A minor news story broke a couple of weeks ago that has had me thinking about life in my hometown - Noel, Missouri: Joseph Anthony Agofsky has died in a federal prison in North Carolina at the age of forty-six. The elder of the infamous Agofsky brothers passed away of natural causes on March 5th.
Joe and his younger brother, Shannon, were convicted of one of the most heinous crimes ever recorded in southwest Missouri. On October 6, 1989, the young men (Joe was 22 and Shannon was 18) kidnapped Dan Short, the President of the State Bank of Noel, from his home in rural northwest Arkansas and drove him to Noel where they forced him to open the bank and its vault, and proceeded to take $71,000. The brothers then drove the banker to a bridge on Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma where they duct-taped him to a chair, weighed it down with a heavy tow chain, and dropped him, still alive, into the lake. Short's body was found several days later.
Joseph Agofsky was eventually convicted by a jury in Oklahoma of bank robbery and given a life sentence. Shannon Agofsky, whose fingerprint was found on the duct tape that secured the banker to the chair, was convicted of bank robbery, kidnapping, and murder. He was given two life sentences by the same Oklahoma jury.
(Shannon Agofsky was later convicted for the 2001 stomping death of a fellow inmate at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas. The jury in that case said that he planned the attack, intended to kill, and did not act in self-defense. Shannon was sentenced to death and is currently awaiting his fate - while becoming a prison lawyer - on death row at a prison in Indiana.)
My family had a lot of connections to the Short family, and we took Dan's death very, very personally. His wife, Joyce, and I worked together at the elementary school in Noel, a school that Dan's son, Scott, also attended. A few years later my wife at the time, myself, and another couple started a community newspaper, and Dan wrote our sports column - for no pay. His articles were often remembrances of the role that sports played in his life as he was growing up. Passages from those columns were read aloud at his funeral service.
The last time I saw Dan Short was a month or so before his murder when he drove to Neosho to handle the financing on a house that we were buying.
My brother-in-law, Bob Smith, was Dan Short's cousin and had a deep interest in the case involving his kidnapping and murder. Bob died in a horrible traffic accident in 2009 along with Bobby Jack Short, Dan's brother.
Noel is a small community, a place where everyone knows everyone, so the Agofsky family was also well known in the area. I didn't have Joe in school but did know him when I saw him. Shannon, however, I remember quite well. Shannon, as a junior high student, was very physically fit, had a big interest in martial arts, and said, on at least one occasion, that he wanted to be a body guard as an adult. My clearest memory of Shannon was when he spoke to a geography class at the school regarding a trip that he and his family had just taken to the Philippines.
I regret that Joe Agofsky died, especially that he died in prison. The young man spent over half of his life locked in a cage of his own making. I also have regrets for Shannon who fantasizes on the Internet that he will one day be released from prison. He, too, is in a cage of his own making.
But my biggest regrets are for Dan Short, who needlessly died at the young age for fifty-one, his widow and children, and the grandchildren that he never had the opportunity to meet.
Rest in peace, Joe. The Short family never will.