Carolina Potter spent sleepless nights wracking her brain for clues to where her husband Randy could be. The 53-year-old went missing in January, when he left their home for work at a T-Mobile operations center in Kansas City. She never imagined he’d been in plain sight all along: for eight months, his decomposed body sat in the driver’s seat of a Dodge Ram 1500 parked at the Kansas City International Airport.
When police, responding to a call of a bad odor emanating from the truck, arrived last week, they found Potter’s body unrecognizable. What his family—nor authorities—can explain is what took so long to find him.
“Everything that could’ve gone wrong, I think, did go wrong,” Carolina Potter told Jalopnik.
The shocking, utterly perplexing situation has led Potter’s family to question why authorities failed to locate the body at the airport sooner.
Shortly after her husband had been reported missing, Carolina Potter said she drove 45 minutes from her hometown of Lenexa, Kansas, to the Kansas City International Airport. Carolina Potter works as a flight attendant, so immediately, she thought it made sense to start there—if he simply left, as they initially suspected, the thought was he’d go some place like an airport or a bus station.
“Everything was going through our heads,” she said. They checked the lot of a nearby bus station, passed out flyers, organized search parties. The family even went to SP+, the company that manages the 25,000 parking spots at the airport, and provided info. Security routinely checks the lots, they were told. And still, nothing.
Months passed. Then, on Sept. 9, someone parked next to the Ram and took in a strong, pungent odor coming from the vehicle, sitting in one of the 5,900 spaces at the airport’s Economy Lot B.
Three days later, this person returned and found a large number of flies circling the truck, according to an incident report, with the truck emitting a stronger odor than before. After Kansas City airport police received a call from the witness, they drove to the parking lot, found the truck, and discovered a gruesome scene.
“When I looked in the Listed Vehicle I could see the driver seat reclined all the way back and a blanket covering what appeared to be a body from head to feet,” the responding officer wrote in an incident report obtained by Jalopnik. “I could see dark brown organic looking material that had dripped on the back seat from where the head of the body should be.”
Initially, Kansas City police said it couldn’t identify the gender or race of the body, but later confirmed it was Potter after locating a photo ID card. Police discovered a pistol with a spent shell in the vehicle and concluded it was a suicide, a spokesperson told Jalopnik.
The Kansas City police investigation into the incident has since been closed, the spokesperson said. The Jackson County medical examiner’s office declined to comment on the cause of death, saying it can’t release information at this time due to a separate, open investigation.
But the question remains how Potter was there for so very long without being found.
Kansas City spokesperson Chris Hernandez said the city and its aviation department are trying to figure out what went wrong.
Economy Lot B appears remote, according to the SP+ contract with the airport. But it’s only a short shuttle drive to the terminals, officials have said. And images of the parking lot taken by news outlets show the lot to be packed with cars.
The Lenexa Police Department, which initially received the missing persons report and handled the investigation into Potter’s disappearance, isn’t saying much at this point. In an email to Jalopnik, the department’s spokesperson, Danny Chavez, said, “We extend our sincerest condolences to the Potter family,” before declining to comment further.
Earlier, Chavez told the Kansas City Star, that it put a “few hundred man hours” into the investigation—interviewing friends and co-workers, checking the Internal Revenue System or state highway patrols. The department never looked to the Kansas City airport, though, despite being in touch with officials there “within the week.”
The assumption, Chavez told the newspaper, was that airport security would follow through as it said it would and survey the lots.
SP+ is required to conduct a license plate inventory every night, according to the company’s contract with the airport. An operations manual included with the contract lays out a scenario for how to use the license plate inventory system if, say, someone lost their parking ticket. It states: “The license plate of the vehicle is recorded and checked against the date entered in the [License Plate Inventory] system to determine the exact entrance date for fee calculation.”
If SP+ receives a complaint from customers, it’s supposed to respond within 72 hours, the contract says, and then forward its response to the Kansas City Director of Aviation within a day. (It’s unknown if any complaints had previously been filed about the truck.) And the contract states that it’s responsible “for carrying out any and all statutory and City procedures for handling unclaimed and abandoned cars.”
A spokesperson for the Kansas City Aviation Department told the Kansas City Star there’s no limit on how long vehicles can be parked at the lot, and when a vehicle has been found parked for an extended period of time, a letter could be sent to the owner. If the vehicle’s abandoned, it’ll be impounded.
It’s unclear why the Ram wasn’t reported as abandoned. Jill Nagel, a spokesperson for SP+, said in a statement that the company “expresses our sympathy to the Potter Family as they deal with the loss of their loved one.”
“We hope you understand that due to the complexity and sensitivity of the matter, we are unable to speculate or provide further details until all the facts are gathered and our investigation in cooperation with airport authorities is complete,” Nagel said in an email.
Carolina Potter, a native of Italy, said it should be seen as a security issue for the airport. As a flight attendant, she said, she had to go through extensive background checks to land her job. Why wouldn’t the airport take equally serious precautions when overseeing its own property?
“It is a safety issue,” she said. “That truck could’ve been full of dynamite, explosives, anything.”
Lenexa police spokesperson Chavez told the Star that no one gave any indication that Potter was feeling potentially suicidal before he left home to go to work on Jan. 17, adding that “multiple people said their opinion was that he had left. Left the family.”
Carolina Potter didn’t know what to think. The night before her husband disappeared, she said, he was feeling sick and stayed home from work.
By morning, she found his work clothes were still laid out, and Potter believed he left the house in his pajamas and slippers, something uncharacteristic of the Navy veteran. Potter and her two children immediately started to worry when they learned he never showed up to work that day.
His disappearance received a significant amount of attention from local news outlets, and over the intervening months. Potter’s family—new to the Lenexa area—received help from residents in town, Carolina Potter said, helping scatter fliers around town, with hopes that someone would deliver a lead.
“I had a lot of strangers who went out of their way—who took their weekends—to help us search,” Potter said. “And he was 45 minutes away from home.”
Some nights, she said, she’d wake up from sleep and scribble down theories of how to find her husband. Potter wanted to check the airport lots, but she said authorities told her if the car was there it’d be found.
“It’s for naught for believing the police and not going to the parking lot on my own,” she said. “I would’ve found him. I have no doubts, we would’ve been checking every single car in the parking lots. And if I would’ve seen the truck I would’ve checked the tag.”
What she can’t shake is the thought of how many people must’ve walked by the truck over the last several months.
“How many times do people find babies in cars? she said. “And a truck parked there for so long? Backing up to the highway? The highway’s right there, you could see the truck from the highway.”
Potter said her husband was the “nicest person you could’ve ever met.” He loved fishing, hunting, anything outdoors. And he had a sharp wit that could carry a room into rolling laughter. “I miss his smile, his laugh, his sarcasm,” she said. “He’d aggravate all of us” in jest, she added, before everyone would burst out laughing.
Now, she’s waiting for the medical examiner to complete a toxicology report and finish its investigation. Her immediately family here, relatives back in Italy, to her husband’s co-workers—everyone’s in disbelief over how the situation played out, she said.
“Knowing how to deal with it,” she said, “obviously it’s going to take a lot of time.”