A question lingers over the diminished but still regal mansion at 1016 Paseo. Those who are intimately familiar with this house — with the wrought-iron fence around it, the crumbling cut-stone terraces, the Ionic columns that hold up a lonely front porch — agree that many questions haunt this house. But a particular unknown has resonated for 33 years: Did Johnny T. Howard know the man who killed him on August 21, 1978?
Howard, a youthful-looking 51-year-old, held a little party — seven friends sharing drinks and listening to music — in his part of 1016 Paseo on that hot summer night. There had been bigger, wilder parties in the house over the years, but this was a modest gathering, and it had started before sundown. It was only a few minutes past 8:30 p.m. when the guests in Howard's two-room flat heard the sound of glass breaking.
Howard looked out his front window but saw nothing. Excusing himself, he stepped out of his apartment and walked through the front hall, past the grand mahogany staircase that led to the upper floors, and into the tiled foyer. Before him were glass-paned double doors leading to a partially recessed porch at the front of the house.
The glass on one of the doors had been shattered, and an assailant — later described by a witness as a young man with blond hair — shot Howard in the face, point-blank. His guests heard the noise and ran from Howard's apartment to chase the killer — Howard was already dead — who dashed south on the Paseo.
The shooter was "last seen running west on 11th Street," according to The Kansas City Star, which reported that the police had no clues. "Right now," Sgt. Charles Finlay told the paper, "all we have is a dead body."
Howard's wasn't the only death at 1016 Paseo that night. His killing also triggered the end of the mansion's life. Its remaining few tenants wasted little time moving out, and in the three decades since then, the striking property has been passed from one set of owners to another. Each buyer has arrived with big ambitions. None have had enough cash. With each transaction, 1016 Paseo has become a larger project, a place less likely to ever again be a home.
Until someone shot him to death, Howard had a pretty good deal at 1016 Paseo.
As the resident manager for what the house had become — the five-apartment Chinn Hotel — Howard had a living space that included the two biggest rooms on the first floor: the original front parlor (called "the piano room" in the 1900s) and a smaller parlor, set off with handsome pocket doors. The rooms echoed under 12-foot ceilings, and he had his pick of two beautiful fireplaces.
Owner Isadore Chinn lived in Higginsville, Missouri, and let Howard pick his own tenants and rent out the rooms. Chinn wasn't interested in further dividing the three-story house into kitchen-equipped apartments, so it remained a boardinghouse meant for those who weren't putting down roots.
The house was one of the first private homes built along the northern stretch of what was once Kansas City's most glamorous parkway. The Paseo, long beloved for its landscaped gardens and splashing fountains, had reached a low point by the 1970s, with its northern stretch distinctly shabby. Several buildings stood vacant, and the once chic New York Apartments, at 12th Street, had been razed.
"In the 1970s ... the Paseo was realigned and much of the garden space was eliminated," historians Jane Flynn and Dory DeAngelo write in the 1990 book Kansas City Style. "Urban renewal has taken most of the grand old buildings that lined the boulevard ... only one house (built in 1899) remains at 1016 Paseo."