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?


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.

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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rumor of Orlando Magic Move to KC Persists...

Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Mike Bianchi is keeping Kansas City hoops fans aware of the situation unfolding with the Orlando Magic and a possible move to Kansas City. Bianchi's March 18th column finds him pleading with the team’s management to ante up the big bucks and lure former Laker Phil Jackson back into coaching before the fledgling franchise heads for the Land of Oz.

Before KC hoops fans get too excited about the prospect of the Magic moving into the Sprint Center when it's ready to go in a few years -- consider the history of where the franchise has been. Might we be getting another perennial lackluster sports product (one that gives the Royals a run for their money…or lack thereof)?

After reaching the 1995 NBA Finals (where they were swept by the Houston Rockets) the Orlando Magic has experienced the following:

1. Shaq leaves for LA ('96) -- for which they received nothing in return (unless you count almost a decade of first round playoff exits and consistent .500 records).

2. The hiring of Chuck Daly ('97) -- Daly was a lame duck coach from the moment he arrived. The players (fresh off an organized ousting of Brian Hill the previous year) knew the ex-Pistons coach only had two to three years with the franchise. Daly took the team to two forgettable playoff births in as many years and then retired (again).

3. Holding on to Anfernee Hardaway too long (even if it meant losing “Lil’ Penny” as well)--
By the time the Magic dumped the often injured Hardaway on the Suns in '99, all that the former All-Star could generate in return was an over-the-hill Danny Manning, Pat Garrity (the white equivalent of Sam Perkins), and a couple of draft picks.

4. Grant Hill signed to a seven year contract worth $93 million (2000) -- Hill was acquired through a sign-and-trade with his old team, the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons acquired Ben Wallace, establishing a defensive foundation for their 2004 championship squad, and unloaded an already injured Hill. Hill's contract (which runs through 2007) and health have kept the Magic from advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. After a dreadful 2003-2004 season, the Magic drafted Dwight Howard with the #1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. They said they hoped that the 18-year-old would some day supply the defensive ferociousness that Wallace supplies the Pistons.

5. The Drew Gooden experiment (2003-2004)-- Orlando gives Memphis Mike Miller (Tracy McGrady's best friend on the team) in exchange for Gooden and Gordan Giricek in 2003. The fourth pick in the 2002 draft, Gooden shows some promise in the 2003 playoffs, but then fizzles out last year leading the Magic to deal him to Cleveland in a package that lands them Tony Battie (who you’ll remember as showing great promise as a player…in the Big 12).

6. Tracy McGrady moved for nothing (2004)? ---- Look at the generous trade they made with Houston: McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to the Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.

Result: Mobley has already been shipped to Sacramento for Doug Christie (who is currently M.I.A., or as his bat shit crazy wife says: "not feeling well"). The 30-year-old Cato is averaging 7 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes per game -- typical lackluster stuff for the overpaid Iowa State seven-footer. Francis just got suspended for kicking a photographer during a game, after missing the All-Star game for the first time in four years. The undersized guard has four years/$58 million left on his deal.

Meanwhile, McGrady and Yao Ming have the Rockets at their best regular season record since 1997, when the team featured Barkley, Olajuwon, and Drexler.

Advantage: Houston.

7. Failed (Miserable) 1st round Selections (1991-Present) ---
To name a few:

Brian Williams (Bison Dele), Stanley Roberts, Geert Hammink, Brooks Thompson, David Vaughn, Brian Evans, Johnny Taylor, Courtney Alexander, Jeryl Sasser, Steven Hunter, and Reece Gaines.

8. They Came and Went (*Most of these players were shipped in 2000 in an effort to remake the roster and make room for free agent signings. This resulted in the sign-and-trade acquisitions of Hill and McGrady.) --- A list of players starting or making significant contributions elsewhere in the league:

Chauncey Billups, Ron Mercer, Corey Magette, Matt Harpring, Michael Doleac, Keon Clark, Mike Miller, Gordan Giricek, Keyon Dooling, Early Boykins, and Troy Hudson.

You take away the four year period in the mid-90's ('92-'96) when the Magic enjoyed the media spotlight cast on Shaq, and what you have is the NBA's east coast equivalent of the Clippers. O’Neal was responsible for the franchise reaching 50 wins or better in the three out of four years with the team. In the nine years since he split, the team has failed to reach 45 wins, and has not gotten past the first round of the playoffs (this year's team is on pace to go roughly 39-43).

Assuming we inherit the franchise's current ownership and management (all signs point to yes!!); there is no reason to expect anything but a continuance of the shortcomings that have plagued the franchise for the past decade. A series of ill-timed free agent signings and unsuccessful drafts have caught up to the team, as it went 21-61 last year and appears to be falling short of the playoffs again this year in the .500 friendly Eastern Conference. Next year looks no better for the franchise, as they are already capped out for the 2005-2006 season.

By the time the Sprint Center is ready for action in '07 the remaining Magic players under contract will be: Steve Francis and Hedo Turkoglu (a poor man's Peja Stoijakovic). Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson's rookie contracts call for the team to pick up salary options that year. Given the Magic's history, there's no guarantee the club will extend the contracts beyond that season if the duo's production begins to exceed their price range.

Next to the Bobcats (Charlotte), Hornets (New Orleans), and Raptors (Toronto), Orlando is the least attractive NBA franchise to inherit/acquire. Twenty years after the Kings and the NBA left town for Sacramento, KC taxpayers may be asked to overpay in order just to have an incompetent franchise call cow town home.

March Madness: Dead Chiefs Player Revitalizing Downtown?

I thought I was going out of my mind when I read in Sunday's KC Star that Buck Buchanan was alive and working with the city on downtown projects.

Waaaahhhhh!!!!!* (*Waaaaaaaahhhh is a trademark of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show).

Gossip Superstar Hearne Christopher quoted downtown developer Wayne Reeder as saying former Chief Buck Buchanan was responsible for landscaping operations. I figured I was the only person in the city who recalled Buck as having passed away in '92 from lung cancer.

Metro Sports aired a segment Monday night on this odd bit being included in Christopher's Sunday column. Their segment said the story had been pulled from the Star's web site.

For the PBS-like transcript, here's the crazy bit verbatim:

Green giant alert:
Let's see, killer views, indoor and outdoor swimming pools — what more could a prospective upscale downtown condo buyer ask for than what The View at 600 Admiral has to offer?

Would you believe: former Chiefs star Buck Buchanan?

"Buck Buchanan's doing the landscaping on it,” says co-developer Wayne Reeder. “He's so talented. It's gorgeous what he's doing!”

You can still find the Google cache here.

The Star, nor Wayne Reeder have issued anything explaining how the strange quote/story made it into Sunday's paper.

Who is Reeder? Besides delivering Christopher the single most bat shit crazy quote of all time, he was profiled last fall by The Pitch for his on-going work for the City. The story centered on his stints in prison for $$ fraud and other convictions. Despite his criminal dealings in the past, David Martin's story shows how city officials have forgiven him for his shady past.

UPDATE ---- The Star issued a correction in Tuesday's paper saying the developer's actual name was Buck Buchan. No further explanation on how this mix-up came about.