Cherrie Topham and Lela Ford were shot to death September 1980 in Pratt. Randolph Topham, Cherrie's husband, was convicted of the killings. He will come before a parole board on November 20, 2019 in Derby.
It's been almost 40 years but for Helen Ford and other members of her family, they will never forget the day Randolph Topham murdered Cherrie Topham and Lela Ford in Pratt. Cherrie is Helen Ford's sister and Lela is Helen's mother.
Now the family will have to relive those memories when Topham, who is 78, comes up for a parole hearing on Nov. 20 in Derby. Ford, along with other family members, plans to travel to Derby for the hearing to try to convince the parole board Topham should not get parole. She hopes people from the Pratt community might support her cause by writing letters to the parole board requesting that Topham remain in jail for life.
If Topham is granted parole, the earliest possible release date is Feb. 1, 2020, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections website.
Although it has been 39 years since the murders took place, it is still difficult for family members to deal with the traumatic event. The murders tore the family apart, and were a tragic event in the community of Pratt. Ford's father, Warren Ford, remarried and moved to Wichita. He doesn't want to discuss the event.
"We (the family) were so traumatized," Helen Ford said. "Emotionally, it tore us up."
Ford said the family doesn't want to deal with this every time Topham comes up for parole. Having to relive the murders at the parole hearing will be difficult but it is something that has to be done, said Ford who doesn't think Topham is a trustworthy individual.
The family is going to get together and go to the hearing because they don't want him to be paroled. Nieces, nephews, grandchildren and possibly Randy and Cherrie's son Todd, whomever is available to get off work, will be at the hearing. His children don't want him to get out, Ford said.
"Every time a hearing comes up, it's just like an open wound again," Ford said. "Unfortunately, we have to keep fighting to keep him in there. We're fighting for justice. The more voices are heard, the more justice prevails."
Topham's last probation hearing was July 19, 2010. At that time, Pratt resident Georgia Perry, who is a sister to Cherrie and Ford, went before the parole board to convince them Topham should not be released for the 1980 murders. Perry recently passed away so other family members will travel to the parole hearing to speak for themselves and for Perry.
Ford was unable to attend the previous hearing but wrote letters to the Kansas State Department of Corrections Office of Victims Services.
Ford said she wants as many as possible to attend the hearing that is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 229 North Baltimore in Derby.
If people can't attend, they can submit a victim/survivor statement and submit it to the parole board, she said. Statements are confidential and should be mailed to: Kansas Department of Corrections, Attention Prisoner Review Board, 714 SW Jackson street, Suite 300, Topeka, KS 66603.
The letter must contain the first and last name, Randolph Topham, his KDOC number 0035105 and should include any emotional, physical or financial impact as well as any thoughts about his release and any requests or recommendations to the board.
Topham and his wife had been married, divorced, remarried and were getting ready to divorce again when the murder took place.
According to Pratt Tribune articles about the trial in May 1981, Topham went to Gibson's Discount Store and bought a .25 caliber gun the morning of the murders on Sept. 8, 1980. He then went to Cherrie's home and shot her six times then went to Lela's home and shot her eight times.
Topham then went to the Pratt Internal Medical Clinic and confessed to Dr. Ronald Quenzer and waited there for police to arrive. Topham had previously visited with Quenzer about his emotional problems.
Topham attempted an insanity plea, but doctors from Larned State Hospital and the Menninger Clinic in Topeka testified that while he had a narcissistic personality and anti-social personality traits, he was aware of what he was doing.
It took the jury an hour and a half to find Topham guilty and District Court Judge Clarence Renner sentenced Topham to two consecutive life sentences.
Former Pratt County Attorney Phil Lunt assisted the prosecution. Kansas State Deputy Attorney General Thomas Haney led the prosecution along with Assistant Attorney General Chris Meeker.
Lunt had become county attorney on Jan. 1, 1981, just four and a half months before the trail started. He knew Topham and his family.
Lunt said Topham was sullen and quiet during the trial. He was stoic and had no expression.
"He didn't show any signs of emotion," said Lunt, in a 2010 Pratt Tribune article on the parole hearing.
Topham was sentenced to two counts of first degree murder on June 9, 1981 and began serving his sentence on July 7, 1981. He is currently being held at the El Dorado Correctional Facility-South. At various times, he has also been housed at El Dorado Correctional Facility-Central, Hutchinson Correctional Facility-East and Central, Lansing Correctional Facility-Central and Topeka Correctional Facility-RDU, according to the KDOC.