This is the first part of Overlooked, a new investigative podcast from KCUR.
Niko Quinn was 21 years old. She lived on Hutchings Street, in a neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, that was her whole world. She’d grown up surrounded by her grandmother and grandfather, aunties, uncles and cousins. A bunch of Quinns still lived on Hutchings Street.
April 15, 1994, was one of the first warmish days of spring.
Around 2 p.m., Niko needed to call her boyfriend to tell him to pick up some milk for her kids, so she walked two doors down to her mom’s house to use the phone.
She saw a man dressed in all black, wearing a black hat, approaching a 1987 powder-blue Cadillac DeVille idling on the side of the street. This wasn’t unusual.
“You seen that all the time,” Niko remembers, “where somebody be sitting on my, our block, and somebody come from the next block and walk down or something like that.”
But then he pulled out a shotgun.
“You could hear that it went phewwww, like that at first. Like the gun (jammed) and then he cocked it again,” she says. “Then he shot, shot, shot.”
Niko saw the man shoot three times. She didn’t immediately know it, but one of the men sitting in the car was her cousin, 21-year-old Doniel Quinn, who everyone called Little Don. The other man in the car was 34-year-old Donald Ewing, known as Donnie, who was Niko's distant cousin.
John Quinn, Little Don’s dad, was the first person to get to the car. Soon Niko’s sister, Stacey Quinn, was there too, and Liz Quinn, and their mother, Josephine Quinn, and Niko’s three children, who were just toddlers.
As John Quinn broke out a window of the locked car with a wine bottle, hoping to save his son, Stacey Quinn was screaming: “Oh, my God, it’s little Don!”
Donnie, still briefly alive, was also screaming: “I don't know why they did this. I don't know why they did this. We didn't do nothing.”
Niko just looked at Little Don in the car, with half his face gone. Paramedics arrived and pulled him out of the Cadillac. People were trying to ask him what happened, but he just laid back and died. Niko’s mother, who was praying for him, closed his eyes. “He gone,” she said.
Even with multiple witnesses, the truth about what happened that day vanished as quickly as the man in black, who turned and walked away.
The news of the shootings was so big it made headlines across the river in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Two more killings Friday capped one of the bloodiest weeks in Kansas City, Kansas, in at least a decade,” the Kansas City Star reported in a story on the bottom of the page (at the top of the page was news of Kurt Cobain’s suicide).
Newspaper and TV stories mentioned that police were holding a 17-year-old for questioning, but they couldn’t name the suspect because he was a minor.
But back on Hutchings Street, a name had surfaced within seconds of the shooting. Niko first heard it from her next-door neighbor.
“She said, oh my God, that's Lamonte,” Niko remembers. “I said, I don't know no Lamonte.”
The 17-year-old kid in police custody was named Lamonte McIntyre. These days a lot more people know that name: McIntyre has been in the news ever since he was freed from a Kansas prison in 2017 after serving 23 years for the murders he didn’t commit.
McIntyre’s release revealed a much larger story about decades of violence and discrimination against the Black community of Kansas City, Kansas — a story of police misconduct, murdered women and abuses many people knew about but didn’t talk about.
The fallout from McIntyre’s case includes the revelation that, since 2019, a federal grand jury has been investigating decades of corruption in the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department.
In June, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, agreed to pay Lamonte McIntyre $12.5 million to settle a civil lawsuit he and his mother filed against the city government and various police officers.
One of those officers was a former detective named Roger Golubski, who allegedly framed McIntyre for the double homicide in 1994.
Early in the morning on Sept. 15, Golubski was arrested by FBI agents who descended on his home in Edwardsville, Kansas. He was charged with six counts of depriving two individuals of their civil rights through sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.
The next day, in an unusually graphic motion, federal prosecutors suggested there were at least seven more victims and laid out how Golubski engaged in a pattern of kidnapping and sexually assaulting women and girls as young as 13 years old, while threatening his victims into silence.
