HARRISONVILLE, Mo. — When Kara Kopetsky filed a request for an order of protection against her ex-boyfriend in April 2007, she said she was afraid.
In careful, measured handwriting, the Missouri 17-year-old wrote about how, on multiple occasions, Kylr Yust had kidnapped or restrained her, keeping her from leaving his home or, in at least one instance, her own home. The previous December, she wrote, he’d threatened her with knife in hand.
“‘I’m gonna slit your (expletive) throat,’” Yust told her, according to her account. “I’m unsure of what he will do next, because the abuse has gotten worse over time.”
Days later, Kopetsky vanished.
No trace of the Belton teen was found until a decade later, in April 2017, when a mushroom hunter found a skull in a field in rural Cass County. Authorities identified those remains as belonging to Jessica Runions, a 21-year-old from nearby Raymore who vanished in September 2016.
The next day, deputies combing the area found Kopetsky’s skull.
The only thing that tied the two victims to one another was Kylr Yust.
Yust, 32, was convicted Thursday of killing both young women after they spurned him. In Kopetsky’s death, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Yust was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Runions.
The jury recommended a sentence of life, plus 15 years. His sentencing hearing has been set for June 7, according to the Kansas City Star.
“We’re thankful to be where we are today,” Rhonda Beckford, Kopetsky’s mother, said Friday. “Because there were days when we didn’t know if our girls would ever be found. And we’re just so thankful that they were found. We have them back now.”
Runions’ mother, Jamie Runions, talked about the toll her daughter’s death has taken.
“It’s been the longest four years and seven months of my entire life,” she said.
Runions’ father, John Runions, told jurors about the bright futures the two slain young women and their families will miss out on.
“I don’t get to walk my daughter down the aisle and see her be married and be a mother,” he said, according to the Star. “Her sisters don’t get to look up to her anymore. And she loved her sisters.”
Denials and finger-pointing
At trial, prosecutors painted Yust as a violent man who lashed out at the victims because they no longer wanted to date him. He ensured that neither would be able to date anyone else, they said.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Julie Tolle described Yust as an “obsessive, jealous, pathetic boyfriend” who couldn’t handle the rejection, according to The Associated Press. Testimony during the prosecution’s case included allegations that Yust confessed to multiple people, including another former girlfriend, over the years since Kopetsky’s death.
Court records indicate he confessed to at least seven people. One friend testified that Yust said he’d “strangled the (expletive) out of her and threw her in the middle of the (expletive) woods,” the Star reported.
His former girlfriend, Katelynn Farris, cooperated with authorities and, under the supervision of the FBI, wore a wire while discussing Kopetsky’s killing with Yust. Jurors heard the recording of that conversation, in which he told Farris he killed the teen.
The AP reported that Yust claimed on the witness stand that he believed Farris was attracted to him because he was suspected of murder. He said he was simply feeding that attraction.
“I was just at a really low point in my life, and I wanted to get her attention,” he said.
He denied confessing to anyone else that he killed either Kopetsky or Runions. The AP reported, however, that Yust confessed to his mother in a recorded phone call while sitting in jail.
In his testimony, he claimed he did so out of spite.
“At one point, I remember thinking: ‘I might as well just, I mean I’m going to get blamed. My whole life is a freaking wreck,’” Yust said. “This is happening all over again but even worse. I just remember at a couple points I was like: ‘Well, screw it. I might as well be famous.’”
The defense argued that investigators, who long suspected Yust in Kopetsky’s disappearance, had tunnel vision when investigating the murders. Attorney Sharon Turlington told jurors there was no physical evidence linking her client to the crimes.
“Somehow, Kylr is supposed to have pulled off two murders without leaving a trace,” Turlington said.
Yust also named another man as the real killer — his half-brother, Jessup Carter, who died by suicide in September 2018 while awaiting trial on an arson charge.
“I don’t know what, exactly, happened to Kara,” he testified, according to the Star. “I didn’t do anything to either of them.”
A deadly breakup
Kopetsky and Yust had been dating on and off for about nine months in 2007 when Kopetsky, a junior at Belton High School, broke up with him for the final time. According to authorities, Yust, then 18 years old, did not take it well.
