As a nation, we are going through some shit. In fact, as I write this blog, major news outlets are covering a story about police brutally killing a black man in my city several months ago. It’s not easy to digest, and honestly, it’s all very triggering. This blog- this case actually somehow ties in to what is going on. So, here we are, episode four of the new ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ cases. This is one that I predict, can be solved with tips that will be generated by the show. In fact, there’s already been some tips coming up, but nothing super substantial has been reported. This one really upset me because, as you’ll come to read, or if you’re already aware then you’ll know- that this should have never happened. This case is about Alonzo ‘Zo’ Brooks.
The episode begins with the camera panning over a creek as sounds of bugs and birds chirping can be heard. The aesthetic is very rustic, and slightly… creepy, especially when a pair of black converse sneakers are shown, seemingly without explanation. The next thing you see, is a silhouette of a woman standing in her kitchen- in front of her kitchen sink while the window above her offers the only light in the room. She comments that she’s still hurt, still mad, and has no trust. For a split second, a missing person’s poster of a 23 year old african-american male named Alonzo ‘Zo’ Brooks comes on screen, and it’s then that the pieces start to come together. Seconds before the opening title credits begin, this woman says, “Don’t think that everyone is your friend, ya know?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N9jMX00aus
This episode is titled ‘No Ride Home’, and as you read on, you’ll know why producers decided to call it that. The woman from the start of the documentary walks up a set of brick steps to her home as she remarks that she raised all five of her kids in Kansas. She had two boys, and three girls, and states that Alonzo, or Zo as everyone calls him, was the baby. (So now we know that the woman is the missing man’s mom.) A picture- probably taken when Alonzo was a senior in HS is in it’s frame, sitting next to a plaid red and blue sweater jacket. Maria Ramirez, Alonzo’s mother says that when her son was growing up he frequently got upset when he couldn’t go places with his siblings because he was the youngest one. The next thing that happens is that the red and blue plaid sweater that was sitting next to Alonzo’s picture is referenced by Maria. She says that Zo loved that jacket, and would wear it all the time. Maria puts on the jacket in front of the filmmakers, and remarks that whenever she puts it on, she feels as though Alonzo is near her. Zo’s sister in law Cindy Brooks enters, and reiterates that Alonzo was in fact Maria’s youngest. She goes on to say that Alonzo was Maria’s heart and that they had a very tight relationship. Maria shows the camera pictures of her son when he was young, claiming that Zo liked karate, as a picture of him posing in a karate stance comes on screen. Demetria Leslie, Alonzo’s sister, testifies that “He was always a kind, little sweet, shy but playful kid. He was a loving person, a fun person. He got along with everybody.” As more pictures of Zo and his family are shown, Edward Ramirez, Alonzo’s uncle, remarks that when his nephew was growing up, he was polite to everyone. He makes a statement that it was nice to see someone young have manners. Felicia Brooks, Zo’s other sister, states that her brother was a neat freak and a cleanly person, so much so that he even made sure to have creases in his pants. His uncle continues on while home video footage plays, that Alonzo’s favorite colors were red and black- thus, he was always wearing one or both of those colors. He also wore boots a lot, and always had a beanie on. Rodney English, Alonzo’s close friend, shows the camera where Zo’s beanie would go on his forehead- right above his eyelids- at about where his eyebrows are, as a small smile comes across his face and as he lets out the tiniest chuckle. Billy Brooks, Zo’s brother, details that they grew up in Topeka, Kansas, but eventually Alonzo and his mom moved to Gardner, Kansas. Billy notes that Topeka is more urban, while Gardner is all suburbia. With a smile on his face, Billy remembers giving Alonzo a hard time while they were growing up and even notes that his mother would reprimand him for picking on his youngest brother. Maria shows the camera more pictures of Alonzo: pictures of him in football gear, or gathered with family during Christmas.
Our case begins on April 3rd, 2004 in Gardner, Kansas. Maria remarks, “That day, he said he was going to a party.” When Maria questioned her son about the party, Alonzo explained that a friend of his was going into the service (most likely military) and that a group of friends were going to be getting together to celebrate him going away.
Enter: Justin Sprague, Alonzo’s friend and ride to the party. Justin explains that it wasn’t a party that was thought out. Daniel Fune, another one of Alonzo’s friends, further details that someone had called him and just simply asked for him and some friends to come out. Another one of Alonzo’s friends, Tyler Broughard, gives credence to Justin and Daniel’s claims about the party being random and that it wasn’t like they had planned it out. Daniel goes on that he was a few years younger than Zo, and that his brother was also friends with Alonzo’s brother. They all played a variety of sports together. It was clearly a tight knit group of guys. Tyler says that he first met Alonzo when they began to play football together, and says that it was then that he knew that Alonzo was an intense kind of person. Justin says that one minute he’s kicking your ass in football, and the next minute he’s chilling with you. He also claims that Alonzo was the easiest guy to get along with.
