Truman Road curves past a desolate corridor of gas stations, liquor stores and adult bookstores on the way east to Independence. The stretch is called Blue Summit, an unincorporated part of Jackson County known mostly for Erotic City, the adult-entertainment complex that includes a novelty shop, video booths and a strip club.
In the early evening hours of January 17, a 16-year-old boy walked the stretch of wasteland. It's not clear whether he was hitchhiking or walking the strip for another reason. But he found a way out of the 18-degree night when a man in a silver Mercedes offered him a ride. The boy climbed in. The ride was short.
The driver was a 6-foot-3, 180-pound African-American in his mid-30s who wore blue jeans, a red shirt over a thermal undershirt and a black jacket. He drove to Erotic City.
From the outside, Erotic City looks like an old, kinky general store. Opaque windows give off a reflection but not a peek inside. A sign on top of the building declares: "The in place for consenting adults." A picket fence shields a massive concrete parking lot that's big enough for several semis. Near the entrance, an outline of the state of Missouri marks "Erotic City USA" with a red star.
A naked, life-sized love doll is spread-eagle inside the doorway. "Her" blond hair puffs like a 1980s porn star. A sign on her see-through box says she "never says no." Sex toys, whips, platform shoes, dildos, vibrators and blow-up dolls clutter the walls.
A hallway leads to a bank of 26 video booths with solid doors and locks for privacy. Outside the booths, a "buddy button" illuminates when someone is looking to hook up. Inside, mirrored walls and vinyl-padded seats wrap around a video player. Some booths are big enough for at least 15 people.
The 16-year-old shouldn't have been allowed inside Erotic City; Jackson County requires sex -shop customers to be at least 18 to enter. The boy also shouldn't have been allowed inside a video booth, where men frequently meet for anonymous sex. But between 8:45 and 9 p.m., the man took him into one.
The teen later accused the man of sodomizing him. He escaped and called the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, which is still investigating the complaint.
Erotic City's owners deny that the teen was sodomized on their property. When told that the sheriff said the assault happened inside the sex club, Ron Boone, one of Erotic City's seven owners, tells The Pitch: "That is so not true.
"I don't know nothing about what happened, but I know it didn't happen on our property," Boone says. "We would know. The sheriff would have come in, and there would have been a crime scene and all that stuff. And it did not happen on our property."
The timing of the alleged assault was astonishingly coincidental. Three days before, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders introduced an ordinance to crack down on sex in Erotic City's video booths. Sanders and county legislators were reacting to the November 5 guilty plea of Jesse Franklin Herd III, who had admitted to prostituting his 14-year-old stepdaughter in the club's "orgy room" to as many as 20 men starting in 2005. (Pick up next week's issue of The Pitch for more on Herd.)
At the January 14 meeting, Sanders compared Erotic City to the Wild West. "We have an industry that has virtually no regulation," he said. "Virtually anything goes."
Jackson County legislators met again on January 22 — five days after the alleged assault. Photographs shown at the meeting revealed that glory holes had been drilled into the walls of Erotic City's video booths. Legislators unanimously passed the ordinance outlawing locks and doors on video booths, sex acts in the booths and prostitution in the store.
The county also now limits the booths to one person at a time, and a manager must be able to see inside. The new law requires owners, board members, shareholders and employees of adult-entertainment complexes to pass criminal background checks. It also bans felons from owning an adult bookstore — and that could pose a problem for Erotic City.
Until last month, a seven-member board of directors controlled the complex. The board included a convicted felon, a 12-year-old boy and an aspiring Hollywood actress. It was created after the death of Erotic City's owner, Elvin Lester Boone, in 1997. Video booths were the backbone of the sex empire that the scrap-metal dealer built on the outskirts of Kansas City. The glory holes, skin flicks and dildos made Boone millions and, after his death, would pay his eight children annual six-figure dividends.
Eleven years after his death, though, Elvin Boone's porn empire is crumbling under his children's control.
Erotic City would never have opened if Elvin Boone hadn't been busted for hiding money.
Sometime in the early '70s, he flew to Switzerland to open a bank account. Boone's oldest daughter, Debrah Lackey, recalls that her father took his then-girlfriend, Mary Lou Jacoby, to Switzerland with him. But when Boone dumped Jacoby for another woman, Jacoby turned him in to the Internal Revenue Service for keeping the secret account. (Jacoby could not be reached for this story.) Boone was sentenced on April 28, 1983.
