CLEARWATER — When they weren't teaching people how to walk away from mortgages and other debts without paying them back, when they weren't killing two cops, as authorities said they did last Thursday in West Memphis, Ark., Jerry Kane and his son Joseph lived in a pink, Spanish-style home just north of Drew Street.
Few knew they were here. Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said that the father-son duo now hailed as idols among a fairly large subculture of antigovernment extremists never appeared on their radar.
They'd only been here since February, most neighbors say. And Joseph was home-schooled, said Rose Marie Taylor, the boy's great-grandmother.
She said she hadn't heard from her grandson and great-grandson since 2004, the same year that the sheriff in Clark County, Ohio, warned in a memo that Kane "is expecting and prepared for confrontations with any law enforcement officer that may come in contact with him."
A deeply religious woman, Taylor said she has prayed and cried since she learned the gruesome details of that bloody day that left her grandson, her great-grandson and one of their dogs dead. She said she mainly prays for Joseph, 16, who the West Memphis police chief said fired an AK-47 multiple times, killing his son and another officer.
"He never really had a chance in life the way things happened," Taylor said. "I don't think he had the chance to learn right from wrong."
She said she has mixed emotions about Kane, 45.
"I think," Taylor said, "that anybody that kills all those people will go straight to hell."
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FBI agents and other investigative agencies descended on the Clearwater neighborhood last week with pictures of the Kanes and questions about what residents knew, heard, saw.
"This investigation," said Steve Frazier, the FBI's Little Rock spokesman, "extends beyond the state of Arkansas in places in which these subjects have resided or traveled, which would include the Tampa area."
And Marysville, Ohio, where Kane's grandmother and mother live.
Patricia Holt, his mother, said FBI and ATF agents came to her home on May 21, less than 24 hours after the shootout in Arkansas that also left the county sheriff and his top deputy wounded.
"They were in my living room in the wee small hours, 2 a.m." said Holt, 65. "They asked historical questions and present time questions and of course those centered around Jerry's activities in his adult life."
She said their questions and her answers were confidential. "In spite of what has transpired that has been so horrific and hurt so many people," Holt said, "they were my blood and I loved them and I still do and it's very difficult to even believe in a certain way that this has all happened."
Taylor, 89, said Kane didn't have to go in "this direction."
"He had a wonderful mind. He could have been anything he wanted."
After he graduated from South High in 1982, he enlisted in the Army Reserve, ran three times (unsuccessfully) for the Springfield City Commission, had two girls, got married and had two more children, Joseph and a girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome.
At some point, Taylor can't remember when, Kane began driving semis all over the country. "At these big truck stops, there's drug peddling," she said. "He got hooked."
"That is her surmise," Holt said.
Taylor doesn't know what kind of drugs Kane took. She said no one in the family could help him kick his habit.
"He was gone," Taylor said. "He believed he could do what he wanted. He was antigovernment. He believed he didn't have to wear a seat belt. He didn't have a driver's license. He didn't want anybody telling him what to do."
Taylor does not remember what first spurred his antigovernment feelings. Kane's own words on a May 6 radio podcast provide some insight.
"The reason I look at things so differently is because when I was a child, my dad told me that something they had told me at school that day was a lie," he said on the broadcast.
"I asked him why would teachers lie to me and, I hate to say this, but he turned into a coward at that moment. It was like he saw he had just opened up a great big can of worms and was trying to shove the worms back inside the can. I kept pushing him the rest of the night. I did take one thing from the conversation and that is they're lying to you. So ever since then all I've done is try to find out what the lie is."
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Kane first appeared on the Clark County Sheriff's radar at a 2003 foreclosure auction.
"He wanted to bid on a property and he wanted to offer silver," Sheriff Gene Kelly said. "He quoted that it was the only recognized medium of currency in the Constitution. He wanted to write me an IOU or promissory note on a sheet of paper and I said to him that we don't accept that."
The men had a verbal confrontation and Kelly asked him to leave. "I had a whole office full of deputies assigned to the court," he said. "They made sure he left the building."