Two days later, Golubski was out of jail, released to home arrest.
That meant more sleepless nights for Niko Quinn, who has been trying to tell the truth about Golubski for nearly 30 years. But she's still scared.
"I had a good night's sleep when they arrested him," Quinn said. "I'm about to go on the run again."
In 1994, Golubski forced her to give false testimony in Lamonte McIntyre's case, and she’s been trying to make it right ever since.
Niko and Little Don
Everything about April 15, 1994, turned out to be about who knew the truth and who was shut out from telling it, who would be forced to say things that might or might not be true, and how people in power covered up the truth for decades.
“My sister can’t speak, none of the women can speak. So we have to be their voice,” Niko Quinn says of her effort to set the record straight. “We have to be their voice because I can just imagine they’re not resting.”
Just 45 minutes after the shooting on Hutchings Street, a policeman named W.K. Smith took her witness statement. Niko told Smith she saw the man walk down a grassy hill and shoot three times into the car. She described how the shooter was dressed: “He had on all black, a black shirt, black hat, black pants and black tennis shoes.”
Niko told Smith she didn’t know the shooter.
“If you saw this person again,” Smith asked, “would you be able to recognize him?”
Yes, she said. Niko Quinn was certain. She’d just witnessed the murder of her cousin. She knew what she saw.
Of all of the Quinns, Niko was tightest with Little Don. Thy were born just a year apart but told everybody they were twins.
“I knew every secret that he had,” she says. “I knew everything about him. He knew about me when something was going on. I called him and he'll call me. When we was teenagers, we would be on the phone from sun up to sundown.”
Little Don was handsome, charming and funny. Family members say he should have grown up to be a famous comedian, like Kevin Hart.
“My goodness, this guy could brighten up a room. I can be down. I could be sad. He come in a room and he like hilarious. He would've been a next best thing,” Niko says. “He could dress, he could sing, he can dance. And he was a comedian and he was a Jack of all trade. They used to call him a MacGyver ‘cause he fix anything.”
But Little Don was an addict. Crack cocaine, mostly. In the days before the shootings, Little Don was accused of stealing money from a drug house. And he was beaten badly.
“He came over and his eye was swole, his head was busted, he had cuts all over his legs, bruises on his back from where they was kicking him,” Niko says. “He said it was like seven of 'em that jumped him. They was beating with poles and everything.”
She got some ice and put peroxide and alcohol over his wounds She had him gargle with the peroxide.
Niko let him stay at her house on the night of April 14, 1994. She was also in the drug trade — selling out of that same house. She remembers him getting up on April 15, 1994.
“He had kissed me on my forehead. He told me he had not been getting high all night. And he was telling me that he was gonna get his life together,” Niko remembers.
Little Don said he was going to his sister’s house to take a shower, then he was going to see his son. He was going to check into rehab on Monday.
“He walked out that door within maybe 15, 20 minutes. My cousin was gone.”
Niko couldn’t handle it.
“That day I drank and drank and drank," she says. "And then they started smoking PCP and it was like everywhere we were going. I was seeing him in the state that I just seen him in with his face gone. And it's like, he was trying to say something to me... And I said, I can't take this. So I did hit the stick. I smoked PCP for the first time ever in my life because I wanted to numb myself.”
A teenager named Lamonte
While the Quinns were reeling from the loss of a favorite family member, KCK police were scrambling. There’d been a double murder in broad daylight at a time when homicides were already high enough to land on the front pages and the TV news.
In the chaotic moments right after the shooting, Niko’s next-door neighbor told police she thought the man in black was a guy named Lamonte, who was dating her niece.
KCK officers went looking for a Lamonte they happened to know: a high school student named Lamonte McIntyre. They arrested him.
The day after the murders, Det. Roger Golubski went with another officer to Niko Quinn’s home with a photo line-up of five young Black men. Of the five pictures, three were men in McIntyre’s family — Lamonte, his brother and a cousin.