On Aug. 28, Kopetsky reported to Belton police officials that Yust, angry because she refused to see him, had forced her into his vehicle as she left Popeyes, the fried chicken restaurant where she worked. According to a timeline compiled by KSHB in Kansas City, she told police he drove her around for a while before letting her out in Grandview.
She sought the protective order two days later, and Yust was served on May 1.
Surveillance footage from Belton High shows Kopetsky leaving the school at 9:19 a.m. May 4, six minutes after she’d called Yust and one minute before he returned her call. It was the last time she was seen alive.
Court documents obtained by KSHB stated that Kopetsky, who had run away before, was initially suspected of possibly leaving on her own. Her family said she’d never been gone more than a couple of days, however, and she failed to pick up her paycheck from Popeyes on May 9.
Kopetsky’s personal belongings were all left behind, and when police searched her school locker on June 1, they found her debit card inside.
When detectives contacted Yust about Kopetsky’s disappearance, he said he’d last seen and spoken to her on May 3, a claim unsupported by phone records. He later admitted to police that they’d argued the night before she vanished, the court records said.
He also admitted to the Aug. 28 kidnapping, saying he did it because he was angry she was seeing other people, the news station said.
A friend of Yust’s told police that Kopetsky called him the morning she disappeared to see if she and Yust could hang out with him. The friend said he was busy.
Yust showed up around 12:30 a.m. at the friend’s house — without Kopetsky, KSHB reported.
The witness told investigators Yust called him, crying, later that day and asked him not to tell anyone Yust and Kopetsky had been together that morning. He cited the protection order as the reason.
The witness said he tried to reach Kopetsky several times following that conversation but could not reach her, the news station reported.
It would be three years before police interviewed the first witness to claim that Yust confessed to killing the teen.
The court records showed that seven people came forward with similar stories about how Yust had either confessed to strangling Kopetsky and disposing of her body or told them more vaguely that he’d previously killed a girlfriend.
One witness, a former roommate and bandmate of Yust’s, told authorities in 2010 that he was talking with Yust several months before when their discussion turned to the topic of relationships.
The witness said Yust told him not to get too attached to girls and mentioned Kopetsky. Yust told him that he’d “snapped” because Kopetsky wouldn’t love him and something bad had happened to her.
Farris reached out to police the following year, in 2011, about what Yust had told her. According to court records, he’d confessed to strangling Kopetsky, describing “watching her breathe her last breath” and dumping her in the woods where her body was later found.
Another former girlfriend of Yust’s was interviewed that August. The woman, identified in records by only her initials, told detectives Yust was violent and had choked her.
He’d boasted of killing girlfriends in the past and said he could do it to her, as well, the woman alleged.
In October of 2016, yet another witness contacted police about Yust and Kopetsky. That witness — the same person who initially reported Kopetsky missing — told authorities that Yust had confessed the crime to him in 2013.
By the time that witness stepped up, Runions was missing.
A party and a fire
Jamie Runions called the Kansas City Police Department on Sept. 9, 2016, to report her daughter missing. She did the same with the Belton Police Department the next day.
Jessica Runions was last seen alive Sept. 8 at a house party south of Kansas City, in Grandview.
She’d left the party with Yust.
Witnesses told police the couple had been arguing at the party and that Yust, who drank heavily that night, was being aggressive toward other partygoers and possessive of Runions.
Runions’ mother grew worried when her daughter failed to meet her for a doctor’s appointment on Sept. 9.
The next day, Runions’ car, a black 2012 Chevrolet Equinox, was found on fire in Jackson County, according to authorities. The Equinox was the vehicle the couple had taken to the party two days before.
The same day as the car fire, a witness called police to say that Yust had sought his help to burn the vehicle, KSHB reported. He told detectives that he was present when Yust set the blaze.
He said Yust had also confessed to killing Runions and hiding her body in the woods.
The witness, identified as J.C. in court records, was later identified as Yust’s half-brother, Jessep Carter.
Carter told investigators he’d taken Yust, who burned his hands and face lighting the fire, to a mobile home in Edwards to recover from the wounds. Instead of giving him time to heal, however, he called police.