Justin says that he vividly remembers that before they left for the party, Zo was fixing his socks. Apparently he always wore two pairs, and was rolling them down so that he could tie his boots tighter. Maria tells us that Alonzo was wearing blue jeans, a tee-shirt, a sweater and the skull beanie he always wore. Her last conversation with her son was normal, with a simple “see ya later mom!”
The party took place in La Cygne, 47 miles miles from Gardner. (So roughly, an hour drive.) Daniel says that La Cygne is a tiny southern country town with only one gas station and no big chain grocery stores. When Justin and Alonzo arrived, Justin vividly remembers that there was a long driveway that led to the house; a typical country driveway. When they parked and looked around, Alonzo immediately yelled out, “Who wants a beer!?” Justin says that was how he initiated contact with everyone at the party. Justin says the everyone at the party was between the ages of 16 to 21. Some people were playing flip cup, or a game similar to that. Some people were off to the side dancing. A few guys were inside playing cards, and few other drinking games. Justin says that Alonzo “wanted to get in on it.” Justin says that it was hilarious to watch, and that his friend was having a blast.
Daniel claims that when he arrived at the party, Alonzo had already made it, and that there were about 30 to 50 people there. He says that only 6 to 8 people were from Gardner, but the rest were people that Zo and Daniel and their group of friends didn’t know. Tyler says that the majority of people present at the party were not people that he knew, and a lot of those other people were “country folk”. Tyler also says that Alonzo was in a great mood that night, and that they were all having a great time. He did think it was just a little odd, because normally Alonzo was a quiet guy, but apparently at the party he was super outgoing.
At one point, Alonzo and Daniel sat down together and had a couple beers and took a couple shots. Daniel got up to talk to another friend, but when he came back to the table with Alonzo, Alonzo was engaged in what looked like a heated argument with some guy. Daniel makes a note that it looked like they were in each other’s faces. When it seemed like things were quickly escalating, Daniel took Alonzo to the side. Justin remarks that there were some people at the party that seemed, or were in fact, racist. Tyler says that his group of friends never thought of race being a problem before, but notes that Alonzo was most likely the only black man at the party. Daniel says that Alonzo never worried about racist people before. Daniel goes on to say that he was only at the party for about an hour and a half. He had gotten a call about going to another party, and remembers that before he left he said goodbye to Zo and shook his hand. It was the last time he saw his friend. Tyler left shortly after Daniel did, and like Daniel, it was the last time he saw Zo. This was all around 11 p.m.
Justin had smoked his last cigarette while at the party, and approached Zo for another. However, Zo was also out of cigarettes. So, Justin got in his car and went to go get two packs- one for himself, and one for Alonzo. When he pulled out of the driveway, he went left when he should have gone right. He ended up lost and almost a half hour north of where he should have been. He got stuck, and phoned a buddy at the party, telling him that he was lost. He heard Zo in the background of the phone call talking junk- basically making fun of him for getting lost. Justin said that he wasn’t going to return to the party, and told the friend on the phone to make sure that Zo made it back to Gardner.
The morning after the party, on April 4th, 2004, Maria received a phone call from someone asking if Alonzo was home. Confused, Maria checked her son’s bedroom- thinking that he was sleeping. When she checked, she noticed that Alonzo’s bed was still made up and realized that Alonzo had never made it home- or had never slept in it. Maria began to yell out about the house for her son, but no answers. Maria had asked the person on the phone if they knew where Alonzo was, and the person suspected that maybe he slept somewhere else. Maria immediately knew something was wrong because she claims that Zo always came home. Daniel says that when he woke up the next morning, he had numerous phone calls of people asking if he knew where Zo was. Same with Tyler. Daniel agrees with Maria- and says that it was very unlike Zo to not be home, or to not have at least called. When questioned, Justin explained that he last heard Zo was at the party, but a mutual friend was going to drive him home. But, somehow, when that mutual friend left the party, he didn’t take Zo home because he was under the impression that Zo had already left. Justin doesn’t quite know how the mixup happened, but it happened nonetheless.
