Last Friday, Frank Ancona, an "imperial wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan in Missouri, was reported missing to the local police. They were told that a federal employee found his 2015 black Ford Fusion on U.S. Forest Service land, and a search ensued. The following day, Ancona was found dead with gunshot wounds on the bank of the river. Earlier this week, his wife and stepson were charged with his murder.
According to the New York Times, the county coroner said Ancona, 51, was killed with "a shotgun of some sort." Jerrod Mahurin, the prosecuting attorney from St. Francois County, added that Ancona had also been shot in the head with a 9-millimeter handgun.
Malissa Ancona, 44, and Paul Edward Jinkerson Jr., 24, have been arrested and are being held without bond in St. Francois on charges including first-degree murder, armed criminal action, tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse. A probable cause statement accuses Jinkerson of shooting his stepfather as he slept Thursday at his home in Leadwood, roughly 70 miles south of St. Louis, before dumping the body 20 miles southwest near Belgrade.
What exactly happened to the self-proclaimed imperial wizard of the KKK? Here’s everything you need to know about the circumstances surrounding Ancona's death, his suspected killers and how law enforcement is handling a KKK member's murder in Missouri.
Who was Frank Acona?
In 2011, Acona was elected the new imperial wizard of the True Invisible Empire Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In over three decades as a Klan member, Ancona held titles such as Imperial Klazik, Imperial Knighthawk and Grand Dragon. A neighbor told reporters that Ancona hosted Klan gatherings at his home, including one time where he and his guests wore white robes and burned a cross. The neighbor called him a "good man" who worked delivering parts for a St. Louis auto company.
Ancona's local KKK group gained national attention when they passed out leaflets promising to use "lethal force" against "terrorists" during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Ancona talked to Chris Hayes about the matter for a segment on CNN, and gained more national notoriety when the hacktivist group Anonymous soon took over his group's account and leaked identities of KKK members across the state – including his.
Despite Ancona’s newfound media attention and images of him grandstanding before a burning cross, Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the group was "not very significant at all" and was "one of the smallest groups out there" with only 40 members in chapters in Missouri, Idaho and Pennsylvania. In past years, Ancona had been in-fighting with other Klan leaders, who incorrectly, said Potok, accused him and his wife of being Jewish.
Who are Malissa Ancona and Paul Edward Jinkerson Jr.?
On her Facebook page, Malissa Ancona lists that she's from Imperial, Missouri, married to Frank Ancona and volunteers at a pet adoption non-profit. An old Twitter account describes her as an Imperial Klokan in the Traditionalist American Knights and includes links to the Klan's regional website.
Jinkerson, the stepson, wrote on his Facebook page that he's from Belgrade, Missouri, and studies computer science at Mineral Area College. His page has several videos of him strumming his guitar, most recently singing "Broken" by Los Angeles rock band Lifehouse.
Prosecuting attorney Jerrod Mahurin told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Jinkerson didn't live with the Aconas, but stayed with them sometimes, describing to reporters the relationship between stepson and stepfather as "so-so." According to the newspaper, Jinkerson was previously arrested on unrelated property damage and attempted stealing charges and violated his probation in a 2016 drug possession case. Eric Barnhart, a Missouri-based lawyer who represented Jinkerson in past cases addressed the recent murder charge: "I don’t believe it for a second that he did it." Barnhart told reporters he isn't sure whether he will represent Jinkerson this time around, but said he didn’t believe Jinkerson was a member of the KKK or other hate groups.
Could anyone else have a motive?
Three years ago, Robert Jones, of the Illinois-based Loyal White Knights of the KKK, told reporters that Frank Ancona and his wife were Jewish. "He's being exposed all through the Klan world as a fake," Jones told the local Patch site. "He ain't even white." Ancona called Jones's KKK group a crew of "drunks and druggies" and said he'd admit if he were Jewish.
Even with the in-fighting, the St. Francois Sheriff's Department, along with prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin, said Paul Edward Jinkerson Jr. shot his stepfather at his home not because of his ties to the KKK, but because he told his wife he wanted a divorce.
What led authorities to suspect his family?
On Friday, Malissa Ancona wrote on Facebook that her husband was missing and asked friends “please if anyone sees anything call the police. That same day, Ancona was reported missing by his employer which called the Leadwood police to say he didn’t show up for work on Wednesday or Thursday.
Malissa Ancona told Leadwood police and local CBS affiliate KFVS-TV that the last time she saw her husband was when he left their home on Thursday for a job delivering parts out of the state. She also mentioned they were having marital problems. "Frank and I weren't getting along too well," she told the local news station. "We were working on our marriage. He told me when he got back he was filing for divorce and took a bag of clothes with him." But Frank Ancona's employer told police they did not send him on any job of that kind.
The next day, Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen announced on his office's Facebook page that they had learned of the disappearance of Frank Ancona from his place of work and that the missing vehicle was found. He then requested assistance from the Missouri State Highway Patrol to investigate the "tragic and senseless act of violence."
Also over the weekend, Leadwood Police Chief William Dickey told reporters his officers found a safe in the Ancona home that looked like someone "had taken a crowbar to it" and most of Frank Ancona’s firearms were missing. Dickey said he questioned Marissa Ancona about a Facebook post she made earlier that week searching for a new roommate. "She stated she did it because when he said he was leaving to go out of state on this job, he took a bag of clothes with him and said when he got back, he was filing for divorce," Dickey told the Daily Journal, a local newspaper. "She told us she figured she would need help to pay the rent, so she put an ad out looking for a roommate.”
Law enforcement had found Frank Acona’s safe had been broken into and that his guns were gone. They had found his vehicle, which was "wiped down" beside a pile of burned clothes. Officers then found "extensive blood evidence" in the Acona bedroom. Malissa Acona changed her story and told police in a recorded interview that Jinkerson shot her husband and she helped clean the blood.
The sheriff and police offices have reportedly been getting heat for their investigation. "Law enforcement was attacked terribly on Facebook and officers were called in on their days off to help," Jacobsen told the local newspaper. "At the end of the day, the professionalism shined through all the negativity and we were able to bring some closure to the family."