Yust was arrested the morning of Sept. 11 at the trailer. Though arresting officers noted scratches on his face and hands, along with the burns, they charged him only with the car fire.
Runions was still missing at the time.
Carter’s widow, Crystal Taylor, testified at Yust’s trial that she and Carter had picked Yust up from his grandfather’s house after he demanded to see his brother. Taylor said she thought it was odd because the brothers weren’t close.
The trio went to the home of an uncle, Paul Andrulewicz, where Taylor said she sat and talked to Yust while Carter spoke to their uncle. She said she overheard a phone call Yust got about Runions.
“He said, ‘Oh, you haven’t seen her?’” Taylor told the court, according to KSHB. “He said something along the lines of, ‘Oh, you should file a missing persons report.’”
Taylor said when she asked Yust about about Runions, he told her they’d broken up.
“(He said) they had broken up, but they still talked. I asked if it was a mutual thing, and he said, ‘Well, kinda. She had too many other men after her,’” Taylor said, according to Fox 4 in Kansas City. “Then he said something like, ‘What do I have to offer?’”
It was Andrulewicz’s home that Carter was later accused of burning down.
Andrulewicz testified at Yust’s trial that after his nephews and Taylor left his house that day, he’d found a fire burning in one of the burn barrels he kept on his property.
In the barrels, authorities later found a black phone case, aerosol cans, black fabric and a buckle.
After saying goodbye to Andrulewicz, the brothers and Taylor returned to the grandfather’s home, where Taylor said Yust and Carter left her for what “seemed like eternity.” When they came back for her, she said her husband wasn’t the same.
“He looked very shocked, scared, like, just mind-blown,” Taylor testified.
Those 45 minutes away are when authorities say the brothers burned Runions’ car.
Taylor said as they left Alfred Yust’s home, she saw Kylr Yust hide something in the bushes next to the house.
Authorities later found a hooded sweatshirt in the bushes, according to KSHB. A Kansas City Police Department crime lab analyst testified that DNA from both Runions and Yust was found on the hoodie.
As Carter drove them all to Edwards, where Carter and Taylor lived at the time, Yust told the couple to remove the batteries from their cellphones. They complied, Taylor said.
Around 3 a.m., sheriff’s deputies pulled Carter over for erratic driving, at which point Yust began “freaking out,” she said.
One of the deputies, Mitch Lambirth, recalled Yust’s nervousness during his own testimony. He said Yust, whom he recognized from high school, appeared extremely uncomfortable.
Lambirth testified that Yust’s knees were shaking uncontrollably and it looked like he’d peed in his pants, according to KSHB.
The defense objected, arguing that Lambirth could not have known if what he saw was actually urine or not.
Taylor testified that after dropping Yust off at the trailer in Edwards, she and Carter called the police.
She said the change in her husband following that day with his brother was permanent. Taylor testified that Carter began using drugs heavily in the months afterward and, when he got abusive toward her, she moved into a women’s shelter, KSHB reported.
It was while living there that she saw the news about Carter burning his uncle’s house down, she said. It was also where she learned of his death in the county jail.
Yust tried to pin more than the murders of Kopetsky and Runions on his late half-brother. He has alleged that Carter killed up to 11 women.
Tolle questioned why Yust waited until his trial to point the finger at his brother. She called him the “most unlucky guy in the world” for having not one, but two former girlfriends who vanished.
Yust agreed that he was unlucky.
“Anyone who has a brother who is a serial killer is unlucky,” Yust said, according to the AP.
Jurors didn’t believe his claims. The sentence they recommended to the judge last week is the maximum for the charges of which he was convicted.
He will be eligible for parole.
Kopetsky’s mother told reporters she didn’t feel that justice was served in her daughter’s case. Though Yust was initially charged with first-degree murder of both the teen and Runions, he was convicted of a lesser included charge in Kopetsky’s death.
“It ripped our whole family apart and changed our lives forever,” Beckford said of her daughter’s disappearance, according to the Star. “It started a 10-year nightmare.”
Cox Media Group