Rodney English stands in front of the house in Topeka where Alonzo grew up. He says that they played outside all the time and even built ramps in the street where they played on their bikes. They played basketball and other sports, but Rodney makes special note of when they all played king of the hill on a compost pile. He smiles as he reminisces of his fond memories with his friend. Biting back tears, Rodney says, “Alonzo was just like a brother to me.” Rodney says that he had received a phone call from Maria asking if he knew where Zo was. Confused, Rodney said that he didn’t know, but asked why she was so worried. Maria filled Rodney in on the fact that Zo never returned home from a party. Immediately, Rodney knew that something wasn’t right when all the people that took Zo to the party all came back, but Zo was the only one that hadn’t returned. Rodney drove to Gardner, and met all of Zo’s friends that had taken him to the party, and as a group began to look for Alonzo. Justin took Rodney to where the party was located since he didn’t know where it was. (This was the first time that Rodney ever met Justin.) They get to the old farmhouse where the party was located and begin to search the property. During the documentary, Rodney walks us down the very long driveway to the street, basically reenacting the search. During the initial search, Rodney had found Zo’s hat and boot across the street. The weird thing, other than the fact that his hat and boot were found across the street from the house, was the fact that they weren’t found near each other. The hat and the lone boot were yards away from each other. The hat and the boot weren’t tucked under anything, almost as if they were thrown out of a passing car. After the hat and boot were found, a man on a four wheeler approached Rodney and the group and told them that they had to leave. At this point in the documentary, Rodney makes a statement off camera about wanting to leave ASAP because he didn’t feel comfortable or safe.
Tyler says that the town where the party took place was an all white dominant town. Daniel admits that racism in that part of Kansas is prevalent, and Justin continues on that it’s just something to expect in that part of Kansas. Rodney questioned Justin on why he drove Zo to the party, but never brought him back home. Rodney couldn’t understand why someone would leave a friend behind, especially being in a place where neither knew the area. Justin is adamant that when he left, Zo was having a good time, and that “no animosity was in the air.”
When Maria arrived at the police station, she was told that she needed to wait 48 hours before filing a missing persons report. She told them that she wasn’t going to wait because she knew her son and knew that something was seriously wrong. All of Zo’s siblings go on record to say that Zo not coming home was a major, major red flag. By all accounts, he ALWAYS came home.
On the Tuesday after the party, Zo’s brother and wife drove to La Cygne and contacted the owners of the house where the party took place. The house ended up being empty. When he pulled in the driveway, he noted that it was mostly fields, with a small creek behind the property. When Zo’s brother and wife drove through town, they were greeted with nasty looks and questions like, “What are you doing here?” Eventually, they met with the Sheriff there, and tried to let him know how serious all of this was. The Sheriff still didn’t take the case seriously, and even told the family that Zo was probably just walking around. The family questioned the Sheriff and asked him if he knew anyone that would just randomly walk around a town without shoes on. Zo’s family left without any answers.
The documentary states that Linn County Sheriff Paul Filla who was a deputy at the time of Zo’s disappearance agreed to talk about the case, but off camera. We hear him recall how he found out about Alonzo’s disappearance by saying that he received a report about a missing person and went out to the scene. When he arrived, Zo wasn’t at the house, but that they walked the creek bed that night. He further stated that there was no indication that Zo was ever outside in that area. He reports that there was “negative contact”. After that point, on April 7th, 2004, the case was turned over to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI). Once the KBI got involved, they sent search dogs and investigators to search the property of where Zo was last seen. Old press conference footage of Martin Stites, the Sheriff of Linn County from 1995 to 2009, conveyed that the property of where the party was held was searched at least twice with search dogs, FBI, and helicopters.
The FBI got involved due to the possibility of a hate crime. On April 12th, 2004, a rescue team searched the creek. Bill Feller from Lee’s Summit Underwater Rescue and Recovery, concluded that the water was three feet deep and had a minimum of 6 people searching the creek bed for any evidence of Zo. There was no indication that a body was ever there, but told the Sheriff’s office that they would be willing to come back out and do another search. They were never invited to come back out. (I wonder why.)
By April 15th, 2004, Alonzo had been missing for 11 days. Maria goes on record to say that she was mad at all the “kids” that left Alonzo at the party by himself. She was even more mad that they really didn’t have any answers for her. Justin claims that he felt like he was giving an interview every other day to either the KBI or the FBI about anything he knew. “It was a constant barrage of law enforcement.” (Well yeah dude, what did you expect to happen!?) Justin continues, “They kept telling us that it was likely that he just got drunk, took his shoes off and decided to walk home. Total bullshit. And that’s what we kept trying to tell them. That A it was out of his character in general, and B, his ankle is messed up. Why is he gonna just take off his boots and then truck, how many miles home?” The family kept asking, almost daily about wanting to come out to the house and do their own search, but the Linn County Sheriff’s office kept telling them that they couldn’t. (And I’m just saying, if I was in Maria’s shoes, no one, not a single soul, could have kept me away from that property. Lock me up, I don’t care, but I would have done everything in my power to get myself involved.) In fact, the Sheriff eventually phoned the family and told them that they needed to stop calling, and that if he was ever to get any information, he would phone them. (Do you see how all of this just doesn’t make sense, and is blatantly obvious that the law enforcement didn’t give a damn from the very beginning.)
