Family members express outrage in highly emotional impact statements at Taylor’s sentencing hearing on Monday

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 3/27/24

FRANKLIN COUNTY   —   Warren M. Taylor of Chamois, 65, who pleaded guilty on March 6 to the July 2021 murder of Chamois residents Leonard and Pauline Gerloff, was sentenced to life in …

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Family members express outrage in highly emotional impact statements at Taylor’s sentencing hearing on Monday


FRANKLIN COUNTY    Warren M. Taylor of Chamois, 65, who pleaded guilty on March 6 to the July 2021 murder of Chamois residents Leonard and Pauline Gerloff, was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Ryan Helfrich on two counts of second-degree murder during Monday’s hearing in Franklin County.

Family members and friends nearly filled the courtroom in a show of solidarity, with five immediate family members providing victim impact statements. Though every speaker faced Taylor at some point during their statement, he looked straight ahead and showed no emotion, a stark contrast to the emotionally charged comments.

Leonard’s eldest sister, Deborah Hunter, thanked everyone for being there to witness justice for Leonard and Pauline Gerloff before addressing Taylor. “Warren, I can’t imagine what it was like to look Leonard and Pauline in the face and shoot them — people you once called friends,” she said. “I wish you could feel, but we feel the love, the hurt, the sadness, how much smaller our families are. I know you can’t because you never had a family like ours. Where’s your family today? Where’s your fiancé? We know where your friends are; you killed them. You did have one thing right, Warren. You don’t have any friends.”

Tammy Baker, another of Leonard’s sisters, implored the court to never let Taylor out of prison. “What gave you the right to take a son away from a mother, a mother away from her children, grandparents away from their grandchildren?” Baker asked. “They had brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, so many family and friends that loved them. And because of you, they will never see them again. You didn’t just kill them; you killed a piece of all of us. There’s a hole in our hearts that we will never get back, that will never heal. I am broken, and that is something that will never go away.”

Baker added tearfully that she thinks of Leonard and Pauline first thing in the morning after waking up, and they are in her last thoughts when she goes to bed at night.

“My poor mother is going through something a mother should never have to go through,” Baker continued. “She wanted to come today and speak, but she said it feels like reliving their funeral all over again. She breaks down and says, ‘I just can’t do it.’ This is something that none of us should have to be here doing because it should have never happened to them. She wants to know why you did it, and I think she has the right to know, but you will never tell anyone because you’re a coward.

“Please don’t ever let him out of prison,” Baker added. “Why should he ever get out? My brother and sister-in-law don’t get to come back and have more time with us. Why should he? This shouldn’t even be an option. He killed two people. I don’t understand how somebody admits to killing two people, and we reward them for that. What’s to say he wouldn’t do it again? My loved ones are worth more than that. Please, I beg you to let him rot in prison.”

Cindy Kuhn told Judge Helfrich that her sister, Pauline, was her best friend and expressed outrage at her family’s loss. “She was a part of me,” Kuhn added, struggling to speak as emotions took their toll. “There are days I don’t know how to breathe without her. She taught me my first song, taught me how to pray, and taught me how to love.”

Cindy was joined by her son, Lucas, who stood at her side to offer support. “When I needed anything, she was there. She was there before I even knew I needed her,” Kuhn continued. “She was my kids’ second mother. You took that from them! She was there when my husband (Alan) was sick. She sat by his side when I couldn’t be there. She was selfless to everyone. She loved her kids and grandkids more than she loved anything else in the world. Not only that, Pauline was a nurse to the core and down to her bones. She was the best nurse I’ve ever known and helped shape me into the nurse I am today.

“Just over a week before you selfishly took her life, she passed her boards and became an RN after working tirelessly to earn that degree,” Kuhn continued. “She had been an LPN for too many years to count, and she wanted more. She had dreams to do big things and make the world a better place for her patients. We worked together, side by side, almost every day, and every day, I felt happy and proud of the work we did. We served those who were the forgotten, the unwanted, the criminals. But you see, Pauline taught me that’s not how you see patients. You see each one as worthy and valuable and in need of the same care you would give to your loved ones. And that is the nurse she was and the nurse she taught me to be. And you took that from this world, not just from me, not just from our family. But you took that nurse from people who received the care and respect they deserved and that many others may not have shown them. And they will remember her and the dreams she had. Her work had already begun.”

