Many of them walked to cars parked along Gary Rittenhouse's street, just up the hill from Barnes & Noble.
Thanksgiving hadn't been so festive for Rittenhouse. Sporting three welts on his head, a black eye and a wrenched back, he'd filed a report with the Kansas City Police Department -- but not before spending a couple of days wondering what to do about the neighbor who had beaten him up.
The Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, Rittenhouse was walking his dog, a pug mix named Hank, when he saw Stephen Edelen walking toward him.
Edelen, whose mother says he is schizophrenic, stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. And he hasn't exactly endeared himself to his neighbors.
"I've been here twenty years. He's been in the neighborhood at least ten," Rittenhouse says. "He's always muttering or yelling something to you in a very aggressive or threatening tone. One neighbor lady is 75 years old, and he tells her if she keeps staring at him, he'll kill her."
On his Tuesday-morning dog walk, Rittenhouse pulled the leash tight as Edelen came his way. "Just as I went by, he kicked my dog."
Hank howled. Rittenhouse thinks he probably spun around and asked Edelen what the hell he was doing. Mostly he just remembers being "obliterated."
"I think he head-butted me," says Rittenhouse. "Next thing I know, I'm lying on my back." When he fell, Rittenhouse hit his head on some concrete steps. Then Edelen was on top of him, taking swings, landing a hard punch to the side of his head. Finally, between a knee to Edelen's groin and Hank's snarly badgering, Rittenhouse broke free.
Though his head wasn't particularly clear, Rittenhouse went to the Central Patrol Division on his way to work that morning. A sergeant told him there wasn't much police could do until Rittenhouse filed a report, so he left and thought about it. "I wasn't sure what to do with this guy. If there's someone in charge of him from a mental-health point of view, that would be the best approach to take," he says.
Two days later, on Thanksgiving, Rittenhouse went back and logged a report. "They said they probably wouldn't go out and pick him up, but they would have a warrant to arrest him if they had further dealings with him."
The cops, however, already knew about Edelen. Since the early '80s, he's been found guilty four times of crimes such as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and malicious destruction of property; he has paid fines and been sentenced to six years of probation.
The officers' blase response seemed all too typical to Rittenhouse's neighbors. It turns out that Edelen isn't the only one bothering them. Car-stereo jackers have been as busy as North Pole elves.
"There are no cops in the area," says Chris Schuler, who lives a block west of Rittenhouse on Pennsylvania. His car window was smashed by thieves who ripped apart his dashboard last week. When Schuler called the police, he says, "they basically just took a report and said good luck. It's pretty widely understood around here that we're on our own."
Kevin Brimmer, who lives on Rittenhouse's street, thinks the police stay away on purpose to preserve the Plaza's safe, happy image. "None of these events -- car thefts, assaults, burglaries -- show up in The Kansas City Star police blotter because we're in the umbrella of the Plaza," he says. "The Plaza hushes it up."
That urban legend is "absurd," counters Darin Botelho of Highwoods Properties, which owns the Plaza. "We have our share of crime," Botelho says. "We have our share of the police department being slow to respond to incidents."
Officer Bob Murphy, a KCPD spokesman, concedes that the neighborhood "may not get proactively patrolled," but says all the residents have to do is make an "extra patrol" request if they see something out of the ordinary. "If officers get called over there, they go," he adds.
Brimmer isn't buying it. Since Rittenhouse's beating, he has been circulating a petition he intends to file with the department's Office of Citizen Complaints. "We get absolutely no help," he says. "We kept getting told, 'A car burglary isn't a crime against a person.' Well, I guess what happened to Gary isn't a serious enough crime against a person."
But Stephen Edelen seems to exist in a netherworld of problems that aren't quite important enough for some authority -- like the police -- to solve.
His mother, Rose Marie Addison, who lives on the east side of town, pays the rent on Edelen's white wooden bungalow. She says her son takes the antipsychotic medication Haldol and sees a doctor at Swope Parkway Health Center once every couple of months. He's lived on his own for the past twenty years. "I've never had any other trouble with him, just right there in that [house]," she says. After the Thanksgiving incident, Edelen's landlord told Addison that her son has to move. She has thirty days to get him out, but isn't sure where he'll go.
In the meantime, keep your heads up, Plaza shoppers.
This past Friday afternoon, Edelen stood inside his front door and pointed at the houses across the street and said his neighbors were the ones tormenting him, not the other way around. "I didn't harass nobody," he said. "I'm moving, so nobody needs to worry about all that." Before the subject turned to the beating of Gary Rittenhouse, Edelen said, "You better get on off of my porch."