The next time the men crossed paths was July 21, 2004 at the Clark County Sheriff's Office. A judge had found Kane guilty of driving with expired license plates and no seat belt. She sentenced him to six days of community service and Kane told Kelly that he wanted "$100,000 in silver, the only legal form of payment in the Constitution, along with gold. He wanted this per day for his slave service."
Joseph, then 9, was in tow. Most young boys who visit the office are in awe of the facility; Joseph wasn't impressed. Kelly tried to be friendly to him. He asked Joseph what grade he was in and where he went to school.
"I'm home-schooled," Kelly recalled the boy saying.
He carried a toy gun that appeared real and Kelly told the boy and his father that it was not prudent to walk into law enforcement facility with one.
Joseph started quoting the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, about the right to keep and bear arms.
The meeting with Kane lasted 30 minutes with no resolution and Kelly said he didn't have a good feeling about father or son.
"The things that he said, that he was a free man, the vehement denial of needing a license or license plates on his vehicle, the way he said it and the look about him concerned me," Kelly said.
Immediately, he typed this letter to Springfield Police Chief Stephen P. Moody:
This letter is to inform you and members of the Springfield Police Division as well as all law enforcement officers in Clark County of a potential violent confrontation.
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Kane left Springfield in 2007, the year his wife died of pneumonia, Taylor said. He and Joseph hit the lecture circuit the following year, said J.J. MacNab, who said she first learned of Kane in 2004.
At the time, Kane was posting messages on a now defunct online forum about a debt elimination scheme marketed by the Dorean Group, said MacNab, a Maryland-based insurance analyst who has testified before Congress on tax and financial scams. The group's leaders are serving sentences for mail fraud and tax evasion.
Debt elimination schemes are promoted by what the FBI calls "sovereign citizens," people who believe that even though they physically reside in the United States, they are separate from it and don't have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments or law enforcement.
Kane often included sui juris, a Latin phrase that translates to "of one's own laws," in his signature. But Donna Lisa Wray, the Clearwater woman who describes herself as Kane's common-law wife, said on a message board that Kane was not antigovernment.
"Jerry spoke extensively," she wrote Monday on the Creditors in Commerce online forum, "on bringing back the organic Government, where people were the power, where people had rights, not benefits and privileges."
She declined numerous requests for an interview and on Thursday, announced in a press release circulated around the country that she planned to sue a Times staff writer and a Memphis television reporter for "unimaginable lies." Wray also said that the Times does not have her consent to print anything about her or her family unless it agreed to pay $5 million per article.
Wray, whose house is in foreclosure, has said online and in other interviews that she met and fell in love with Kane at one of his seminars in February. Kane's lectures, one of which was planned in Safety Harbor this weekend, weren't wildly successful. While similar seminars facilitated by more well-known names commanded crowds as large as 200, at least one of Kane's lectures drew as few as six people, MacNab said.
"He talked about stopping the lecture circuit," she said. "It really wasn't paying. Jerry was struggling to get by.
"There's a certain amount of fame within the movement. Very few people had heard of Jerry Kane."
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Now, everyone in the sovereign community knows Jerry and Joseph Kane.
An online radio host canceled a recent radio broadcast in memory of the Kanes. Other radio broadcasts and online message boards are abuzz with conspiracy theories about the death of a man and child who most didn't know about until May 20.
Someone named theghost posted this on suijurisclub.net: Lets not forget Waco or Ruby Ridge (the deadly 1992 standoff in Idaho between Randall Weaver and federal agents that left his wife and teen son and a U.S. marshal dead). Like it or not, law enforcement must be feared (like you would fear the enemy on the battlefield) because that's what it is out there. The truth WILL come out on this, of this I am sure.
janjay2252, another suijurisclub.net member, wrote: Like I mention earlier I know nothing of Jerry's sovereign work. But (news of his death) hit me hard. Another good one gone, and most hurting of all his son, his seed, at a young age, who might have been able to step in and take over what his father started.
The Kanes have achieved in death what they couldn't attain in life: fame.
"They think he's a hero," MacNab said.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.