Because of her work, she was honored with “The Pauline Gerloff RN Memorial Clinic,” named after her. “It will stand as a testament to who she was, and you will never be able to take that away,” said Kuhn. “The magnitude of her death reaches far beyond those in this courtroom and our community, and the effects of losing her will never go away, ever. And Leonard — his personality and laugh were infectious. Even when he was driving you crazy, all he had to do was laugh, and you couldn’t help but laugh with him. He loved big. He also thought of my kids as his own. When his little ‘Lukie’ got sick while stationed in Idaho, and we initially didn’t know what was going on, Leonard cried. When we mushroom-hunted every year together, he would always say, ‘Come over here with me,’ and make sure I found the first one. He would do anything for you. He was my brother, and I loved him. Warren Taylor, you are evil. You don’t deserve this sentence. You deserve so much more. But, the only way I can lay my head on my pillow at night is knowing that Pauline and Leonard are dancing and partying in the glorious streets of Heaven with the loved ones who have gone before us while you, sir, will be staring at four concrete walls, and waiting for your time to burn in the fiery depths of hell where you belong.”

Leonard and Pauline’s daughter-in-law, Sabrina Starke, flanked by her sister, Amanda Carter, told the court and Taylor how difficult life has been since the slayings. “Pauline was my mother-in-law, my husband’s mom, and my three children’s Ma-Maw,” said Starke. “She was one of our biggest supporters. She was the first to tell my kids, who are now 10, and the twins are 7, and my husband and I, how proud of us she was, how much she loved us and how much she couldn’t wait to see us the next time.”

It’s been almost three years since Starke and her family heard them say that, and Starke said it hurts. “The room lit up when she walked in,” Starke said. “My kids would scream her name and take off running toward her with excitement. This doesn’t happen anymore. She raised her son, my husband, to be a hard-working, loving man. He is a strong person because of her. She’s one of the main reasons I pursued my degree in nursing. She pushed me to continue and to stay strong. She saw potential in me I never thought I had. She wasn’t just my mother-in-law; she was one of my best friends. She helped us in more ways than one. She would help anyone she could, always with a smile and never judged. We don’t get that anymore.

“You know what else was worth our time? Leonard,” Starke continued. “Leonard was my father-in-law, my husband’s stepdad, and my 3 young children’s Pa. The best seat in the house was his lap, as far as my 7-year-old daughter was concerned. He would help us in more ways than one. Lenny would be the first person we would call if we needed help with anything. I would call him if I was scared and needed someone to come watch the house. He loved us like we were his own and would always let us know just how important we were to him. He was our protector. Leonard was our hunting buddy, our fishing partner, our go-to man for just about anything. We don’t have that anymore — because of you!”

Neither Leonard nor Pauline would leave without hugs and kisses. Starke recounted how she, her husband, and her kids would say they loved Leonard and Pauline, and the response was, “I love you more.”

“On July 23, 2021, you stole that from us,” she continued. “I wanted to let you know what you took from us. I also wanted to say I’m appalled that my family and I ever considered you a friend. You are not a friend. You are not a person. You’re fake; you’re a coward; you’re a nobody, but you already knew that. But what you don’t know is that you may have taken their lives, but you will never take their memories, the love they had for us, or the love we feel for them. We cannot wait until the day you rot in hell. My only disappointment is I won’t be there to watch!”

Starke told Judge Helfrich that the negative impact Taylor’s actions had on her family is something no one should have to experience, including significant psychological damage. “My children have been diagnosed with childhood depression, PTSD, and fearful ODD,” said Starke, noting her children take medication to help them sleep at night and medication to help them focus and have a better mindset of their lives during the day. “I have to medicate my children so they can function. Do you know how hard that is as a parent to have to watch? Their thoughts race. They see things that aren’t really there. They wake up scared and sad, thinking that bad things are going to happen to them. They think everyone they see is a bad person. We trust no one! My children have separation anxiety and are constantly making sure my husband or myself is going to be around.”

