Centerton Mayor Living Lie (Southwest Times)
Monday November 26th, 2007
BENTONVILLE — Centerton Mayor Ken Williams resigned Wednesday and acknowledged he has been living under an assumed identity since 1980.
The Centerton City Council accepted Williams’ resignation at a special meeting and appointed an acting mayor and an administrator to assume his duties.
“The City of Centerton needs a leader that is credible to look to,” Williams wrote in his resignation letter. “I feel that I can no longer fulfill that quality.”
Williams was appointed mayor in 2001 after former Mayor Mike Wakefield resigned as part of a plea agreement for vandalism, public intoxication and resisting arrest. Williams was re-elected twice.
“He’s always seemed very capable in his job duty as the Centerton mayor,” said Gentry Mayor Wes Hogue, who serves with Williams on the Benton County Solid Waste District Board.
Dead Man Walking
Williams’ resignation comes after revelations he assumed the identity of a dead man and that his real name is Don LaRose. He walked away from a wife and two daughters in Hammond, Ind., and assumed the name Bruce Kent Williams, he said. During a news conference after the City Council meeting, Williams said he fled to keep his family safe and to keep himself alive.
Williams said he was abducted and his memory was erased in 1975. His family found him the next year living as a homeless man named Ken Williams. The LaRose family then moved to Hammond, Ind., where Williams served as a pastor at a local church. He became convinced his abductors were targeting him again and decided to leave his family in 1980. The church’s assistant pastor reported Donelo Lester LaRose missing, according to a police report.
“What happened in 1980, whether it was right or wrong, what I did I did was under threat for the safety of my family and my survival,” Williams said. “If I’d stayed, there’d be bodies in a grave.”
Williams has wanted to tell the public his real identity for at least a year, he said. The timing never seemed right to come forward, Williams said, but the truth nagged at him.
Williams established a Web site to tell his story at www.donlarose.com.
He said he doesn’t have mental health problems and doesn’t take any psychoactive drugs. He said he was treated in a mental hospital in 1976 in Chicago, where doctors gave him a “truth serum” that helped him remember the abduction the previous year.
He said it was the right thing to resign as mayor and put both names on his resignation letter.
“There’s a matter of credibility,” Williams said. “I guess, in a sense, you could say I was living a lie.”
Centerton City Attorney Howard Slinkard said it is unclear whether Williams violated any laws.
Adopting a deceased person’s identification may or may not be a crime, said Prosecuting Attorney Van Stone. A state law that addresses nonfinancial identity fraud states identifying information cannot legally be used to evade law enforcement, harass someone or to swindle anyone out of real estate.
Stone said Williams’ use of that name will be investigated.
Hammond, Ind., Police Chief Brian Miller said his agency is not investigating Williams.
Williams said he doesn’t know if he has broken any laws. The name belonged to a man who died and neither he nor the Williams family gained or lost any money by him taking the name Williams.
Williams said he is looking forward to reuniting with the LaRose family.
Adam LaRose of Lancaster, Pa., contacted late Wednesday, said he hadn’t seen his son, Don, since his disappearance in 1980.
Adam LaRose, 96, remembered Don claiming to be on the run from satanist groups in letters.
“He took some pictures of my house then to let us know he was alive,” Adam LaRose said.
Adam LaRose said when the family found Don after his first claimed abduction, Don maintained Adam and his mother, Mildred, were not his parents.
“He said we were killed in an automobile accident,” Adam LaRose said. “We had to show him pictures to prove that we were alive.”
Don LaRose’s former wife, Eunice Ritchie, still lives in Hammond, Ind., Adam LaRose said. She visited Adam LaRose at a hospice he is in a few weeks ago, he said. Mildred LaRose is under hospice care as well, he said.
“I would love to see Don again,” Adam LaRose said. “That would be my day.”
In Centerton, residents had mixed reactions to Williams’ resignation.
Gossip and media coverage is blowing the issue out of proportion, said Esther Varner, 23, who works at Bruce’s Country Store in Centerton. The city will take care of the mayor position and any issues that arise from Williams’ double identity, she said.
“Leave him to his life, poor guy,” Varner said of Williams. “Crap happens.”
City Council members said after an executive session that they did not push for Williams to resign.
“It was his decision to resign. We just accepted it,” said John Meisenbacher, council member.
The council decided to appoint Treasurer Bobbie Griffith as acting mayor and City Office Manager Jan Dolan will have authority to handle day-to-day city business.
The council must decide at its next meeting whether to appoint another mayor or to hold a special election, Slinkard said.
In the meantime, Williams said he isn’t leaving Centerton and plans to participate in volunteer activities.
“I love Centerton,” Williams said, his eyes tearing. “I don’t expect to turn around and hide.”
The Morning News’ Brandon Marcello contributed to this report.