May 1st, 2004 marked 27 days after the party- and the last time anyone had seen Alonzo Brooks. It was also around the time that the sheriff let the family search the property and surrounding areas of where Zo was last seen. “They gave us the okay…” *Maria gives an eyeroll* “…to go down and search for my son.” Alonzo’s brother states that Linn County didn’t think that they could do much more in regards to searching for his brother, and that was why the family was allowed to come down. This time, the family sent out notices to friends to help with the search in La Cygne, and a lot of people came out. Edward Ramirez says that the search party split up, and he was assigned an area along the creek bed. Karen Turner, a search volunteer, remembers a white shed (that’s no longer there) and how she noted that someone needed to search it and the vicinity around it. She was headed toward that area, and that was when she said, “Oh crap.” A picture of a *blurred image* along the creek bed is shown. (And it’s the first indication that Zo is found.) Karen then explains, “There he is. There’s Zo.” She radioed in, and told everyone that she found him.
Billy points out to the camera while being on the property where he was when he heard that his brother was found. He sticks his finger out, and tells us that he ran alongside of the creek bed until he came upon the crowd now gathered around. He remembers that his uncle told him not to go any further and to not touch Zo. But he continued on until he saw for himself. “It was a mess.”
Richard Ramirez remarks with a tearful voice, “You see him lying there, and you think back all the times that you saw him walking around, having fun..” *wipes back a tear, “..and you see him, a young man just laying there, his life just gone.” Richard then goes on to say that on this day, Maria didn’t partake in the search. He’s a little thankful that she wasn’t there when Zo was found, because he thinks that Maria wouldn’t have taken it well. “He was 23 years old, he was 23 when I last saw him..” Maria says as she nods her head up and down.
After the family along with search volunteers found Zo, the KBI and the FBI ascended back onto the property. Billy says that it was chaos from that point forward. Old news footage of law enforcement on the property near the creek is played as the news anchor confirms that Alonzo Brooks was found deceased. The family went into town (because that was where the news conference was held) while old footage of Billy explaining that clearly foul play was involved.
A reenactment of Zo’s body being rolled into the coroner’s office is shown. Dr Erik Mitchell, a forensic pathologist states that at the beginning of the exam, he quickly noted that he had a decoming body. He details that the body was clothed with some personal items- including a ring. Based on the evidence of the clothing and of the external view of the body, there were no penetrating injuries of a cause of death. (That eliminates a stabbing or shooting.) There was also no evidence of acute bone fractures. The pathologist concludes that he could have drowned, but there’s no indication of that based on the autopsy. He goes on to state that Zo could have also been strangled because the soft tissue in the neck is gone. However, there was evidence of animal activity, so the examiner could not say for certain that strangulation was the definite cause of death. He continues that if Zo suffered a beating of any kind, his bones didn’t help to determine that due to no penetration of, or broken bones. So, the cause of death was labeled as undetermined. (Just saying- if anyone is ever arrested and charged with Zo’s death, it’s going to be very hard to prove in court now that the cause of death is labeled as undetermined.)
Billy states that he’s certain that Zo’s death was in fact- intentional. He brings up the boots and hat that were found off the side of the road that were so far away from where his body was found. Even Daniel claims that “there’s foul play written all over it.”
Old news coverage claims that there were at least four men living at the house where the party took place, but had since been evicted. The news correspondent says that the possibility of a hate crime was being investigated. Rumors began to circulate the web about what had happened to Zo. A lot of those claims admitted that people at the party knew what had happened, while others were so out of left field. Justin then admits that he had heard from a police officer that there had been reports of a couple fights that broke out the night of the party. He admits that tempers could have been short that night. Zo’s sister-in-law states that she heard of a *white girl* at the party that Zo was allegedly interested in. She concludes that other men at the party might not have liked the idea that Zo and this girl were flirting, or interested in each other. So, one can assume that a man, or a group of men, might have purposely hurt, or even killed Alonzo over the situation. Tyler believes that the N-word was getting thrown out a lot during the night of the party. He admits that Zo would get mad if he heard people using that word.