Starke added that her children now need to see a counselor to help them though their thought processes. “My daughter was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder,” Starke said. “Before she was on medication and attending counseling, she would black out, go into fits of rage, and literally hurt her teachers and peers. She was also a threat to herself. She would bang her head on the concrete floors, screaming out with no recollection of what events just took place. Sometimes, these fits would last over an hour!”

At the same time, her husband continues to struggle with the reality of the situation.

“My husband’s heart is not the same. He is different; he is angry and scared, and he can’t sit still,” she said. “He keeps himself busy, with zero relaxation time so his mind does not travel back in time to that day he had to see his mother and stepfather for the last time. He has to keep his mind on everything else just to be attentive as a father and as a husband. He does not enjoy the things he used to. Why? Because the things he used to enjoy we all did as a family, and two of our family members are gone! Everything he does reminds him of them! I have had night sweats, nightmares, and fears that I have never had before. I’m afraid to do anything by myself. I won’t even leave my kids for more than a day or two for fear of it being the last time I get to see them. I quit a job that I love because it reminds me of Pauline, and it was too painful to be there without her. I haven’t been arrowhead hunting in over two years, because Lenny isn’t there with us. We are slowly getting back to normal because we are strong. We have support, but we have missed out because of this thing sitting before us and his cowardice ways. Rot in hell!”

Leonard’s sister, Dorothy (Dottie) McCubbin, placed a photo of the couple on a podium in front of Taylor before telling him how she felt. “Warren Taylor was the last person they saw before being so brutally and cowardly murdered,” she said. “Warren decided to enter their property where a person should feel the safest. He caught them off guard and murdered them in cold blood. And for what? Then, like a thief and coward in the night, you ran and thought no one would ever know. Hmm. How’d that work out for you? As you sit there today before us all, I wonder how you in any way could explain how your life would be better by killing two people who were loved by so many. I don’t pretend that I can even think of any reason you could have had in your demented and pathetic thought process except thinking you would never be caught.

“Leonard and Pauline are gone forever,” McCubbin continued. “They are not suffering, but look around this room. It is filled with friends and loved ones whose lives you forever altered. We suffer the loss each and every day. This is just a fraction of the people who loved and cared for them. They had befriended you and your late wife Margaret at one time. What happened to you? You decided to dance with the devil and you lost. Murdering Leonard and Pauline hasn’t hurt them, but it has caused such pain and suffering to everyone who ever loved and cared for them. You took a son from his mother. You took a mother from her children. You took a brother and sister from their siblings. You took grandparents from their grandchildren. You took two beautiful souls from their brothers and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Family gatherings and gatherings of friends will never be the same. There is a hole in emptiness that can never be replaced. So one thing you haven’t taken and will never have yourself is a strong, loving family connection. At the end of this, we get to leave this courtroom and smell the fresh air of freedom. We get to move forward with one another. We get choices about day-to-day living and how we want to honor Leonard and Pauline. We also get to finally have some relief of knowing you are exactly where you deserve to be — alone and locked up like the caged animal you chose to become.

“I respectfully ask the court to consider how Warren Taylor’s actions have inflicted such great pain and suffering on everyone who loved Leonard and Pauline so much,” McCubbin said to Judge Helfrich. “His actions have sentenced us all to life. Our life sentence means until we take our very last breath here on Earth, we won’t be able to forget in 10 years, 15 years, or 30 years. We have all received a life sentence for missing them and trying to move forward the best that we can.

