BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – On Thursday, the Barton County Sheriff’s Office announced that a suspect in a 1980 cold case homicide was arrested.
Mary Robin Walter, a 23-year-old wife and mother, was killed on Jan. 24, 1980, just west of Great Bend in her mobile home. Despite having gathered a substantial amount of information and a person of interest, the case went cold. That is until the case was reopened 42 years later.
In April 2022, when the case was reopened, it was discovered that some of the information had been overlooked, and some had been added at a later date. That’s when the Barton County sheriff assigned a group of detectives to the case.
“In October this year, new evidence was obtained that allowed the sheriff’s office to submit the case to the Barton County Attorney, Mr. Levi Morris, for review. After approximately four weeks of review, Mr. Morris obtained an arrest warrant for murder in the second degree and the arrest of Steven L. Hanks, age 68, of Burden, Kansas,” Bellendir said.
Pamela Walter Cooper says that this week’s news does not come as a shock. She said that she has known for years in her heart who her mother’s killer is. But regardless of the outcome of Hanks’ trial, Pamela says that she has made peace in her heart with the one that took her mother away so long ago.
“I remember sitting in a rocking chair, and she was teaching me how to brush my teeth, and she was tickling me and laughing, and I remember that very well,” said Pamela.
It’s one of only a few memories Pamela has of her mother. Mary was killed when Pamela was just 5 years old.
“I blocked a lot of it out because knowing how many times she was shot, I had nightmares as a child,” said Pamela.
The trail to her mother’s murderer quickly went cold.
“I said, ‘Grandma,’ I said, ‘He’s going to go to hell, so it doesn’t matter.’ And my grandma looked at me, and she’s a strong Christian woman, and she’s like, ‘Well, what if he’s asked for forgiveness?’ And I was angry, oh, I was so angry, how could anyone forgive him for what he did,” said Pamela.
As she grew up, Pamela’s anger also grew stronger and stronger until one faithful day.
“And I was about 18. I had a rough time at that time, at 18. And, I got to a point where I had to let go of a lot of stuff, and so when I let go of that, I gave it to God, and I felt peace,” said Pamela.
The peace led to her forgiving her mother’s killer.
“I wish I could talk to him and tell him I forgave him. And I don’t know how my family feels about that, they might want justice, and he deserves it, but I don’t feel that way,” said Pamela.
And even now, with a suspect in custody more than 40 years after her mother’s death, Pamela says her capacity for forgiveness has not changed.
“The people that needed closure are all gone. I don’t feel any different today than I did yesterday or the day before,” said Pamela.
Pamela’s father passed away recently. She says that she was extremely lucky to have both her parents in her life.