‘My son was not my son’: Grisly details emerge in Clinton County, MO, torture case

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Even before the SWAT team rolled into Lake Arrowhead last weekend, people around Clinton County had been talking about James Larson Jr.

“What I heard — and I reported this to a Clinton County Sheriff’s detective on May 2 — is that a guy had just been released from prison in Oklahoma, had family here, was hanging around causing trouble, and he had a long, violent rap sheet that included assault on an officer,” said Steve Berg, a board member of the private community located 35 miles northeast of downtown Kansas City.

“All I heard was he was bad news,” said a neighbor of Larson’s father, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons. “I didn’t ask any questions. He was staying across the street with his father, and ever since the son got here a lot more cars had been driving by.”

On Saturday, traffic on that remote gravel road was even heavier. It included an armored personnel carrier, multiple squad cars, a police dog, and tactical officers from several local law enforcement agencies, all engaged in a five-hour standoff with Larson, who authorities say assaulted, tortured and held captive a woman in his father’s house.

Larson was taken into custody, and the woman, whom authorities have not publicly identified, has been at an area hospital since Saturday, authorities say. Monday night, the Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office announced charges against Larson: first-degree domestic assault, felony kidnapping, felony armed criminal action and felony possession of a firearm.

Earlier Monday, his father, James Larson Sr., drove up to the gated entrance to Lake Arrowhead to meet with reporters and give his side of the story. His version went like this:

Larson was released from prison in March. He stayed in Oklahoma for a month, then returned to Clinton County a week and a half ago. Larson owned a camper on some property at Lake Arrowhead, but the first day he was back, somebody set it on fire. (His father implied the fire was intentionally set, but did not say by who, or why.) So he moved in with his father.

“I thought he was a changed man,” his father said. “It was good for about a week.”

Around 3 p.m. on Friday, May 13, his father went to see family in St. Joseph. Before he left, he met a woman his son had brought over to the house.

When he returned, around 8 p.m., “my son was not my son — he was not who I thought he was,” he said.

Larson had destroyed the house while he was away. “I don’t know if he was blacked out, or drunk, I don’t know what kind of chemicals he was taking or injecting. I just know it was not him. And it just got sideways after that.”

He said he saw his son pull the woman’s hair, but, he did not believe she had ever been locked in a room or sexually assaulted. “I didn’t see what happened, all I know is he probably hurt her real bad,” he said.

James Larson Jr. was arrested Saturday after allegedly torturing and assaulting a woman at his father’s home at Lake Arrowhead.
James Larson Jr. was arrested Saturday after allegedly torturing and assaulting a woman at his father’s home at Lake Arrowhead.

The police charging documents

The charging documents released Monday night generally support that account but round out the narrative with grim details.

Larson and the woman, 31, met on Facebook Dating four days prior to the standoff. Everything was fine for a few days until Thursday, when “it was like a flip of the switch” and he began beating her, she would later tell police.

Larson “punched her with closed fists, kicked her with steel-toe boots, and hit her in the head with what she described as an ice pick,” according to the probable cause statement. Her jeans were “wet with urine” because Larson wouldn’t allow her to use the restroom. He wouldn’t let her eat, either, she said, and he gave her a drink Friday morning that “tasted like medicine.” As of Sunday, she was still “having trouble breathing, hurts all over, and cannot walk,” according to court records. She had no broken bones.

Larson denied most of the woman’s allegations to police, according to Monday night’s filing. He said he “never laid a hand on her or kicked her in any way” and had never touched any guns in his father’s residence. He said the woman already had a lump on her neck when he met her, the result of being “pistol whipped” by someone she’d been staying with previously.

Larson’s cousin, Donny Larson, was also present at the home. At one point, Larson passed out, his father said. The two other men then tried to help the woman leave. “We told her to go up this road and take left and two rights and don’t look back,” Larson Sr. said. “But she kept not wanting to leave.”

Instead, he said, his nephew left “because he got scared of what my son might do.”

When Larson woke up, sometime in the night, he found a hidden shotgun in the home. “He cocked it, went into the kitchen and said he was going to shoot her, then going to shoot himself,” Larson Sr. said. “I pleaded for him to stop for 15 or 20 minutes. I begged him.” Larson eventually handed over the gun, which his father hid in the garage, and locked the door behind him.