That same year, behind the walls of Leavenworth's minimum-security farm, Boone met Theodore "Sugar Bear" Irving II. Together they dreamed up Erotic City.
Irving was serving a nearly two-year sentence for tax fraud. He had run massage parlors in the 1970s and early '80s, and still owned the VIP Health Studio and Massage Parlor, a trailer at 8603 Truman Road. Irving lived wild and dangerously. He wore canary-yellow leisure suits, drove a matching Cadillac and exchanged gunfire with a wannabe thief during a car chase, according to a 1998 story in The Kansas City Star.
Both men were released by October 1984, and they formed a three-way partnership to open an adult bookstore with Harold "Doc" Holliday Jr., an attorney, civil rights activist and then-Jackson County legislator. The county was about to pass a zoning ordinance regulating adult bookstores. Boone and Irving rushed to open Erotic City and its parent company, Enlightened Reading Inc., before the ordinance passed, recalls Sharlie Pender, Boone's longtime attorney.
Erotic City's beginnings were humble. Pender recalls Boone putting up a white canvas sign, on the roof of the old grocery-store building that he had owned at 8401 Truman Road, with red letters proclaiming: "Open 24 hours. Free coffee." The sign neglected to mention that the new coffee shop was really an adult bookstore.
"When you went in there the first week, he had a coffeemaker in there and some magazines thrown on the floor and a Super 8 camera running against the wall," Pender says. "And that's all it was."
Irving didn't stay out of trouble long. The police raided his VIP massage parlor in a prostitution sting, and a 1984 court order shut down his house of happy endings for a year. In 1985, he was convicted of promoting prostitution. He was released from prison two years later and returned to work as general manager at Erotic City.
"I had to go pick Ted up at the halfway house and bring him to work," Debrah Lackey says.
Business was good at Erotic City, but not everyone in the booths was watching videos. Some men met for anonymous sex, feeding bills into the machine and partnering up. A few would carve out glory holes with pocketknives. Sometimes couples came into Erotic City looking for a third. Security guards ran working girls off the property.
"My dad covered the glory holes," Lackey says. "He would take stainless steel and patch them up. There was no way you could get to each other. If a booth had a hole in it, it would get locked up until someone came out and fixed it."
A year after getting into the porn business, Holliday resigned from the Legislature in disgrace, convicted of stealing $1,625 from a county scholarship fund. Two years later, he sold his share of Erotic City to Boone. In 1989, Irving sold his stake to Boone, too, but stayed on as an employee.
Boone lived in a two-story, two-bedroom green building at the junkyard that he owned behind Erotic City. He fathered 10 children. Two died young, and of the survivors, only three share the same mother.
Boone's first wife, Bonnie, gave birth to four of his children — Debrah, Rhonda, Melissa and Daniel. When Bonnie Boone found explicit photos of her husband with another woman, she torched the couple's Odessa home in the 1960s, Lackey says. When police told Bonnie Boone that her house was burning, she reportedly answered, "Let it burn!"
In 1992, Jackson County was trying to clean up Blue Summit. County Executive Marsha Murphy and county legislator Claire McCaskill had Erotic City in their crosshairs. McCaskill claimed that "unsafe sexual activity" was going on in the video booths, creating a public health hazard. The Jackson County Legislature passed an ordinance requiring licensing of adult bookstores and massage parlors. The law also called for metal walls in video booths to stop men from carving out glory holes.
Boone fought the ordinance in federal court. In April 1995, Senior U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs ruled the ordinance unconstitutional, saying that it unfairly singled out Erotic City. He added that the county failed to prove Erotic City contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Sachs also wrote that forcing people to pass background checks violated an applicant's privacy rights.
Boone's victory celebration was short-lived. In the early hours of June 2, 1997, he was having sex with a woman in an old Ryder truck parked behind Erotic City, Lackey says. Mid-act, he clutched his chest, ripped off his shirt and collapsed.
Boone had suffered a heart attack. EMTs arrived at Erotic City around 1 a.m. and tried to revive him. He was resuscitated once, but his heart gave out again. Boone was dead at age 61.
