KC MEDIA, METRO AFFAIRS, UMKC, AND A DASH OF SALT.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

KC's Secret Santa Revealed?

You think Woodward and Bernstein are sitting on top of a big secret? Sure, they deserve credit for keeping "Deep Throat" under wraps. However, there are those that still say Deep Throat isn't a real person (singular source for Watergate leads), but rather a composite of different figures that helped the Post reporters crack the cover-up and take down Nixon.

Here in Kansas City, we have our own version of Deep Throat. It involves a KC Star reporter and a secret she's been carrying for ten years.

Year after year, the Kansas City Star features the Secret Santa handing out mind-blowing amounts of cash around the city's most impoverished areas. His charitable adventures in the days leading up to Christmas often find their way into the national press.

A Star reporter and photographer are part of the Secret Santa’s entourage on this yearly adventure (in recent years they have been joined by security forces to ensure the transactions take place peacefully).

You’d figure that by 2005 the identity of this mysterious man would have been revealed by the KC blogosphere, right?

Wrong.

You mean to tell me that bloggers can take down the likes of a Dan Rather, but they can’t ID a rich, old, white guy in KC? There's only so many guys handing out bags of cash on the streets.

And it’s not like it’s an overwhelming lists of suspects! The person has to be super rich to be putting up this kind of cash. How many people in KC can afford to shell out the big bucks year after year? It's certainly no one that plays for the Royals, not with the way management cuts ties with high salaries every year.

The Secret Santa’s work has made national headlines over the last few years. Shortly before X-mas 2001, the mystery man was found handing out his trademark $100 bills around New York. USA Today documented his first trip to the Big Apple in the aftermath of 9/11. He made the rounds there for three days, and then returned back to Kansas City to continue his holiday generosity.

A year later, he made his way to Maryland. There, he retraced the path that the D.C. Sniper had followed and gave away a cool $25,000. This story reveals to us a clues in cracking the Secret Santa’s true identity:

"Call it payback to a man named Ted Horn.

Horn, now 84 and retired, was a small-town Mississippi diner owner who gave Secret Santa a hand more than 30 years ago, when he was out of a job, out of money and seemingly out of luck.

When Secret Santa finished his meal at Horn's diner, he pretended he didn't have his wallet. Horn bent down next to Secret Santa's stool, said, "I think you dropped this," and handed Secret Santa $20. Secret Santa paid the bill, gassed up his car, and sped out of town before whoever had dropped the $20 came looking for it. Only later did he realize what Horn had done for him.

"I made a vow that if I was ever in a position to help someone, I'd do it," he said.

Stamped in red on each $100 bill he gave out Thursday was "Ted Horn: 2002."

We can now be certain that Secret Santa has ties to the south, specifically Mississippi. From Secret Santa’s web site (yes, he actually has a web site which tracks the $100 bills around the country), we also learn that his time in the south had to pre-date 1979 (the year in which he made his first trip around Kansas City as the town’s Secret Santa).

The Star’s Donna McGuire was back covering Secret Santa in Dec. 2004, making it the 10th year she has shadowed him as he disperses cash (Secret Santa estimates giving away $1 million over the past 25 years).

McGuire, like Woodward and Bernstein, appears to be the gatekeeper in keeping the name of this mysterious figure under wraps. The stories she has published continue to give us clues that enable us to have an idea, if not a clear picture, of who Secret Santa is.

From her Dec. 2004 story, we learn that he is:

*a Jackson County businessman

*traveling with an “accomplice” from Miami County.

* distributed a record $100,000 (for one stop) in Las Vegas (2004) to pay tribute to a longtime friend, Charlie Meyerson, a former Las Vegas casino host who recently died at age 88 in Florida.

The next month, Secret Santa was back lending a helping hand in Kansas City by helping a Northland family avoid homelessness.

The Secret Santa keeps a number of famous friends close by to serve as “elves” on trips outside of KC. One of these friends is Dick Butkus, former NFL linebacker with the Chicago Bears. Butkus said he met the Secret Santa more than a decade ago in a casino-sponsored golf tournament.

This gives us another regional connection, this time to Las Vegas. By the looks of this article, it appears Secret Santa knows his way around Sin City (I suppose if you had that kind of money you’d have to if you didn’t spend all of your time…….giving it away. Jeez! This guy must be loaded if he’s doing both!).

This Las Vegas Tribune report on his ’04 trip describes Secret Santa as having a very distinct Southern Drawl. This leads us back to Mississippi, or at least the Deep South.

Google magic leads us to this document. We are given an even greater sense that Secret Santa is truly a Southern Gentleman. From this report we learn that he was a young, struggling salesman in Houston, Mississippi in 1971 when the incident at Ted Horn’s diner occurred. From there he took the bus to KC where he made his fortunes.

More Google magic leads us through KC historical records pertaining to the 70's and 80's. We don't find many names that stick out (particularly not of any wealthy business types that could pull this off). After a billion searches lead us back to the deceased Ewing Kauffman (and other names of "old money" who are clearly not candidates), a lead finally appears.

"Grandview
businessman Del Dunmire…..In 1958 the 24-year-old bomber pilot robbed an Abilene, Kan., bank of $2,461 to pay a gambling debt.

Now outspoken in repentance, Dunmire embodied an extravagance sweeping Ronald Reagan's America -- new wealth wrapped in patriotic bunting."

Dunmire being mentioned as “new wealth” sends up a red flag. This story, of his lavish 1986 wedding, makes him a strong candidate for a number of reasons. The wedding is described as the largest in the history of Kansas City. The gambling debt also makes sense, because we have learned that Secret Santa was down on his luck and ready to rip of Horn's Mississippi diner. The gambling debt also leads us back to Las Vegas, where he visited this past X-Mas in tribute of a lost friend. Where else were big gambling debt being racked up in the 50's????

Ironically, Dunmire's family now sponsors events for the KC Crime Commission almost 50 years after his brush with the law.

Check out this mention of Dunmire from Hearne Christopher's column in January, where he quotes a handful of local figures on what they’ll be doing for the holidays. Notice Dunmire’s response:

Eccentric millionaire Del Dunmire doesn't do Christmas gifts — with the exception of his younger children. Mainly because he's always giving people presents year-round.

“I'm a compulsive buyer,” he says. “The things I do are always so crazy.”

A Star report from last fall on their divorce proceedings notes Dunmire and his wife:

“…..have given millions to charities, anti-drug programs, law enforcement and the Kansas City Zoo.”

Dunmire’s success in business, coupled with these notations of generous giving, lead me to believe that he may be the Secret Santa.

Dunmire's never had a media-friendly property, a la Kauffman's Royals. Instead, he’s opted for more scandalous investments and real estate holdings (such as Bob Berdella’s killing grounds at 43rd and Charlotte, which he later had demolished and donated to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association).

McGuire was contacted, and responded only by saying that the Secret Santa wishes to remain anonymous.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We know that our secret Santa gives away considerable amounts of cash to people in the Northeast area of Kansas City during each Christmas season. Perhaps his desire for anonymity is driven first by humility and second by fear. After all, were his identity well known amongst our local citizens, wouldn/t he be subject to armed robbery anytime he ventured forth upon our city streets? There is a place for secrets in a mixed-up and dangerous city such as ours.

12:49 PM

 
Anonymous Johnny said...

"There is a place for secrets in a mixed-up and dangerous city such as ours."

Please, let's not start getting Kansas City confused with other places. It's not like this man is carrying around thousands of dollars with him everyday. An attempt to rob him is no more likely than an attempt on anyone else.

6:21 PM

 
Blogger Admin said...

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6:23 AM

 

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