Tyler thinks that Alonzo was beaten by, or jumped by a group of people. Daniel too, thinks that Alonzo was beat up by a group of guys or one guy using some type of brutal force that eventually caused Zo’s death, but knows that no matter what, Alonzo would have kept fighting for his life.
The Sheriff gives out a statement that when he searched the area of the creek where Zo was found, his body was not there. Billy states that it doesn’t make sense that a dive team went out looking for his brother, that KBI were out looking for Zo with cadaver dogs, and that no one found his body until a month after he was deemed missing. He even notes that it took his search party only 30 minutes to find Zo’s body. Bill Feller is adamant that Alonzo’s body was not where it was later found when his team went out looking. He claims that the water level at the time of his search was only about an inch high, so he’s confident that Alonzo would have been found.
The pathologist notes that it’s not uncommon for searches to come up empty, just for the body to be later found. He expects that it’s possible that Zo’s body floated down the creek bed when the water levels were higher- which would explain why the first initial searches never yielded anything. Billy claims that when Zo was found, his body didn’t look bloated, or didn’t look like it had been in water for a long time. Billy states that Zo still had color to him, further indicating that his brother was placed in the water after the first searches had taken place.
Maria lays out what was found with Zo. On a table are a worn-out wallet, a ring, five dice, a card, a bandana and a few folded up pieces of paper. She asks the filmmakers (and whoever is watching) if they think the evidence on the table is indicative of being in the water for a long period of time. She quickly answers, and says that it’s not. The papers are still intact, cards are still in the protective covering, etcetera etcetera.
Billy states for his family that they all think that Zo’s body was placed where it was found after the initial searches of the property and of the house were concluded. Billy doesn’t know who the Sheriff talked to, but Billy thinks that the Sheriff unwillingly might have given information to the person responsible for Zo’s death. “Where was he at from April 4th, to May 1st, when we found him?” Billy concludes that Zo might have been locked in a meat locker, or storage container- someplace that would have helped prevent Zo’s body from deteriorating. The pathologist states that unless you find a body partially frozen and beginning to thaw, there’s no certain way of knowing that it was frozen or kept viable for an extended period of time. The pathologist also counteracts the families claims and states that the evidence from the body indicate that he could have been in water for 30 days, maybe slightly less. He goes on to say that most people who dispose of a body do so in a “convenient fashion, and moving a body is not convenient.” But, in the same breath, he says that if the person is determined, anyone can move a body.
Billy laments that he’s fearful that Zo might have suffered, and could have possibly called out for him. Daniel and Tyler wish that they were there, because they would have never let anything bad happen to Zo. Daniel states that he would have had Zo’s back, and wishes that he was there for him. While his voice is full of sadness, and as he wipes back tears, Justin says, “It’s my fault, I should have been there. He wouldn’t’ve been alone. I would have gone down with him- fightin’. I’d trade places with him today, in a heartbeat.”
An image of Alonzo’s gravestone makes the situation concrete as one of Zo’s sisters states that time doesn’t heal all wounds. “What they took from us, was a piece of our heart, a piece of our soul.” Zo’s other sister says that while other people go on and live their lives, her and her family are reminded constantly that Zo isn’t with them. They’re stuck wondering why, and who did it.
In March of 2019, the KBI released a statement regarding the Alonzo Brooks case. Billy reads the statement, which in conclusion states that Alonzo Brooks was not the victim of a crime which in turn, they felt compelled to close the case. (Uh… huh?) Billy says that because the case has yielded no results, then the case should have never been closed. Tyler says that there were definitely enough people at the party that someone should know something. Daniel is confused how the FBI hasn’t yet figured out any more crucial evidence- especially because they seemingly interviewed people with lie detector tests. Others, he notes, lawyered up and didn’t ever give their statements- and he wonders why those people still haven’t been looked at as suspects. Daniel implores that if anyone watching who was involved, should ask themselves, what would they do, how would they act, if anything happened to their brother or friend? “If you know something, please come out, please come out and just give us a little help. That’s what we’re asking for.” *On June 11th, 2020, the FBI reopened the case, and issued a $100,000 reward for information related to Alonzo’s death.*
Maria says that it’s been 15 years, and it’s been too long. “…that town still hadn’t said anything, and the people, and the kids haven’t said shit. And… I still wanna know why.” While the camera pans away from Alonzo’s gravestone, the infamous documentary music begins to play. White intertitle reads: “If you have any information regarding Alonzo Brooks’ death, please submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov, or go to unsolved.com”