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Peaceful man met a violent end

Ken Kinzel's death in Nicaragua stuns his family, friends.

Published May 31, 2007


To friends and family in St. Petersburg, Ken Kinzel was a married, peace-loving, justice-seeking Quaker.

In Nicaragua, he's known for having an affair with a pregnant 17-year-old girl who has confessed to shooting him twice and sawing him into four parts.

The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua isn't saying much about what went wrong. The police there are saying even less. And those who knew him here aren't sure what to say.

Marty Jo Johnson, his wife, doesn't know how this happened, or why.

"I'm trying to piece that together myself," she said Wednesday.

"I think I might have more questions than answers," friend Barry Knobloch said.

"This was not the Ken we knew and loved," said Kim Wells, the pastor at the Lakewood United Church of Christ, where Kinzel was active in the last few years he lived here. "The Ken Kinzel I knew would not have been involved with a teenager."

Kinzel, 52, was shy, gentle, smart, sensitive, good-hearted and well-read, they said. He was a photographer and a terrific cook and a freelance graphic designer. He spent time with groups of friends at the Garden restaurant on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue.

Last summer, Kinzel moved to Nicaragua to start a farm and build some cabins in a country he loved. He disappeared May 18.

"Ken was a good man and wasn't out to hurt anybody," said Martha Pihaylic, a member of the St. Pete Quaker Meeting. "He went to Nicaragua with good intentions."

He first got involved with the Central American country in 1999 as the stateside coordinator of ProNica, a nonprofit Quaker organization with an office in St. Petersburg that promotes peace and provides assistance to the people of Nicaragua. He served in that role until 2004.

"Something about the work in Nicaragua spoke to him," said Lillian Hall, ProNica's coordinator in Managua.

He and Johnson were married in 2003 in Nicaragua in a ceremony in a small chapel in a working-class neighborhood.

Back here, he grew increasingly frustrated with the direction of the country -- the politics, the president, the war in Iraq, "the whole consumerist society in the United States," said Wells, the pastor.

"He didn't want to be a part of all that militarism, all that patriotic fervor," Hall said Wednesday from Nicaragua.

Kinzel said so in his blog posts on

In Nicaragua, though, he saw opportunities for ecotourism and modest, sustainable farming and a simpler life, so he started preparing to move there permanently. His mother had died in 2002, and he sold her house early last summer for $223,400, according to property records, and moved to Nicaragua in August. His wife eventually was going to join him.

Kinzel bought some land for his farm in Miraflor, a mostly undeveloped area about an hour northeast of Esteli, where he was killed. The area, in the north part of the country, is known for its waterfalls, coffee plantations and cloud forests.

He also bought a used green pickup.

That made him a target, said Hall and others. People there saw he had some money. He also didn't speak much Spanish. The 17-year-old girl, they said, was introduced to him in December as a 21-year-old possible Spanish tutor.

Hall knew about Kinzel's relationship with the girl, and so did Johnson, who said Monday they had discussed divorce but had resolved to make it work. Both of them also said Kinzel was trying to end the relationship.

It is unclear who fathered the unborn child. Hall and Johnson insist Kinzel met the girl, who is eight months pregnant, in December, so he could not be the father.

The Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario reported that Kinzel recently turned off all the phones at his house because the girl and her friends were running up bills.

Johnson said she got a text message from him just before 4 a.m. the night he was killed:

"I still love you."

The girl told authorities she kept his body in the house for four days before using the saw and putting his body parts in nylon bags and burying them with help from her friends. One local landowner saw them, according to El Nuevo Diario, and asked them what they were doing. The girl and her friends told him they were burying a dead dog.

Times staff writer David Adams and researcher Lea Iadarola contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at

[Last modified May 30, 2007, 23:37:27]

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