AURORA, Mo. — Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. spent four decades carving an existence out of hatred, spewing his disdain for other races and all things Jewish to strangers and friends.
But the Army veteran who fought in Vietnam always seemed to limit his anger and extremist beliefs to words, sending out hate-filled fliers, submitting letters to newspaper editors and throwing out a threat or two. Some people in this southwest Missouri town dismissed him as crazy, a “fruitcake” or just plain “nuts.”
In a parking lot outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., his years of vitriol evolved into violence, authorities say. By the time he was done and seen smiling in the back of a police car, he killed three people, investigators say. A devoted grandpa. His teenage grandson, who was a promising singer and debater. A Kansas City woman who was making a weekly visit to see her mom at a senior living facility.
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What gnaws at those who have studied Cross and followed his views and actions over the years is one simple question: Why now?
“He’s been pretty quiet,” said Richard Witthuhn, the police chief of Aurora and Marionville in southwest Missouri, a three-hour drive from Kansas City.
“In fact, in the last couple months my officers asked if he’s been around.”
Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., was low key in recent years, said Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb, who was at the Marionville department from 2009 to early 2013. For authorities, he was “kind of off the radar.”
“He’s always spouted the rhetoric, the anti-Semitic, anti-everything,” Webb said. “Who knows what triggered it?”
And why the Kansas City area?
Cross, 73. lived in rural Aurora with his wife in a neat, gray one-story house at a T-intersection northwest of Marionville.
He was arrested Sunday afternoon in Overland Park after three people were shot and killed at the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom senior living center. Witnesses saw police arrest Cross, who later ranted “Heil Hitler” as he sat in the back of a police car.
Monday morning at Cross’ home, two black dogs ran around the yard. A red Chevrolet Colorado pickup, with a Confederate flag on the bumper, sat out front. The garage door was open, and a large Confederate flag stood in the corner.
No one answered the door.
Cross had lived in the area for years, but neighbors did not know him well. Still, they knew him well enough to have an opinion.
“Probably nobody was really surprised,” said Bill Robinson, who works at Hillbilly Gas Mart on U.S. 60. “We had all seen the papers he passed out.”
Cross. a former truck driver, distributed a white-supremacist publication written by another Missouri man.
A spokesman for the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization that held a rally last fall in Kansas City, said the organization was appalled at Sunday’s tragedy.
“It’s horrible, that whole situation,” said Brian Culpepper, the movement’s public-relations director, who doesn’t think Cross attended the local rally. “We don’t condone acts of violence against any individual or group. I mean, come on. It undoes every good thing that we try to do politically and culturally.
“This just smears and makes everybody’s lives more difficult. It’s a tragedy for the families and everything.”
Cross turned to racist and anti-Semitic politics in the 1970s. He was a onetime “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors ultra-right-wing and paramilitary organizations.
He founded the White Patriot Party in the 1980s and later served three years in federal prison after authorities found him and others with a weapons cache near Springfield, Kan.
Cross agreed to testify against other members of the group. That caused a bitter split among some members of underground paramilitary groups.
“He became persona non grata in the movement after that,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has an extensive file on Cross. “And that lasted for quite a while. We didn’t see too much of him in the 1990s. But in the last 15 years or so, he’s essentially been working himself back in the movement.”
Marionville Mayor Danny Clevenger has known Cross for years. He was sworn in last week and had been an alderman for seven years. He was on the board in 2008 when a Marionville police officer shot and killedCross’ son, Jesse.
Armed with a shotgun that March 2008 day, Jesse had killed a good Samaritan who tried to help him after he’d wrecked his car. Jesse shot the man “point blank.”
It was never clear why he resorted to gunfire.
“He was headed to town with his shotgun and our police officer stopped him,” Clevenger said.
After Jesse’s death, many worried his father would seek revenge. “People thought he was wanting to, as they say, get even or even the score,” Webb said.
But Crossr didn’t.
Clevenger said he’s still shocked, in a way, that his friend turned so violent.
“I never would have thought he would do something like that,” Clevenger said. “I thought more or less his purpose was to tell people what’s going on. Tell them his beliefs. But I never thought he would do something like that.”
Information from The New York Times and The Associated Press is included.