The collapse of what was left of Elvin Boone's family came after his last breath behind the club that had made him a wealthy man. He died without a will, prompting the Jackson County Probate Court to seize control of Erotic City.
From June 1997 to May 2005, a Jackson County judge watched over Erotic City and ensured that it was profitable. The county, which had tried to shut down Boone's den of sin, was required to keep it alive until the court divided it among his children — Debrah Lackey, Rhonda Boone, Ron Boone, Richard Wilkinson, Melissa Harris, Cynthia Harmon and two minors.
The fight for ownership of Erotic City was on. Court records cite "substantial tension and discord among the family members." Most of the Boone children hired lawyers and hurled accusations at one another.
The county put the day-to-day operations of Erotic City in the control of Rhonda Boone. Employees claimed in court records that Rhonda ran the club well and that she sealed up the glory holes. (Rhonda Boone declined comment for this story.)
But Rhonda and her relatives fought for a slice of the inheritance. Debrah Lackey didn't trust her sister to run the cash-only business. She claimed that Rhonda and her then-husband, Mike Brants, had destroyed records showing how much money the lucrative video booths made. Rhonda filed a protection order against her, Lackey says, but the order was dropped when Rhonda failed to show up at the court hearing. Later, Lackey says, her brothers and sisters voted to require her to give three days' notice before showing up at Erotic City. Lackey says she hasn't been back since.
Lackey traces the tension with her siblings to a half-million-dollar Cayman Island bank account that was payable to her upon her father's death. Lackey refused to share the money with her brothers and sisters.
On the day of Elvin Boone's death, Rhonda fired Irving and had police remove her father's longtime business partner from Erotic City. Irving, then 52, sued the Boone children, claiming that they owed him a share of the business. He needed the money to pay $210,678 to the IRS for back taxes, according to court records. Irving died in 1999 before his case went to trial; the Boone estate later reached a $130,000 settlement with Irving's family.
On November 3, 1998, Probate Commissioner Kathleen Forsyth removed Rhonda Boone as Erotic City's personal representative, citing a conflict of interest in her role as the shop's general manager. The court appointed attorney Berry F. Laws III to oversee Erotic City's affairs.
While the case languished in court, Boone's children received dividend checks of up to $12,500 monthly. The sex shop also paid for their health insurance. By May 2001, each heir had received $207,500. Laws, who didn't return phone calls from The Pitch, estimated that each shareholder would take home $125,000 a year if Erotic City's revenue continued to top $1 million.
In May 2004, Laws hired Rhonda back as general manager. "Aside from sibling rivalry, Rhonda is the best person for the job," Laws wrote in a court filing. "First and foremost, she is honest; second, she has the family interests at heart; and third, she is well aware of the operation of this business, its clientele and the employees."
Laws drew up an agreement by which the eight heirs would form a board of directors to run Erotic City. Each member of the board would be an equal shareholder.
In 2004, a guardian for the 10-year-old heiress sold the girl's stake to her brothers and sisters for $222,750. According to court records, the business was valued at nearly $2 million at the time of the sale.
The newly created board also included a boy and a felon, Richard Wilkinson, who was convicted of marijuana possession in November 2005.
Even four years earlier, Laws anticipated future battles with Jackson County. "If past history is any gauge, I would assume that the county (sheriff's department, code enforcement, finance department, or others) will continue to pressure [Enlightened Reading Inc.]," Laws wrote in May 2001. "Suffice it to say that the county believes ERI to be an eyesore."
The bad blood has only worsened. In January, the board met at Laws' office after photos of the glory holes surfaced at the Jackson County Legislature meeting. Lackey says she chastised Rhonda Boone for allowing someone to cut the glory holes with a power drill. "There were glory holes this big," Lackey says she told her brothers and sisters while making a circle with her hands. "And they were not made by a knife."
Nobody said a word. Rhonda Boone, Lackey says, refused to look at her.
Lackey's brother, Ron Boone, denies that anyone affiliated with Erotic City drilled the glory holes. "Do you think that somebody can't walk in with a drill in their coat?" he says. "I'm telling you that they are not allowed. They are against policy, and they are closed up as they are found."
