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Love on the Rocks

They lived -- and some of them died -- in small towns on the plains of Colorado, Texas and Kansas. They had one woman in common.

The combination of his thuggish appearance and good nature made Bear the best kind of bouncer. "He'd be able to recognize when two guys were about to be in a fight even before they did," recalls one Opal's regular. "So he'd go over and start laughing and joking with them. He sensed potential trouble and so was able to prevent it before it began."

As Cynthia started spending more time at Toby and Bear's house, she began confiding personal details of her life to Bear. She told him of her unhappiness at home and of Ron hitting her. Beginning in March 1996, according to Kiowa County court filings, she began floating an idea: She would pay Bear to kill Ron, after which she would collect the money from the insurance policies on his life.

As the weeks passed, Cynthia's vague but violent notion took shape, Bear later remembered. She instructed him to make the murder look like an accident. She informed Bear that Ron frequently worked late in the meatpacking shop, and she gave the bouncer detailed instructions on how to enter the building after hours.

She explained that after the deed was done, she wanted Ron's body placed at the bottom of a ladder so that it would appear as though he'd fallen to his death. She drew Bear a detailed map of the building. Then, after he'd looked at it, she burned it.

Cynthia promised to pay Bear cash for the favor: $10,000 in advance, and $10,000 more when Ron lay dead on the concrete floor of L&M Processing. The only thing missing was the money.

One of Sheriff Bryant Kurth's most useful attributes as the top law-enforcement officer in Edwards County, Kansas, is an excellent memory. Sitting in his office in Kinsley, for instance, he instantly remembers Cynthia Phillips. He recalls that her houses always seemed to catch on fire.

There were three in all, all within the space of ten years. The first, Kurth says, was many years ago, perhaps in 1989. The second Phillips house fire was in March 1995--actually in the town of Lewis, nine miles to the east of Kinsley. The third followed hard after that, in June 1995.

Naturally, by the time the third house burned down, the suspicions of local police were aroused, and so the June 1995 fire was investigated more thoroughly than the previous two. The inquiry paid off--partially.

"There was enough evidence to show it was arson," Kurth recalls, "but not enough evidence to show who did it." Still, the proof that did exist was enough for the insurance company, which refused to pay Phillips for the damage, Kurth remembers.

That hadn't been the case in the second house fire, however. After all, notes Kurth, "there was nothing suspicious at the time." The sheriff's department was never asked to look into the incident. "As far as we knew," he says, "it was just an accident."

So on June 12, 1995, Farmer's Insurance Group issued three checks totaling $13,383 to Cynthia Phillips to cover damage caused to her house by the blaze three months earlier. The checks were mailed to P.O. Box 8, Haswell, Colorado--the Phillipses' mailing address. They were cashed a week later.

That same month, Cynthia tracked down Bear at Opal's Pub. She needed to discuss important matters with him, he later recollected, and so the two agreed to meet at Bear and Toby's house. When Bear arrived, he discovered the purpose of the meeting. Cynthia counted out $10,000--eighty hundred-dollar bills and forty fifties--and handed the cash over to Bear.

Later, Bear would say that he had no intention of murdering Cynthia's husband. A friend insists that he actually took the money to protect Ron: If Cynthia didn't have the means to pay another assassin, Bear apparently reasoned, then Ron might live.

Whether Bear intended to slay Ron Phillips but then reconsidered, whether he genuinely wanted to protect him or whether he was intending to scam Cindy all along, he--and the $10,000--suddenly disappeared from Lamar. Before he left, however, Bear told some close friends about Cynthia's plan to assassinate Ron Phillips.

And that might have been the end of the odd story of the failed murder-for-hire plan out of Haswell. In fact, it's possible that police in Colorado, Kansas and Texas would never have taken an interest in Cynthia Phillips, had it not been for Les Konrade's death the following year and Toby Mathews's murder less than two years after that.

According to court documents, one of the people to whom Bear confided details of the scheme was the owner of Opal's, a grandmother named Bonnie Kemp. (Kemp declined to be interviewed for this story.) As owner of the bar, Kemp had become close friends with Toby Mathews, so when she learned of Toby's death this past spring, she felt compelled to pass along her condolences to Cynthia and seek whatever information on the killing she could find. She dialed Ron Phillips's phone number in Haswell. But it wasn't Phillips who answered the phone.

After Cynthia moved to Texas with Toby, Ron had had little reason to stick around, and he, too, had fled Haswell not long after his wife left him. So instead of hearing Phillips's voice that April day, Kemp reached Leonard Price, who had come out of retirement to retain control of L&M Processing and his old home.

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2 comments
lilsexibabygirl
lilsexibabygirl

Toby dated my mother back in 1993 when I was in the 5th grade. He was nice to me & my brother. He took us to karate to see if we would like it. His dad & step mom took all of us to six flags when we first met them. Toby didn't deserve to die that way. He was a GREAT MAN & he will be sorely missed!!

boogiemandj
boogiemandj

After almost 16 years, its feels almost like a bad dream, rather than reality. I'm not exactly sure what tripped my memory wire about this. Just been thinking about it lately. I remember when Toby was killed, and the boys in our family immediately dropped everything to rush to Corsicana in support of our cousin Toby.

As we pulled up to the funeral home, the scene was almost surreal. As we left the funeral services, a a smug, seemingly put-out smallish framed man waited impatiently in a older model Camaro. That man was Richard Boyd. As Cynthia Phillips was entering the passenger side, music blaring, with smoke billowing out of the car. My brothers and I barely had time to get out of the way in the gravel parking lot before Boyd slammed on the gas pedal, sending gravel flying in every direction.


When we finally arrived at Toby's home, my brothers, father, grandfather and I immediately looked at each other. Hardly a word was spoken. We just knew. I hadn't seen Toby's dad, my Uncle Orie in years. Immediately we all hugged as he just looked hollow, disgusted in anger.


As we made our way inside, there was Cynthia. She was crying, sobbing, jittering about uncontrollably. At the time, I thought: "My God! What a scene she is making. Quite the spectacle of herself".. After reading this story, and her apparent penchant for the theatrical, I guess it was to her character.


It was a almost a full four years later that Phillips was sentenced: 60 years for murder. And that was 12 years ago. I have no idea if she is still serving, or if her sentence was shortened. I'm afraid to look. It will make me visibly ill to know the truth.


What I do know is that without the help of the other murdrers, and and attempted others, she probably would have never been caught. Save for one extremely weak Richard Boyd, she may have been still wreaking her brand of promiscuous havoc upon our great State. Or someone else's.


It's funny, the things you remember in life. I don't remember my college graduation. My first day of school. Heck, I don't even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.

But I will never, ever forget the look on that monster's face in the parking lot of the funeral home in Corsicana that day in April, 16 years ago.


The look of smug, defiant guilt. On both of their ignorant, hillbilly faces.




 
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