Bird And Anderson Were In Love
"Though shalt not kill" was among commandments the Rev. Tom Bird preached to his flock at Emporia's Faith Lutheran Church. But Bird and his secretary, Lorna Anderson, had murder on their minds when they met with Darrel Carter at the church in May 1983. Bird, then 33, and Anderson, 30, told Carter they were in love. They asked him to kill Anderson's husband, Martin Anderson, so they could be together. Carter, an Emporia building contractor, suggested the Andersons get a divorce instead.
Bird responded that Lorna Anderson didn't want a divorce, because then she couldn't collect money from her husband's life insurance policy. Martin Anderson had taken out a $270,000 policy earlier that year. The lovers proposed two ways of killing Martin Anderson. One involved drugging him and shoving his car into a river to make his death look like an accident. The other was to shoot and kill him during what would appear to be a robbery, at a relative's home where Martin Anderson stayed when he went to Topeka for Army Reserve activities. Carter later testified Bird told him no one would suspect Bird was involved, because he was a minister. "He told me he was a man of God, and he was going to kill Martin Anderson."
The gossip started to fly in Emporia soon after Lorna Anderson took a part-time job in January 1983 as secretary at the modern, yellow-brick Faith Lutheran Church. Some members felt concerned that the attractive, married mother of four was romantically involved with their popular minister Tom Bird, a married father of three.
Church preschool director Angie Duensing later testified that there was "a spark in their eyes, electricity in the air" when Bird and Anderson were together. "I've seen him touch arms before with other women but never hug like he did with Lorna," said Duensing, then 22. "When they talked it seemed like they couldn't even keep the desk between them." Bird responded to concerned church members by saying he was helping Lorna Anderson, who was suicidal and got a feeling of self-worth from her job.
Jan Mead knew what was going on. Mead saw Lorna Anderson regularly as part of Mead's job with the American Heart Association, for which Anderson did volunteer work. Mead knew Lorna Anderson was unhappily married and had been lovers with her hairdresser, Daniel Carter.
In February 1983, Mead later testified, Lorna Anderson told Mead that she had fallen in love with Bird, who was "pretty good in bed for a minister." Mead suggested the Andersons divorce, but Lorna Anderson responded that her husband was a good father to the children. "She told me she knew it sounded really awful but sometimes she wished something would happen to Martin and his wife so Tom and her could spend the rest of their lives together," Mead said.
Bird and Lorna Anderson met in May 1983 with another of her former lovers, 39-year-old Darrel Carter, who was Daniel Carter's brother. They asked him to kill Martin Anderson. He put off giving them an answer. "The longer I sat there and listened to two people talk about killing a friend, I started to get pretty nervous about it," Darrel Carter testified. "I didn't want to give them my answer. I wasn't too sure I'd be leaving the church myself."
Darrel Carter called Bird in late May and said he wanted nothing to do with Martin Anderson's murder. He later testified that he chose not to contact authorities because he thought nothing would happen. But during the early-morning hours of July 17, 1983, Tom Bird's wife of 12 years was killed.
The body of Sandy Bird, 33, was found floating in about a foot of water near her overturned station wagon, in the Cottonwood River about eight miles southeast of Emporia. The car had gone off the Rocky Ford Bridge and plunged down a 65-foot embankment. Authorities ruled her death was due to a traffic accident.
But Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper John Rule expressed serious doubts that Sandy Bird's death was an accident. Rule found a trail of blood near her body. He followed it up the embankment and found a broken wristwatch, which Tom Bird said belonged to his wife, near a blood-smeared tree.
Rule also questioned why there were no visible signs that a driver had lost control of a vehicle on the gravel road leading to the bridge, and no evidence Sandy Bird had braked to try to avoid going over the edge.
Martin Anderson's life ended on the dark, chilly evening of Nov. 4, 1983. He and Lorna Anderson had taken their family shopping that day in Manhattan. Lorna Anderson said she was feeling ill, and drove home as her husband watched the couple's four daughters, who ranged in age from 2 1/2 to 8.
Lorna Anderson later said she stopped the van on K-177 highway about 10 miles south of Manhattan, got out, tried to vomit, dropped the keys, went back to the van and asked her husband to help look for them.
After her husband got out, she said, a masked man approached out of nowhere, demanded Martin Anderson's billfold, then fired. Martin Anderson was struck three times in the head. Lorna Anderson said the man then threatened her with the gun but left without shooting her.
Later that month, Lorna Anderson moved to Hutchinson. She and Bird kept in touch, calling each other daily as Bird made trips to Hutchinson to comfort her.
Before long, investigators learned of a romance between Bird and Anderson that predated the deaths of their spouses. They also got a tip that Daniel Carter may have plotted to kill Lorna Anderson's husband.
Investigators questioned Daniel Carter. He admitted he had agreed in September 1983 to Lorna Anderson's request that he help her kill her husband, who she said had been beating her.
Daniel Carter, 35, told detectives he had contacted Greg Curry, 20, a Wolf Creek Power Plant employee who put him in touch with an acquaintance of Curry's in Mississippi. The acquaintance said he was willing to kill Martin Anderson for $5,000.
Lorna Anderson later admitted she provided Daniel Carter with $5,000, an itinerary and photos of her husband. Those were given to Curry's acquaintance, but the plan never was carried out.
