Court hearing brought up tales of alleged murder, incest
And then they were gone.
Authorities searching a Morton County, Kan., farm for evidence, possibly bodies, pulled out Monday, a spokesman for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said late Monday.
“This aspect of the investigation was concluded today, and the investigation is ongoing,” spokesman Whitney Watson said by telephone from Ulysses, Kan.
Watson declined to comment on the next step of the investigation, which began Oct. 8 when authorities served a search warrant on members of the Bitner family.
The AG’s Office, which is controlling information about the investigation, has refused to say what prompted the search or what agents have been looking for since the warrant was issued by a Shawnee County, Kan., District Court judge.
“Our office will handle the communications,” Watson said, “because, if evidence of a crime is uncovered and charges are filed, then our office will be prosecuting that. And we will certainly release information if it came to that.”
The family was notified by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that authorities had completed their work at the family farm north of Elkhart, Watson said.
A Bitner family member who lives near the two sites being searched said the family attorney, Clinton B. Peterson of Liberal, Kan., would be releasing a statement soon.
Testimony by Rebecca Galaviz, now a New Mexico resident, could be what sparked the search.
Galaviz, a Bitner family relative, spilled a tale of alleged murder, incest, occult practices and prostitution the Morton County, Kan., farm when being cross-examined in a June 3 child custody hearing in Amarillo’s 320th District Court.
But Watson declined Monday to discuss whether the custody trial instigated the search.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation did request a copy of a transcript of Galaviz’s testimony in the custody proceeding, confirmed Jill Zimmer, court reporter for 320th District Court.
Agents from KBI, which is part of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, have been working at the Bitner farm with representatives of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the Kansas Highway Patrol and, sometimes, the Elkhart Police Department.
A warrant covering two locations on Bitner family farmland was served on members of the Bitner family Oct. 8, a day before the funeral of Borger resident Jim Bitner.
The warrant “will be sealed until the attorney general’s office decides to file a case,” according to Shawnee County District Court Administrator Kay Falley.
Jim Bitner, 67, died of cancer Oct. 2. His name is on the witness list for the custody case.
Because the case is pending, Amarillo lawyer James Clark, who represents Rebecca Galaviz’s husband, John Galaviz, declined comment, according to a receptionist at Clark’s office.
William R. Kelly of Canyon, attorney for Mrs. Galaviz, could not be reached Monday for comment.
In his cross-examination of Mrs. Galaviz on June 3, Clark questioned her credibility, explaining to 320th District Judge Don Emerson that he was trying to show “the outlandish things she tells other people,” a court transcript says.
Mrs. Galaviz claimed in her testimony to have witnessed one murder on the family farm and have knowledge of others. She also alluded to the murder of a “Suzanne White,” in the mid-1970s.
Morton County Sheriff Loren Youngers on Friday said the county has four unsolved murders, one of which was the murder of Suzanne Johnson in 1971.
But Johnson’s partially disrobed body was recovered March 19, 1971, in a field of tall grass near the Elkhart city dump, Globe-News files show.
Missing since March 4, 1971, Johnson had been strangled, Globe-News files show.
A 19-year-old man charged in the murder was later cleared.
The custody hearing transcript shows that Judge Emerson took over the questioning of Rebecca Galaviz before recessing the hearing.
Emerson asked her, “When was the last time you visited the farm, Kansas farm?”
“In ’88, right before I started having the memories of what had gone on there,” Mrs. Galaviz answered.
Bitner neighbors Ronny and Nina Sipes, who have been in contact with the family since the search began, said they believe many rumors have been swirled together to fuel the investigation.
“It’s the story of half-heard tales put together by a daughter and mixed up in her head,” said Nina Sipes, who lives about four miles from the Bitners. “Just like all good stories, after three people swear to it, it becomes reality.”
Rebecca Galaviz could not be reached for comment.
The ’70s in Morton County included Johnson’s murder and mysterious cattle mutilations in nearby southeastern Colorado that fueled rumors of occult worship in the region, Mrs. Sipes said.
Now, rumors concerning the Bitner farmland investigation grow with every passing day.”It’s just not believable at all,” said the Sipes’ nephew, Jim Sipes. “I would never believe that any of the Bitners ever killed anybody. This is the kind of family that, if there was ever a stray dog running around the country, that’s who you’d call because you know they’d take care of it.”
Oct. 19, 2004
Karen D. Smith