He stayed in the garage for several hours. From his phone, connected to a camera inside his house, he watched as his son went on a rampage, “smashing holes in the wall, smacking things around, screaming.” Once, when things died down, he went back inside to try to find keys to help the woman escape. He said he found her in the fetal position, sweating on the bedroom floor. But he couldn’t find his keys.

Why didn’t he simply call the police?

“I was in fear of his life, her life,” he said. “I thought SWAT was gonna come in here and take him out. I did what I thought would be best for his safety and his life, her life, and my own. I don’t know. It probably would have been a better decision.”

Sometime in the morning — he didn’t sleep — Larson Sr. heard someone outside speak his name. It sounded like it was coming out of a microphone. It was the police. They were asking him to come out of the house.

“Of course, that’s my son’s name, too,” he said.

Larson Sr. exited the garage with his hands up and was taken into custody but not arrested. The woman had finally escaped the house and asked a neighbor to call the police. The neighbor that did not want to be identified said the woman “had scratches and blood on her hands” and what appeared to be a stab wound on her leg.

The SWAT team arrived and, after five hours, entered the house, finding Larson hiding in a wall. He was cuffed and booked into the Clinton County jail, where he remains.

James Larson Sr.’s Lake Arrowhead home, where a five-hour standoff took place Saturday, May 14.
James Larson Sr.’s Lake Arrowhead home, where a five-hour standoff took place Saturday, May 14.

More to the story

The events of this past weekend are not the only time in the past year that law enforcement has been called to the Lake Arrowhead home of James Larson Sr.

He summoned Clinton County Sheriff’s deputies there in December, saying a burglary was in progress. Officers walked into a perplexing scene. According to court records, he was holding a rifle, which he handed over to a deputy. He said he believed he had trapped the burglar by locking the man in his bedroom. He had also fired approximately nine shots into the room, through the closed door.

The deputies found no sign of forced entry or anyone in the house, besides his 10-year-old grandson, who was soon placed in the custody of the state. Larson Sr. was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child.

“I lost my grandkids due to, I was exercising my Second Amendment rights protecting my property,” he said. The probable cause statement notes that he has a long criminal history dating back to 1982. It includes convictions for third degree assault, misdemeanor for making a false police report and misdemeanor unlawful use of a weapon.

His son, 39, has been serving time in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for most of the past eight years, convicted of assault and battery on a law enforcement officer and escaping from detention, among other crimes, records show.

He was also picked up at a BP station in Holt, a few miles south of Lake Arrowhead, almost immediately upon returning to Clinton County earlier this month. A clerk working the register on Monday was surprised to learn that one of the men arrested at the gas station a couple Fridays back had been involved in the SWAT standoff over the weekend.

“It was just a suspicious situation,” he told The Star. “There were these two guys sitting in their car out front there for a good half-hour, right before closing time. The driver was wearing one of those gaiters around his neck, and he kept pulling it up over his mouth and looking in here. And the other guy was wearing a long black leather trench coat. It was warm out. Why’s a guy wearing a leather trench coat? It was getting to be the time when I needed to count the drawer. So I called the county.”

When the sheriff’s deputies arrived and started asking questions of the men outside, they learned that the one in the long black trench coat — Larson — had a warrant out for his arrest in Clinton County. They also found a gram of cocaine and a gram of meth in the car. Larson and his friend were hauled off to jail. But Larson wasn’t there long.

Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish told Fox4 on Monday that, prior to this weekend’s events, “We kind of expected something would happen because the subject … is a violent career criminal.” But despite that, and despite the outstanding warrant in Clinton County, an apparent violation of his probation in Oklahoma, and his lengthy history as a violent criminal, Larson was released on his own recognizance — no bail necessary — three days later.

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office did not return a call Monday evening seeking an explanation for why Larson wasn’t kept in jail.

Monday afternoon, his father led reporters past the Lake Arrowhead gate and down a winding path to his home. Two friendly dogs roamed around an overgrown yard filled with junk: a pile of plywood, a broken vacuum cleaner, part of an old Taco Bell sign.

“That one’s Jr.’s,” his father said, pointing at one of the dogs. “He needs to go to the vet. I guess I’m gonna have to take him.”