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Klan leader killed in Leadwood

James Russell, 58, points to blood spots on the sidewalk that he says police investigated in front of Frank Ancona's house on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Leadwood, Mo. Russell, who lives next door, said he has been friends with Ancona for five years. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

The wife and stepson of the leader of a Ku Klux Klan group who was fatally shot Feb. 9 pleaded not guilty in St. Francois County Circuit Court Tuesday to murder and other charges.

Both Malissa Ancona, 44, of Leadwood, and Paul Edward Jinkerson Jr., 24, of Belgrade, Mo., face charges of murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence in the death of Frank Ancona, 51. Charging documents say Malissa Ancona blamed her son, and that Jinkerson used a 9mm handgun to shoot Frank Ancona in the head while he was asleep in his bed.

But Washington County Coroner Brian DeClue said Friday that Frank Ancona was shot in the head by both a pistol and a shotgun. The shots came at close range, he said.

Authorities recovered both weapons after Malissa Ancona told them where they were, Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen said last week. The pistol had been dumped in the Big River in Washington County and the shotgun in a St. Francois County pond.

Asked about the allegations in the charging documents, St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin said that they were abbreviated and just enough to hold Malissa Ancona and Jinkerson. He said that he expected more information to come out soon, adding that he's waiting on more reports from investigators. He also hasn't decided whether to take the case to a grand jury or bring the case before a judge in a preliminary examination.

In the days since the crime, investigators in two counties have gathered surveillance video, store receipts and blood evidence that contradicted Malissa Ancona's initial claim that her husband was missing.

Frank Ancona was imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Authorities previously have said that his threats of divorce might have been the motive for the crime. 

Jinkerson's father, Paul Jinkerson Sr., said Monday that Frank Acona had called him about six months ago, saying that he was trying to leave his wife. “He was done with her,” but he was also afraid because she had threatened to hurt herself or call the police in the past, Jinkerson Sr. said.

Frank Ancona's relatives told investigators that he kept pain pills and cash in a safe that was apparently broken open after the murder, Jacobsen said.

In recently unsealed court documents, investigators said that Frank Ancona's “bodyguard” had spoken of past death threats Malissa Ancona had made against her husband.

Ancona's lawyer, Wayne Williams, said Tuesday that he'd only spoken briefly with her, and not about the details of the case. He declined to comment on the allegations against her.

"I try the case in the courtroom and she enjoys the presumption of innocence," he said.

Jinkerson Sr. said his son is gentle and compliant, a computer “whiz” who taught himself to play the guitar.

“To my knowledge, he has never fired a gun. To my knowledge, he has never gotten into a fight,” he said. “I love my son. I'm not going to abandon my son. I don't believe he's responsible for this.”

Jinkerson Sr. said his son liked Frank Ancona, who had helped him get a delivery job, and the pair had a good rapport.

Jinkerson Sr. saw his son Sunday, and delivered the news that he had been dropped from college because of the charges.

He said his son was surprised to learn that the story has garnered worldwide attention. The family has fielded interview requests from as far as Japan.

Covering up the crime

The killers did a poor job of covering up the crime, the Post-Dispatch has learned.

St. Francois County Sheriff's investigators spotted blood and hair on the sidewalk in front of the Ancona house on their first, unsuccessful attempt to contact Malissa Ancona, court documents say.

On Feb. 11, they obtained a search warrant and entered the house. They swabbed various surfaces for evidence and took a section of drywall and a door, some 9mm magazines, material from a box spring and bedding.

Surveillance video from local businesses and other records show Malissa Ancona in her husband's car after she claimed he'd driven away from the house, Jacobsen said, and buying things with his credit or debit cards, including new bedding.

Charging documents say both Malissa Ancona and Jinkerson tried to clean up the crime scene. They dumped the body near the Big River outside of Belgrade and Frank Ancona's car in the Mark Twain National Forest.

The car had been wiped down, and a pile of burned clothing was found nearby, according to officials and court documents.

Malissa Ancona and Jinkerson were captured on video at a gas station near where Frank Ancona's body was dumped, Jacobsen said. The video and a witness spotted them in two cars, including Frank Ancona's. They traveled west out of Belgrade, he said. Only one car came back.

Even animal rescuers were witnesses to the botched cleanup at the Ancona home.

Lucretia Skaggs, a founding board member of the Midwest Community Cat Alliance, said there were clear signs of a crime when she entered the house to begin rescuing the roughly 45 cats that were left in or around the house with food but no water.

Skaggs stepped into the hallway to a bedroom, looked “to the left and there's the bloody mattress.” There were drops of blood on the floor and on the sidewalk outside the house. The bedroom ceiling had been recently painted. So recently, that the paint cans were still sitting in the room, she said.

"It was very obvious what had happened there,” she said

Skaggs said that several groups have helped rescue the cats and two dogs, and they and other groups are helping find new homes in no-kill shelters. 

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