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Kansas Man Is Charged In Nursing Student's 1980 Murder After New Evidence Surfaces
“I just hope that he is sorry for what he’s done, that he’s remorseful. But even if he’s not, he can’t change my heart as I forgave him a long time ago," Mary Robin Walter's daughter said of the arrest of Steven Hanks, who had once been a neighbor of the victim.
More than four decades after a Kansas nursing student was found shot to death, investigators have arrested the man suspected of killing the 23-year-old.
Steven Hanks, 68, is now facing charges of second-degree murder in the 1980 death of Mary Robin Walter, according to a press conference streamed by Kansas news outlet KAKE.
Walter was found shot multiple times at the Nelson Trailer Park on January 24, 1980 after the Barton County Sheriff’s office received a call about a homicide around 6:50 p.m. The shooting occurred about 10 years before the rural trailer park — which no longer exists — was connected to the 911 system.
Walter, a 23-year-old married mother of one who went by Robin, was attending nursing classes at the Barton County Community College at the time of her death.
Hanks, who had been a neighbor of the victim, was long considered a person of interest in the case but investigators were never able to gather enough information to lead to an arrest.
Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said that all changed earlier this year, when Barton County Sheriff’s Office Det. Sgt. Adam Hales was recovering from COVID in April 2022 and decided to review the case file.
“After taking a fresh look at the case, it became evident that some of the information had been initially overlooked and some had been added at a later date,” Bellendir said. “This was unknown to the original investigators.”
With the help of additional detectives assigned to the case, the sheriff’s office tracked down “numerous individuals” and conducted interviews as far away as the Pacific Northwest, while also working in collaboration with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
“In October of 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,” Bellendir said.
Bellendir and Morris both declined at the press conference to release any additional information about what that new evidence might be, citing their desire to protect the integrity of the case.
“We’ll just save that for court and we’re not going to make any comment on what it is at this time,” Morris said.
Morris concluded the evidence was sufficient enough to obtain an arrest warrant and Hanks was taken into custody by Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents on Thursday in Oxford, Kansas.
“At 42 years and 10 months, we believe this is the oldest homicide arrest in the state of Kansas,” Bellendir said, adding that the case had been open for his entire law enforcement career.
Bellendir, who began his career with the sheriff’s department in 1982, credited the hard work of his detectives for making the arrest possible after more than four decades.
“A lot of investigators have tried to close this case and we were unable at that time to get the information we needed,” he said. “My group of detectives that I named worked very hard on this. This was a matter of the right people at the right place at the right time.”
Walter’s daughter, Pamela Walter Cooper, told NBC affiliate KSN that she had already forgiven her mother’s killer long ago, saying, “I already knew who did it. I knew he wasn’t convicted of it, but we knew who did it."
Cooper said her father had discovered his wife’s body. She was only about 5 years old at the time of the death, but for years, she said she had nightmares that she was the one who was shot to death.
“I blocked a lot of it out because knowing how many times she was shot. I had nightmares as a child up until the age of 12,” she said, adding that she still wears her mother’s wedding ring.
Cooper noted that she found closure long ago and that the arrest didn’t change how she felt.
“I think my dad would be relieved,” she said. “I just hope that he (the suspect) is sorry for what he’s done, that he’s remorseful. But even if he’s not, he can’t change my heart as I forgave him a long time ago.”
Walter’s niece, Leslie Schrag, also commented on the arrest in a statement to KWCH.
“We are grateful for detectives’ efforts to bring Robin’s murderer to justice,” she said. “Robin was truly beautiful inside and out.”
Schrag said the impact of Walter’s death is still being felt by the family.
“The world was robbed of her presence, and we will never know how that has shaped our lives,” Schrag said. “[The] news is bittersweet. Many of those who knew Robin are gone. Her parents, husband and a sister will not get to share in our collective relief that Robin’s case will have a conclusion.”
Hanks is currently being held in the Barton County Jail on a $500,000 bond, authorities said.