Violence, Drugs and Guns
The Terrifying Story of an Online Romance
Violence, drugs, and guns. These were the silent passengers riding along with thirty-nine-year-old James Larson, Jr. when he picked up thirty-year-old Preacious Brower in Kansas City, Missouri. Only she didn't know it. All Preacious knew was that the man she had met online through Facebook Dating a couple of days before had seemed "pretty cool." She looked forward to getting to know him as they drove the forty-five minutes to his father's house at Lake Arrowhead.
It was Thursday, May 12, 2022.
By Friday, May 13, she thought he might kill her. Preacious thought maybe it was all the drugs he was using. Out of the blue, he punched her. He kicked her with his steel-toed boots. He hit her in the head with an ice pick and cut her with a bowie knife. He cut her hair and took away her dentures and glasses. James Larson, Jr. had turned into a monster.
The more drugs he did, the worse he became. He wouldn't let Preacious leave. Larson refused to let her use the bathroom or give her anything to eat or drink. He made her clean up her own blood. She said he gave her a drink that "tasted like medicine." He threatened to slit her throat if she called the police. She was terrified to stay and scared to try to leave.
After two days, on March 14, she managed to escape after Larson fell asleep. She ran to a neighbor's house who, horrified by her injuries, immediately called 911. Preacious was taken to the hospital while law enforcement went next door to deal with Larson, Jr. But the person they met was his father.
A Father's Tale
James Larson, Sr. said that his son had been staying with him for about a week and a half. Junior had been released from an Oklahoma prison in March 2022, where he had spent most of the last eight years. He gradually made his way north to Lake Arrowhead. He planned to stay in a camper he owned on some nearby property, but it burned to the ground shortly after he arrived. So Junior went to Dad's.
Senior said that he thought his son was a "changed man" and had no problem letting him crash at his place. This hope, he said, lasted for about a week. He and his nephew, Donny Larson (who was also staying there), had met Preacious Brower on the morning of Friday, May 13. We don't know what condition Preacious was in at this time; I suspect Senior had already seen some bad things happening. But, since he and Donny left the house around 3:00 p.m. to visit a relative - leaving Brower alone with his son and failing to call the police - this might be hard to admit.
But Senior made no bones about what was going on when he returned around 8:00 p.m. to find the inside of his house trashed and Preacious Brower on the floor in a fetal position, sweating on the bedroom floor. She appeared to be badly injured. "I don't know if he was blacked out or drunk, I don't know what kind of chemicals he was taking or injecting. I just know it was not him. And it just got sideways after that." The nephew left because he was afraid of what Junior might do.
Senior said he tried his best to help the woman escape, but his son found a shotgun hidden in the house. "He cocked it, went into the kitchen and said he was going to shoot her, then going to shoot himself," Larson Sr. said. "I pleaded for him to stop for 15 or 20 minutes. I begged him."
Larson eventually handed over the gun, which his father hid in the garage, and locked the door behind him. He stayed in the garage for several hours. From his phone, which connected to a camera inside his house, he watched his son go on a rampage, "smashing holes in the wall, smacking things around, screaming." Senior said that once when things died down, he went back inside to try to find keys to help the woman escape. But he had no luck.
Still, at no point did Senior call the police. Based on statements he made later, it seems clear that he was afraid that the police would shoot his son or that his son might commit suicide. He has faced considerable criticism for this and, in my opinion, rightfully so. I understand a parent's desire to protect a child but leaving a seriously injured woman alone for several hours with a drug-crazed man who has already injured her?
Senior's fears are no excuse, but they were valid. When police showed up, Junior refused to surrender. A five-hour standoff started that eventually involved:
An armored personnel carrier.
Multiple squad cars.
A police dog.
Tactical officers from several local law enforcement agencies.
The police dog turned out to be the day's hero when he located Junior hiding in the house behind a fake wall.
After all these years as a forensic psychologist, you would think that I am no longer surprised when an offender denies a crime in the face of overwhelming, indisputable evidence. But – I confess – I still get ambushed. For instance, in this case, James Larson Jr's father witnessed his son beating Preacious Brower. So did the nephew. The neighbors not only saw the victim's injuries but saw how petrified she was when she pounded on their door. Detectives and hospital personnel saw cuts and bruises all over her face and body, and doctors later diagnosed her with a brain bleed and swelling. The hospital initially listed her in critical condition.
But James Larson, Jr. denied it all. He said he "never laid a hand on her or kicked her in any way." He denied ever touching a gun at his dad's house. Now that he thought about it, he said, she did have a lump on her neck, but it was already here when the two met; he thinks it happened when someone she was previously staying with "pistol-whipped" her.
Due Process and Common Sense
James Larson, Jr. has not been convicted of this crime, so let's not forget that, from a legal standpoint, he is innocent until proven guilty. Yes, we've already discussed some interviews that suggest otherwise. Now let's consider James Larson, Jr.'s criminal history.
It will come as a surprise to no one that he has an extensive rap sheet. His past charges range from battery and assault to gun and drug possession. Two of these assaults were on a police officer.
On May 6, 2022 - less than a week before he picked up Preacious Brower - Junior was picked up at a gas station a few miles south of Lake Arrowhead after a clerk noticed two guys sitting in their car outside for half an hour, right before closing time and acting suspiciously. One guy was wearing a gaiter he kept pulling over his mouth, and another was wearing a black leather trench coat despite the heat.
Concerned about a potential robbery, the savvy clerk called the police, who responded and started asking questions. They found out that Larson Jr. (the black trench coat wearer) had an outstanding warrant in Clinton County. They also found a gram of cocaine and meth in the car. Larson, Jr. and his colleague were taken into custody and charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use.
Three days later, Junior was out, despite his violent criminal history and the outstanding warrant. He didn't even have to post bail. He was released on his own recognizance.
I don't think that will happen again any time soon. James Larson, Jr. faces charges including first-degree domestic assault, kidnapping, armed criminal action, and unlawful possession of a concealable firearm. He could spend quite a few years behind bars if found guilty, especially given his previous convictions. If he was on parole when these events unfolded, this would also work against him. As it should.
Different Kinds of Healing
Physically, Preacious Brower is okay. She is out of the hospital. Her physical injuries have almost healed. Her head injury does not appear to have caused any permanent damage.
Mentally, though, she has some new scars. She's scared to date or even meet anyone - online or in person. Like too many victims, she blames herself for what happened. "I can't even look at myself in the mirror or want to go out in public because I screwed up.”
In a perfect world, the man she met online would have been exactly who he pretended to be. Preacious says she hopes anyone who hears about what happened will take precautions – meet in public places, do a little online investigating, take it slowly – when using online dating apps. Trusting someone isn't "screwing up;' it's just risky – and the less you know that person and the more vulnerable the situation you're in, the riskier it is.
What happened to Preacious Brower was 0% her fault. But it's still a cautionary tale about the perils of online dating and the need to protect ourselves until we've had the time to see – not hear – the way a person truly is. Words can lie. Actions don't.
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