At the meeting, Lackey brought a copy of the plea agreement that Jesse Herd had signed. (Herd later withdrew his guilty plea.) She shook the document at Rhonda, who was sitting across from her. Lackey tells The Pitch that she proposed closing Erotic City. "This place is dead," she recalls saying. "This place needs to close. It needs to be sold.... You killed it. It's over with."
Instead, in February, the board voted 5-2 in favor of having only two directors: Rhonda and Ron Boone.
Erotic City's owners decided to shutter the video booths and close the strip club after the county unanimously voted in favor of the new ordinance in January.
Ron Boone says the video booths provided a service. "I think having them have a regulated place where they can go and hook up, if you would, and meet up is probably in the best interests of society. I personally have children, and I don't want to see things like that happen in parks or at the bathroom of Bannister Mall or whatever mall they're meeting at these days. I'm pretty confident that there's a large group of people out there who miss their little hangout."
"If this place is closed where can a hard dick get a little hard dick?" wrote a poster on Backpage.com.
"Is there some place with booths like they had, buddy booth?" asked another. "Just want to have my cock sucked. And if you are interested in wearing panties.... that's great."
Not everyone missed the Erotic City booths. "I have been there a few times, bunch of fat old nasty dudes standing around SMOKING! Ugh!" wrote "Benjamin" on Craigslist. "I know they need lovin' too, but isn't there anyplace where decent looking and acting people [can] check each other out?"
Reached for this story, Benjamin says guys would leave the doors to the video booths unlocked, hoping someone would drop in for a hookup.
"I had several people try to walk in on me," he says. "But it was not anyone that I was interested in."
On a Tuesday night in mid-February, the parking lot outside Erotic City is empty except for a couple of cars parked in front of the sex shop. A clerk works the counter while a scruffy-looking guy eating microwave popcorn watches anime.
The ATM is out of service. "Cash only. Sorry," reads a handmade sign on the cash register. A wooden shed door seals off the back hallway. A handwritten sign says the video booths and strip club are closed. When asked when they'll reopen, the clerk shrugs. A man in a suit and tie browses the racks of DVDs labeled for specific fetishes — Asian, Latina, big boobs, fat, pregnant, shemale, etc. — but leaves without buying anything.
Bins of vibrators and other sex toys sell for 50 percent off. A clothing rack offers "gently used" clothes. Back issues of Playboy sell for $2. The magazine racks look ransacked. Most of the inventory appears to have been marked down to sell off.
Times appear to be tough at Erotic City. The days of six-figure dividends for the shareholders are over. Lackey received her last dividend in December. "If it makes a profit," she says, "all that money is going to go to attorneys' fees."
The owners have hired their father's longtime attorney, Sharlie Pender, to review the recently passed Jackson County ordinance. "Obviously, a bad thing happened, and they wanted to make it as rigid as they possibly could," Pender says. "And I think they went a little bit overboard in some of the aspects." Pender declines to elaborate, saying he is only just beginning to review the new rules.
Pender says "without a doubt" the county's new ordinance targets Erotic City. If he's right, that could make the law invalid.
Ron Boone adds: "Mike Sanders and the Jackson County prosecutor . . . have taken it upon themselves to become the masturbation police."
The county will begin enforcement of the ordinance on July 1. The decision whether to grant an adult-entertainment license will be made by Ron Hilliard, chief of environmental health for Jackson County Public Works.
To get into compliance, Erotic City would require remodeling. The stage in the strip club needs to be raised. The doors on the video booths need to be removed. And the booths need to be set up so that a manager can see inside them at all times.
"It would be some major renovations," says Hilliard, adding that one of the store's owners told him Erotic City would not reopen the strip club or video booths. If that's the case, the business would not be subject to the county's new rules. "That would make them a retail establishment, and we would not regulate retail," Hilliard says.
According to Pender, the owners have yet to decide whether to file for the license.
Back at Erotic City, a man walks in and heads directly to the counter.
"Do you have the Number One?" he asks the clerk. The clerk reaches behind the counter and grabs a rainbow-colored box with bolts of lightning on it. The customer hands over $50.
About 10 minutes later, another guy comes in and asks for Number One. Another $50 sale.
Times are tough when the biggest moneymaker at Erotic City isn't dildos, nudie magazines or video booths. It's synthetic urine.