“This nightmare has been so difficult, and my mother was emotionally and physically unable to attend court today,” she continued. “The thought of even having to look at the man who murdered Leonard and Pauline was just too much. My mother was widowed at 52; she is now 86. She was a stay-at-home mom, raised seven children, and took care of many others throughout her life. Life was not always easy, but she was a constant in all our lives. She never wanted for material things and has always been grateful for everything, especially her children and family. The one thing I can tell you is that we are a family of 60-plus. While our family is big in number, she was alone much of the time, which can leave a lot of time for thinking. The one thing she always said was how she thanked God every day — every single day — for her family. She was rich beyond any material thing because her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids were happy, healthy, and loving together with her. She had never lost one family member to a tragic death or illness until Leonard and Pauline were taken from her. Mom has never caused any harm or personal suffering to anyone like Warren Taylor has caused for her family — for her and our family. I respectfully ask the court to take into consideration everything that has been presented and impose the maximum sentence possible within the guidelines of the law. All we can do is pray that Warren spends his entire life behind bars as a convicted murderer. It won’t bring our loved ones back, but it will give us great comfort in knowing they did not die in vain. Warren Taylor, I do not know how my life or yours will unfold during the rest of our time here on Earth, but I can promise you this. If you become eligible for probation and parole, I, along with many other family members and loved ones, will show up at every hearing, and speak on behalf of Leonard and Pauline, who cannot speak for themselves. We will do everything in our power to prevent you from ever leaving prison.  Then, at the end of each day, as I thank God for all that I have been blessed with, I will also ask for forgiveness for not being able to forgive you.”

Two additional written statements were provided to the court, which were not read aloud.

With that, Judge Helfrich addressed Taylor. “Mr. Taylor, in this matter, based upon your plea of guilty and this court’s finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as to count one charge of murder in the second degree as contained in the state’s amended information, I sentence you to a term of life in prison,” he said. “As to count three as delineated in the state’s first amended information on a charge of murder in the second degree, the court sentences you to a term of imprisonment for life. Those sentences will run concurrently.”

Prosecuting Attorney Amanda Grellner explained she dropped two counts of armed criminal action as part of the plea agreement.

Judge Helfrich also advised Taylor of certain post-conviction rights he has under Missouri Supreme Court rule 24.035.

Taylor has 180 days to file a motion with the court to raise any concerns he may have about the way his case was handled.

“Sir, under that rule, if you believe that we have done something wrong, and by we, I mean myself, anyone from the state, anyone involved in your case — if you believe that we have done something wrong, illegal, improper, or unconstitutional during the handling of your case, or if you believe or feel that you have received ineffective assistance of counsel, you have the right to file a motion with the court,” Judge Helfrich said. “Mr. Taylor, if you decide to file that motion, he needs to include in your motion when you’re writing all of the reasons or the grounds where you believe that a mistake or an error, as I described earlier, was made, anything that you leave out is going to be deemed waived or given up.”

Finally, should Taylor file a motion and does not have an attorney, Judge Helfrich said the court would appoint counsel. A hearing to resolve any complaints would be scheduled as soon as possible, the judge added.

After confirming that Taylor understood his rights moving forward, Judge Helfrich asked if he wished to make a statement, to which the convicted double-murderer replied, “No, sir.”

Taylor was then remanded to the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) and escorted from the courtroom. The court did not name the facility to which Taylor may spend the rest of his life.

Grellner explained to the family after Taylor was taken away that even if he files a motion, it’s not a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

While Taylor may be eligible for probation at some point, it’s not clear when that might be due to how the DOC calculates sentences by statute.

“I contacted the DOC and talked to them a number of times to go through the charges and the expected sentence with them,” said Grellner. “Understand that under state statute, his age is a factor. Once a defendant turns 70, the calculation as far as the first eligibility for parole changes. So, as much as they want to try to control what happens on that end, once someone is sentenced, those calculations occur. But again, those calculations are only his first eligibility for a hearing. That’s not a sure-release at all. The family will be given an opportunity to speak at that time to the court.”

Grellner added that she was pleased with the outcome. “What pleases me the most is that it was a decision the family made and that this closes at least this chapter,” she told the UD. “Nothing will change, that they’ve lost their loved ones or that grief, but this at least closes that chapter for them.”

She also expressed appreciation for the family’s dedication throughout the case, which took nearly three years to resolve. “The cooperation we received from them helped us through the process, and they’re wonderful people,” said Grellner. “I wish there were a way to fix this in a way that healed their hearts, but unfortunately, that’s not something the system can do.”

A poem written by Sabrina Starke appears with this week’s story.