Curry, Daniel Carter and Lorna Anderson were charged in Geary County, where Martin Anderson was killed, with crimes linked to the conspiracy. Curry's acquaintance in Mississippi was questioned but not charged.
Upon hearing his brother had been arrested, Darrel Carter finally came forward to say Bird and Anderson tried to hire him in May 1983 to kill Martin Anderson. Darrel Carter wasn't charged with any crimes. He became a key witness in subsequent court hearings.
But Curry and Daniel Carter never went to trial. In January 1984, both pleaded guilty in Geary County District Court to criminal solicitation. Curry was sentenced to two to five years in prison. Daniel Carter received probation. Darrel Carter said he felt his cooperation with investigators had helped his brother get probation.
A judge threw out Geary County conspiracy charges against Lorna Anderson in January 1985. He said there was insufficient evidence to bind her over for trial and that Geary County lacked jurisdiction, because no plotting took place in Geary County. In February 1985, Anderson was charged in Lyon County with crimes linked to the plots to kill her husband. Meanwhile, Lyon County Attorney Rodney Symmonds in March 1984 had charged Tom Bird with criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder. He accused Bird of asking Darrel Carter to kill Martin Anderson.
Though many in his church staunchly supported him and proclaimed his innocence, Bird resigned from his job in June 1984. He went on trial the following month, denying on the witness stand that he had been romantically involved with Lorna Anderson, or plotted to kill her husband.
Another witness, Faith Lutheran Church member Susan Graft, testified that Lorna Anderson appeared by "the look in her eye and her manner" to be attracted to Bird. After the trial adjourned for the day, police said another church member -- Delores Wagoner, 34, of Emporia -- approached Graft, grabbed her in the face, twisted her head and said, "You better watch what you say, you jealous little wimp." Wagoner later pleaded guilty to battery.
A Lyon County jury on Aug. 1, 1984, found Bird guilty of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 7 years in prison. Bird entered the Kansas prison system on Sept. 7, 1984, as inmate No. 41458. Meanwhile, authorities were building a murder case against him. In October 1984, Sandy Bird's body was exhumed and a second autopsy conducted. That autopsy found that she had been beaten to death.
In February 1985, a grand jury charged Bird with first-degree murder, alleging he beat his wife, threw her from the Rocky Ford Bridge, pushed her car over a nearby embankment and placed her body in front of her car to make her death appear accidental.
Bird went to trial in July 1985. The jury heard more than two weeks of testimony and saw nearly 200 pieces of evidence before returning a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life imprisonment the following month. By then, the relationship between Bird and Lorna Anderson was long over. Bird in late 1983 had begun dating Terry Smith, whom he married in August 1988 at Lansing Correctional Facility.
In June 1985, Lorna Anderson married Charles R. "Randy" Eldridge, a longtime family friend who believed her when she said she hadn't been involved with Bird or the murders. She and Eldridge later divorced. In August 1985, Lorna Anderson pleaded guilty in Lyon County to two felony counts of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder. She spoke in a soft, childlike voice at the plea hearing, admitting she had solicited first Darrel Carter, then Daniel Carter, to kill her husband.
Anderson was sentenced to 5 1/2 to 18 years in prison. Her attorney said that by pleading guilty she hoped "to get this matter over with and to purge her own soul." But the matter wasn't over in Geary County. In August 1987, Lorna Anderson was charged with the first-degree murder of her husband. In November 1988, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, saying Tom Bird shot her husband as part of a prearranged plan. She was sentenced to 15 years to life.
Lorna Anderson then testified against Bird in March 1990, when he was tried in Geary County for first-degree murder in the slaying of Martin Anderson. A jury heard nine days of testimony and returned with a "not guilty" verdict after deliberating for only 75 minutes. A prosecutor said the decision wasn't a big surprise because the star witness, Lorna Anderson, lacked credibility.
After a long court battle, a federal judge ruled in 1989 that Martin Anderson's life insurance company had to pay a $270,000 policy to the four daughters of Martin and Lorna Anderson. Judge Dale Saffels upheld a 1987 federal jury's decision that Lorna Anderson didn't procure the policy on her husband's life, so the policy wasn't obtained by fraud.
Geary County Sheriff's officers in August 1985 awaited a court order to drain a pond to make it possible to search for the gun used to kill Martin Anderson. Anderson was shot to death in November 1983. Kansas Department of Corrections records indicate that Lorna Anderson now goes by her maiden name, Lorna Slater. She has been Kansas prison inmate No. 43114 since Sept. 26, 1985. She became parole-eligible in 1988, 1995 and 1998, but was rejected each time.
In 1995, Kansas Parole Board members noted that her prison disciplinary record between 1988 and 1990 included guilty pleas to six violations, including sodomy, for which she was given 45 days disciplinary segregation, and lewd acts, for which she received 10 days of extra work. Further details about those cases weren't released, and no further violations had been recorded after April 1990.
In 2000, Anderson and Bird were considered for release a month apart. Bird became parole-eligible for the first time. He and his wife, Terry Smith Bird, still insisted he was innocent. Tom Bird was denied parole. He remains an inmate at Lansing Correctional Facility and won't be eligible again until Jan. 1, 2005. Anderson, a Topeka Correctional Facility inmate, was passed over for parole for five years in November 2000. She filed an appeal, which was rejected by a Shawnee County judge. She won't be eligible again until Dec. 1, 2005.
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