A mother of four who had recently split up with her kids' father, Owsley was forced to move in 1999 after the city condemned the leaky, ramshackle east-side house she and her family were renting. Owsley reluctantly sent her children to stay at her mother's crowded house while she slept wherever she could -- with friends, other relatives, anyone who had a spare couch. She was practically homeless.
When she could scrape together enough money, Owsley rented a room at the Crown Lodge Motel on 350 Highway for $145 a week. The hotel was seedy -- it was obvious to her that prostitutes used the place to turn tricks, and drug dealers operated nearly in the open. During the summer of 1999, when Owsley lived there off and on, there was even a double murder in one of the rooms. Owsley didn't like it, but she couldn't afford anything else. "It was a place where I could spend time with my kids. We could spend a weekend there, watching TV and being together," Owsley recalls.
At the time, then-23-year-old Owsley was in a welfare-to-work program, she was newly pregnant and didn't have a high school diploma. But she got a job at a Dollar General store for about $6 an hour, and her caseworker helped her get a voucher for Section 8, the federal subsidized-housing program, run locally by the Housing Authority of Kansas City.
After a few months of looking, Owsley found a house in the Blue Hills neighborhood that seemed perfect.
"I loved the house," Owsley says. "It had enough space, and it reminded me of the house I grew up in. It had a lot of stuff I didn't have and couldn't afford -- a washer, a dryer, a refrigerator. And it had a big fenced yard for my kids to play in, and it was right on the bus line, which I needed."
The day she first inspected it, however, she had a strange encounter with a man in his 50s she assumed was a worker hired by the owners to fix up the place. He pointed to his ball cap, which read "Pretty Boy Bobby," and told her that was his name. "He never made eye contact with me -- he was staring at my breasts the whole time." When the man leered and remarked on the size of her breasts, Owsley ignored the comment. She didn't want to ruin her chances of getting the house. The man asked if she had a boyfriend, and Owsley truthfully answered that she didn't. She figured she'd never see the man again.
Weeks later, after she'd moved in, she learned that "Pretty Boy Bobby" was Bobby Veal -- her new landlord.
Owsley was one of at least eleven female tenants Bobby Veal harassed or sexually assaulted over a period of ten years, and when the federal government took Veal to court this past spring, Judge Dean Whipple found that Veal and his wife, Jewel Veal, had violated the federal Fair Housing Act. In May, a jury awarded the eleven women a total of more than $1 million in punitive and actual damages, and the case was widely reported in the local media.
But those news reports didn't mention the role played by the Housing Authority of Kansas City, Missouri, whose officials were notified numerous times of the harassment by several victims as well as by an investigator from the Kansas City, Missouri, Human Relations Department. The Housing Authority of Kansas City has never acknowledged its role in the case and hasn't established safeguards to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.