Victim advocate remembered as 'ambitious and enthusiastic'

Friday, July 23, 2010
Bettie Knoll Submitted by Cape Girardeau Police Department.

In the late 1980s and in to the 1990s, other Missouri counties were looking to Southeast Missouri and what area law enforcement officials were doing to support victims of violent crime.

They were looking to the area for guidance because of Bettie Knoll, a woman who was passionate about keeping her community safe and advocating for victims of crime unsure of their rights.

Knoll, 77, who died last week in Springfield, Mo., helped start up Cape Girardeau's Neighborhood Watch Program and a local chapter of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Knoll was also a well-known victim advocate employed by the Cape Girardeau Police Department from 1986 to 2001.

"She took everything, especially the victims and their trauma, very personally," said Cape Girardeau police chief Carl Kinnison, who first met Knoll in 1983 when they began working with the Neighborhood Watch Program together.

"She was just so ambitious and enthusiastic. She went door to door to generate support for the Neighborhood Watch Program."

Knoll was so passionate about keeping rape, domestic violence or other crime victims safe, she often gave them shelter at her own home. Knoll also accompanied many victims to court hearings to offer protection or to educate them on what the outcome of a hearing meant for victims and their families.

When Loretta Wilson of Oak Ridge lost her daughter in November 1988, Knoll was one of the first kind, helpful voices she heard. Less than 24 hours after their daughter was killed by a drunken driver, Knoll called Wilson and assured her family immediately that she would be available for anything they would need.

"She convinced me after 15 minutes she'd be a dear friend of ours. That's where our friendship started," Wilson said.

Until Wilson and Knoll met later in 1989 at a court hearing, the two communicated only over the telephone, where Knoll would inform the victim's family on new developments in the court case against the drunken driver. Knoll would help Wilson complete important paperwork in the case and be a person the Wilson family could count on when they were feeling down.

"After you talk to Bettie just a few times you knew her," Wilson said. "Even though she was on the phone, it was like she was holding her arms around you."

With Wilson, Kinnison and Safe Communities Program director Sharee Galnore, Knoll founded the Cape Girardeau chapter of MADD in 1992. Bud Balke, director of court monitoring for MADD, said that's when he met Knoll, who at the time was with the Missouri Victim Assistance Network and the lone contact regarding victim advocacy in Southeast Missouri.

Aside from attending various MADD meetings together, Balke was in contact with Knoll often, as he was the state director for victim's services at the time.

"She was the go-to person for the Southeast Missouri area," he said. "I think she was one of the finest victim advocates. She took nothing from no one, but she was still fair at all times. She could've made a great judge."

Balke added that in the 1990s Knoll was the recipient of numerous awards, including Missouri Victim Advocate of the Year, MADD Volunteer of the Year and multiple awards from MOVA.

"She was also recognized by a number of organizations outside the realm of the Cape area," Balke said. "She was a great person, but was a really great advocate."

Although Knoll was persuasive and could get almost anyone to help her with a new idea she had, Galnore said she was also always willing to assist others in their endeavors. Galnore, who with the Safe Communities Program educates the public on traffic safety issues, would brainstorm with Knoll often about new ideas.

"She always wanted to be a good co-worker and a good friends. She was always happiest when she was working here at the department," Galnore said.

"And helping someone with a crisis," Kinnison added.

Knoll's face became recognizable in the months following the flood in 1993, as she waded door to door offering assistance to anyone in need.

Balke said he remembers Knoll forming a group to rescue pets affected by the flood.

"She didn't ever want something for herself, she wanted for somebody else," said Wilson, contemplating how Knoll would want to be remembered. "She loved helping people."

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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