Golubski wrote a report that said Niko wasn’t sure, but the shooter could be No. 3: Lamonte McIntyre.
About three weeks later, Niko asked to meet again with Golubski. She was scared to death — under pressure from the cops to say the shooter was Lamonte McIntyre, and afraid of people on the street who didn’t want her to snitch. Armed men had been knocking on her doors and windows.
Niko later said that Golubski told her if she identified Lamonte McIntyre, things would go better for her and that he could help her find a new apartment to be safe.
But Golubski would later say that Niko identified Lamonte McIntyre’s photo as that of the shooter — yet Golubski never reported that in the official police file. Niko still says she didn’t ID Lamonte at that meeting.
In fact, Niko and the other Quinns instantly had their suspicions about who was behind Little Don's murder: Cecil Brooks and Aaron Robinson, big drug dealers in Kansas City, Kansas.
The night before Little Don was shot, Brooks and Robinson were trying to get him to go for a ride in their car. They thought Little Don had stolen some money from their drug house.
Five months after the double murders, in September 1994, Niko was finally called to the county courthouse to testify. When she arrived, Niko was surprised by McIntyre’s appearance: This Lamonte was tall, dark-skinned, and his ears stuck out from his close-cropped hair. He didn’t wear braids like the killer Niko had seen.
While she was waiting in the witness room, Niko told the Wyandotte County prosecutor, Terra Morehead, that this couldn’t possibly be the man who killed her cousin.
But Morehead and Golubski insisted. They wouldn’t let Niko back away from her previous story. They had their guy, the case was being cleared quickly, and they told her: get on board, or else.
Niko says Morehead told her: “We gonna do what we went over. You're gonna do this, or I'm gonna send your Black ass to jail … and you’ll never see your kids again.” Golubski, Niko says, echoed the threat of taking her children.
A few minutes later on the witness stand, Niko says, she kept looking at McIntyre while Morehead was asking her questions.
“And I'm like, my gut is, saying tell the truth, say it, just say it. Wasn't him. Just say it. Wasn't him. And I'm sitting there and she'd gimme this look like…,” Niko says, remembering Morehead's threat.
“All I could think of was my kids, because I know when everybody went to jail or something happened, I had everybody's kids. So who gonna to take care of my kids? And when she said I would never see them again, that hurt.”
Prosecutors had no gun, no forensic evidence and no motive, while Lamonte McIntyre had a solid alibi.
But Niko’s forced testimony helped send him to prison for 23 years.
'You gotta make this right'
Niko's testimony also sent her to her own kind of lock-up. She came out of the courtroom, ran into a relative and told her she'd lied. And then, in a stupor, she walked the few miles from the courthouse to her home. She couldn't bear the guilt.
“I walked and I was crying the whole way. When I got there, I took a handful of pills with some Crown Royal and down it," Niko says. "And I was laying there and I just heard a voice say, no, you gotta make this right.”
She made herself throw up.
Niko saved herself. And then she set out to save Lamonte McIntyre. She went to see his mom — and told her the truth.
“She was like, 'We need to talk to somebody.' So I sat down with somebody — she had had an attorney or something — and told her," Niko says.
"But I felt so bad. As long as Lamonte was in there, I was in there with him because a lie, if you know the Word, you know, the Bible, you know you not supposed to lie," she says. "That hurt. And then it was like, I was damned if I told somebody and I was damned if I didn't.”
Niko Quinn and her mother also went to the police. They said they believed Little Don had been killed by his drug connections — a lead police never followed up on.
The Quinns also tried to help several times to get Lamonte McIntyre a new trial. In 1996, two years after the double murder, Niko signed an affidavit saying she'd lied and Lamonte McIntyre didn’t commit the murders.
Wyandotte County Judge Dexter Burdette, who had overseen the first trial, dismissed the appeals, saying he didn’t believe Niko.
Eventually, the toll of Little Don’s murder on her whole family was too much, and Niko left Kansas City.
So who killed Little Don and Donnie?
