A St. Louis Judge Gave Walter Kemp Probation. Then He Killed Again

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Walter Kemp, shown in 2018 and 2004, has spent most of his life in prison. - ST. LOUIS JUSTICE CENTER/MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • ST. LOUIS JUSTICE CENTER/MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Walter Kemp, shown in 2018 and 2004, has spent most of his life in prison.

For decades, Walter David Kemp has hurt people.

The 64-year-old St. Louis man has spent more than half of his life in prison. His short interludes of freedom have often ended in nightmarish violence. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1978. In 1997, he held his 23-year-old neighbor against her will for eleven hours, sodomizing her seven times. She later sued the managers of their apartment complex for placing a man with his horrendous past across the hall from her — and accepted a $500,000 settlement.


Kemp, upon hearing from a Riverfront Times reporter in 2002 about the payment, joked, "She came out pretty good. You tell her she owes me."

Eric Davis, who lives in Sikeston, has learned about Kemp's twisted history during the past two weeks. Police say the career criminal killed Davis' 30-year-old daughter Haley on the morning of July 20 at her apartment in the 3200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.



"It's a death that should have never happened, because he should have never been on the streets," Davis says in a phone interview.

After the 1997 attack on his neighbor, Kemp was convicted of seven counts of forcible sodomy and sentenced to seventeen years in prison. Court records indicate he served all or nearly all of his time, but seventeen years was up in 2015. He soon returned to St. Louis.

In February 2017, St. Louis police arrested Kemp on charges that could have sent him back to prison for decades. Officers responding to a report of gunfire found Kemp alone in his Dutchtown apartment. During a search of the place, one of the officers found a Hi-Point 9mm handgun in the trash can, according to court records.

Kemp pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful use of a firearm and two counts possession of a controlled substance.

Any of the charges could have put him away again. St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer sentenced him in August to ten years on each of the drug possession and gun possession charges as well as another five for unlawful use of a weapon. But in a stroke of leniency that Davis simply cannot understand, the judge suspended Kemp's sentence in favor of probation.

Circuit Attorney spokeswoman Susan Ryan says prosecutors recommended a sentence of eight years in prison. Yet Kemp was allowed back on the streets. Less than a year after his August 2017 sentencing hearing, he allegedly killed Eric Davis' daughter.

Ohmer had previously sentenced a man to 60 years in prison on a gun possession charge because he didn't like the man's attitude, reversing the decision only after an attorney with the public defender's office challenged its legality. On Friday, the judge told the RFT that he doesn't remember Kemp's case and can't say much about the decision because he is still presiding over his probation.

He says he only learned that Kemp had been recently charged with murder after being contacted by RFT. The judge has now suspended his probation in the 2017 case and set a hearing for October. That is not likely to be much consolation to Davis.

"They released him to the streets," Davis says. "It ain't right."

Kemp's fatal July 20 encounter with Haley Davis began because he was searching for a man. Eric Davis says he heard Kemp stopped by the night before as well, and that his daughter and her roommate ran him off.

The man Kemp was after was apparently the father of Haley Davis' ex-boyfriend. Kemp claimed the guy had ripped him off, Eric Davis says. When the roommate left for work in the morning, Kemp returned with a handgun.

Eric Davis says his daughter again tried to chase away the older man.

"He turned around and shot her multiple times — a little 100-pound, unarmed girl," the father says.

Police say a witness, who knew Kemp as "Uncle Dave," confirmed there was a verbal argument and then the ex-con started shooting. Officers found the young mother dead on the sidewalk.

Detectives later reviewed video from a surveillance camera that showed Kemp had arrived in the area on a bicycle and then hurried away around the time of the shooting, court records say.

When police found Kemp later, his tattoos and limp helped link him to the surveillance footage. He admitted to killing Haley Davis, police say.

Haley Davis was killed July 20. - FACEBOOK
  • FACEBOOK
  • Haley Davis was killed July 20.

Eric Davis says his daughter had grown up in Sikeston and moved to St. Louis about six years ago.

"She was open-minded," he says. "She was happy, willing to help others more than herself, witty."

Father and daughter had argued in recent years. "I didn't approve of a lot of things and the lifestyle she was living," Davis says. He says he'll leave it at that, but he doesn't understand how Kemp was allowed to be anywhere near her or anyone else.

"He's been nothing but a criminal most of his life," Eric Davis says, adding, "I want to see him executed. He is a menace to society."

In the 1970s, Kemp was accused in a pair of murders and multiple robberies. He was acquitted of one of the killings but convicted in 1978 of second-degree murder for shooting a man with a shotgun two years before.

In 1990, after serving fourteen years of his 29-year sentence, he was arrested again on accusations he had kidnapped an eighteen-year-old woman and sexually assaulted her multiple times in a mobile home before she was able to escape out a window, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported at the time.

The case enraged law enforcement officials, who even then complained that Kemp was too dangerous to be paroled.

"He should never have gotten out," Buzz Westfall, who was then St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, told the newspaper at the time. "Now we have another victim on our hands."

Kemp was eventually acquitted in that case. Reporter Jeannette Batz Cooperman later wrote in a 2002 RFT story that jurors apparently thought the young woman was afraid of getting in trouble with her parents.

It was a remarkably similar case to Kemp's later attack, in 1998, of the young neighbor who eventually sued the apartment complex. Cooperman, who wrote a terrifying account of the 1998 sexual assault, reported that Kemp bragged to her during a phone interview that he was responsible for two more killings inside prison. He was convicted of forcible sodomy in that case.

He is now being held in the St. Louis City Justice Center without bail.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

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