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'Carnival mafia' murders rock a small Arkansas community

In 2018 an elderly couple was murdered in Arkansas and a confession shows the killers thought they were carrying out the wishes of a "carnival mafia."

CRAWFORD COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Alfred and Pauline Carpenter spent their golden years traveling to carnivals and serving as vendors on the road, selling treasures on the fairway. 

In July 2018, they traveled from their home in Wichita, Kansas to attend the Barton County Fair, which was only a few hours from where they lived. 

The couple was later found murdered in a creek bed in a remote area within the Ozarks National Forest near Van Buren. 

Police were able to locate the bodies with information that started with a phone call from an apartment complex located a few blocks away from the Van Buren Police Department (VBPD)

VBPD Captain Jonathan Wear says the Van Buren dispatch center got a call from a lady in Texas, who claimed her sister, Christine Tenney, contacted her saying she was in an apartment in Van Buren and that she was with some people who were traveling with the carnival. The caller also said that her sister told her they had traveled to Van Buren from Kansas and that somebody had been murdered. 

"She called her sister and her sister called 911 and said, 'Hey my sister just called me and explained to me that she is traveling with these people and they've possibly murdered somebody in Kansas. Can you send somebody out there to see what is going on?,'" explained Capt. Wear. 

After speaking with individuals living at the complex, officials learned that "out-of-town visitors had showed up to the apartment complex driving a truck pulling a camper."

Police then went to the apartment complex and found a camper and truck with license plates that showed both vehicles belonged to Alfred and Pauline Carpenter. The camper had bullet holes which led authorities to believe that a shooting had taken place in the camper. 

Kimberley Younger, Michael Fowler, Rusty Frasier, and Christine Tenney were taken in for questioning after it was revealed that they were the ones who brought the truck and camper into the complex. Police say they uncovered n plan that they believe was orchestrated by one of the suspects - Kimberley Younger.

Police believe that Younger was manipulating the others by pretending to be a mafia boss with the traveling carnival.

In an interview with police, it shows that Fowler told police he did not know the messages were coming from Younger, a "carnival mafia member."

"She was using a social media account for this Frank person. It was later determined through some analysis that those messages were being sent through her phone, to her. She would log in to this Frank person account and show the rest of the team saying 'Hey, here are the messages that I am getting from Frank,'" said Capt. Wear.

Michael Fowler told police that the "carnival mafia" had instructed them to rob Alfred and Pauline at the fair in Great Bend, Kansas, kill them, and put their bodies inside of the camper and drive to Van Buren, Arkansas until they could come up with a plan to bury them. 

It was revealed that a man named "Frank" had convinced the subjects that he was with the "carnival mafia" and would only communicate with the group through text messages. Police documents show the following messages between Fowler and "Frank", who police actually believe to be Kimberley Younger, on the morning of July 14, 2018:

Fowler: "it's done their dead."

Frank: "Good Job, now get out."                                                                  

Fowler: "I am trying to calm down right now."'

Police say through the interviews of the suspects, they learned how the Carpenters were killed. With the help of Kansas authorities in this multi-agency investigation, a bloody crime scene was uncovered at the fairgrounds in Kansas. 

Alfred Carpenter was shot and stabbed while Pauline Carpenter, who was in her bed at the time, was shot. The evidence retrieved from the crime scene suggests that the crime occurred right in their camper. 

Police believe the motive behind the murders may have been a robbery, but they are not completely sure. All of their items had been taken. Some money was missing and they had a trailer full of goods they were selling at carnivals. 

"When we investigated that here in Van Buren some of that property was in different locations. The actual trailer was located in Fort Smith near the fairgrounds. So, they had already started to get rid of this property or sell it or whatever it was that they were doing," said Capt. Wear.

All four suspects were extradited back to Kansas where they faced justice.

  • Kimberley Younger, the person police say was the mastermind behind the crime, was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to life without parole.
  • Rusty Frasier was sentenced to life without parole for 50 years for each of two counts of first-degree murder.
  • Michael Fowler was sentenced to life for first-degree murder and theft.
  • Christine Tenney, the woman whose sister called the police, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for aggravated robbery and eight months for obstructing apprehension.

Police say the so-called "carnival mafia" is not real, but for those involved and who committed this crime against Alfred and Pauline Carpenter, they believed it was.

Some of the suspects have either tried or are now appealing their convictions. None have been able to get a court to agree so far.


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