After 15 years of trying to prove his innocence from prison, Lamonte McIntyre's luck began to change in 2009, when he connected with a man known for getting people out of prison.
Recent years have brought more headlines about wrongfully imprisoned people, mostly Black men, finally receiving justice and being freed after decades of incarceration.
But Jim McCloskey, who lives in New Jersey, has been doing this kind of work since the 1980s.
There’s now a National Registry of Exonerations which says more than 3,200 people have won their cases in the United States since 1989. McCloskey founded the first such organization, Centurion Ministries, before DNA testing helped free innocent people.
McCloskey did it old-school, tracking down witnesses by knocking on doors, getting confessions face-to-face and digging up court records in the days before computers.
He was the investigator who helped secure McIntyre’s exoneration.
McCloskey says he’s still appalled at how Kansas City, Kansas, law enforcement agents treated the Quinns.
“In all the cases that I've worked on over 40 years — there have been scores and scores and scores of them — never have I come across a case where the victim's loved ones, the victim's family have told the police you've got the wrong man,” McCloskey says.
“And what really disgusted me is that the police and the prosecutors dismissed, disregarded, whatever they had," he adds. "Whatever the family of the victim had to say and tell them, (police) not only dismissed it, but they suppressed it from the defense.”
To clear McIntyre’s name, McCloskey needed to find out who really killed Little Don and Donnie. He credits Niko for giving him the information that finally broke open the case.
Niko’s older sister, Stacey, was familiar with the drug house where Little Don had been the night before he was killed. She said that was where she found out that one of the dealers, Cecil Brooks, had supposedly paid another drug dealer, Neil Edgar Jr., to kill Little Don. Edgar’s nickname was “Monster.”
People on the streets believed Monster was the real killer. Some people say they had even told Golubski. But Edgar gave sworn testimony where he denied any involvement in the killings of Little Don and Donnie, and he’s never been charged in connection with their deaths.
Niko’s sister Stacey was in the street that day, and probably had the best view of the shootings. But, McCloskey says, Golubski never acted on that tip. In fact, the first police reports say Stacey Quinn was “not available” for interviews the day of the murders.
So why didn’t Golubski interview her?
The answer has to do with the way Roger Golubski ruled parts of Kansas City, Kansas.
“He knew where all the bodies were buried up there,” McCloskey says of Golubski, characterizing the north part of town as the detective’s “hunting ground.”
“He knew every drug house in that area. He knew where the drug addicts were. He knew who the drug dealers were. He knew where they operated. He knew where all the crime took place. He was king of the road up there. He knew every nook and cranny,” McCloskey says.
Documents filed in Lamonte McIntyre’s exoneration case and his federal civil case reveal that Golubski terrified and preyed upon the Black community in KCK for decades — especially vulnerable Black women.
“He was always on the lookout for attractive Black women, always when he would visit a crime scene and talk to … murder victims, families,” McCloskey says. “If he was interviewing as part of his investigation, a particular African American woman who had some sexual appeal to him or was attractive, he would come on to them.”
One such interaction was with Niko Quinn. On the day she was waiting in a witness room, about to testify in Lamonte McIntyre’s first trial in 1994, her big sister Stacey, about 25 at the time, was also there.
“We were sitting in that room, and he was telling me that he heard that I was a dancer," Niko recalls, saying she had been working at a strip club.
"And he wanted me to stand on the table and strip and how he wanted to get to know me,” Niko remembers. “And my sister was telling him, she kind of like put her hand in front of me. And she was telling him ‘This one right here, you gonna leave alone.’”
Niko says Stacey told her to stay away from Golubski, calling him “the devil” and “a snake.”
Stacey’s interactions with Golubski might explain why his police reports say she was “not available” for interviews the day of the double murder on Hutchings Street.
Because Golubski knew Stacey well. Her family members say he’d been messing around with her — that's how they describe his actions — since she was about 16.
“They had a relationship,” Niko says, meaning Stacey and Golubski had some sort of quid pro quo agreement.
