jeep and drive away.
From the witnesses’ description, detectives were able to develop a composite sketch of the suspect and released it to the public in April. Recently, a billboard also went up along 71 Highway with the sketch and short description of the suspect.
According to reports, a female relative of Nina’s saw the billboard and thought of a man she had known in the 1980s--then Grandview Police Officer Jeffrey Moreland. The detective in charge of Nina’s case, Kansas City Det. Leland Blank, and other officers looked into the tip.
Police records indicate that detectives confirmed that Moreland owned a black jeep, and approached him for a DNA sample on June 16, 2011. Moreland refused.
Knowing police suspected him, Moreland committed yet another sexual assault just 14 days later, this time in his own home.
On June 30, a woman was walking to her home near the Harrisonville square when Moreland pulled up next to her in his black Jeep and asked if she wanted a ride. The woman told police that it was very hot outside, so she got inside and asked if he would drop her off near the square.
She noticed he was shaking, and Moreland told her he had palsy. She also noticed a badge on the console of the Jeep.
When Moreland began driving erratically and missed the turn to the square, he told her he needed to drop a package off at his church. Instead, he took her to his house at 2904 Twin Pines Drive in Harrisonville.
She told police she knew that she was “in trouble” and told Moreland, “Just don’t kill me.”
Moreland took the woman to his bedroom, and hit her on the side of the head. He told her she was stupid for getting in a vehicle with a stranger, and that he picked her up because he knew she was vulnerable.
When she struggled, he struck her again on the head and retrieved a black belt. The woman told police she felt that Moreland was going to strangle her with the belt.
Fearing for her life, she devised a plan which may have saved her--and potentially others as well--as her bravery ended up breaking the case.
According to police reports, she told Moreland that he could “tell them she was a prostitute” and that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Following the rape and sexual assault, Moreland gave the woman two $50 bills and drove her home. He told her he would give her another $100 the next day.
Scared, the woman spent the night at a friend’s apartment. The following morning the friend drove the woman back home, when they saw Moreland sitting in his Jeep outside her house. They drove back to the friend’s apartment and called police.
Detective Stan Belk answered the call for help. The victim led Detective Belk to Moreland’s home, and later described in detail the interior of the home, including the design on the bedsheets. The detective took the woman to Cass Regional Medical Center for a sexual assault exam.
In the police report, Detective Belk said he knew Moreland, and knew that he lived in the home the woman identified as the scene of the rape.
“I have personal knowledge of a former Grandview, Missouri police officer named Jeff Moreland who has palsy, and had to leave his job due to his illness,” Belk said in his report. “I assisted Mr. Moreland in unloading a BBQ grill at his home at 2904 Twin Pines Drive approximately one year ago. I saw Mr. Moreland on June 17, 2011, driving a black four-door Jeep.”
Police had been to Moreland’s house just the day before, on June 16, to ask for a DNA sample since he was a potential suspect in two murders.
Moreland had declined then, and reports claim police did not have enough evidence at the time to obtain a warrant for the DNA sample.
But now, with a brave rape victim’s testimony and male DNA collected from her body, police had the evidence they needed to confirm Nina’s relative’s suspicions.
While detectives obtained a search warrant and began processing the evidence from Moreland’s home, he fled to Iowa. Some reports say Moreland attempted to committ suicide there.
On July 5, the Des Moines, Iowa Police Department arrested Moreland on a warrant issued by Cass County. DNA was collected from the inside of Moreland’s cheek. It was a positive match for DNA collected from the bodies of his three victims.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Hensley held a joint press conference on July 8th to announce the charges against Moreland, who is being held on a $1 million bond.
Prosecutors credited the rape victim for helping to solve the case.
“It is never easy for a victim of rape to come forward,” Hensley said.
Cara Jo’s husband, Jeff Roberts, thanked the woman as well at the press conference.
Grandview officials issued a short statement following the announcement of Moreland’s arrest, confirming that he had worked as a police officer for .the city for 21 years.
“The City truly sympathizes with the families of all involved. The City of Grandview has not been associated with Mr. Moreland since his retirement in 2005 and has no further comment on the issue.”