She says Golubski arrested Stacey for prostitution in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
“That's when he started putting her in jail,” Niko says.
Just why Golubski did that is still a mystery to Niko.
“Maybe it was something he wanted that she wouldn't do or she wouldn't give him," she guesses. "That's the only thing I can think of.”
'I forgive you. I did that a long time ago.'
Beginning in the late 1990s, Niko bounced around the country, living in Southern California and Florida. She became a truck driver. But she stayed away from Kansas City, Kansas, because she was scared.
Little Don’s alleged real killer, Monster, and others in his operation were still out there, and she was afraid of Golubksi.
But she kept track of McIntyre’s case, staying in touch with his mother and Little Don’s mother, her aunt. And every time she was asked to testify or talk to investigators, difficult as it was, she’d come home to tell the truth.
She signed another affidavit in 2014 saying the killer was not Lamonte McIntyre and that she knew who it really was.
It was difficult back in the day, after Lamonte McIntyre was sent to prison, she says. People shunned her when they heard she lied and put an innocent man in prison.
“One of the hardest things is the people that I used to be friends with or respecting me didn't have that respect for me anymore, calling me a liar,” she says. “And people that know me know, know that I'm not that type of person.”
Niko Quinn finally came home again in 2020. She had five reasons: her four kids and a promise she made to her grandmother.
Because of the decisions she made back in 1994, Niko says, “my kids didn't get the mother that they should have had because of the mental and the trauma and everything I was going through.”
The rest of the Quinns suffered, too. Looking back, Niko says everything went downhill from the day of Little Don’s murder. The family had several losses. Relatives were killed, violently.
“And every time somebody would pass, I would go sit by the bathroom door to hear my grandmother pray. That's how I learned how to pray,” she says. “And the first time I ever heard my grandmother cry — ‘cause she was a strong woman — and it was hard to sit there and just hear that hurt and pain of losing her grandson, then her baby son and then her first born granddaughter.”
By 2004, Niko’s grandmother was on her deathbed. She told Niko she wasn’t worried about her because Niko had always been able to take care of herself and others. But her grandmother told her to "make things right" with Lamonte McIntyre.
So she did.
Niko Quinn was in Kansas City, Kansas, on Oct. 13, 2017, the day McIntyre walked out of the county courthouse He was surrounded by family, friends, his lawyers and television cameras.
“I'm alright,” he told reporters. “I'm happy. You know, I'm thanking God. I'm thinking of everybody who supported me, been there for me and it feels good. Feels good. I'm happy.”
A few minutes into the sidewalk celebration, one of McIntyre’s family members got his attention: “Someone has something to say to you.”
It was Niko, in a pink dress, a gold cross around her neck, standing in front of the man she helped put in prison.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, and began to cry.
He pulled her into a tight hug, talking into her ear.
“That's over with. Let that go,” he told her. “You ain't gotta worry about that. I forgive you. I did that a long time ago.”
For once, Niko Quinn didn’t have to talk. She was speechless. She shook her head, yes, toward Lamonte, like, OK, we’re good. And she backed away and disappeared into the crowd.
How Lamont McIntyre's case went so wrong. And how this one case exposed the depths of Roger Golubski’s alleged misconduct and a racist criminal justice system.
Overlooked is a production of KCUR Studios and the NPR Midwest Newsroom, and a member of the NPR Podcast Network.
It’s hosted by Peggy Lowe, with reporting by Peggy Lowe, Steve Vockrodt and Dan Margolies. Mackenzie Martin and Suzanne Hogan produced, mixed, and did the sound design for the podcast, with editing by CJ Janovy and mixing help from Paris Norvell and Trevor Grandin. Digital editing by Gabe Rosenberg. Social media promotion by Allison Harris. Photos by Carlos Moreno and Julie Denesha. Artwork by Crysta Henthorne. Music from Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks this episode to Genevieve Des Marteau, Lisa Rodriguez, and Holly Edgell.