November 6, 2023 | By: Clint Davenport
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.
Travis Kinsley always taught his kids to be strong and to always help others.
It was the way he lived his own life, a life in which everyone was drawn to him, Susan Kinsley, his daughter, said. No matter where they went or what they did, everyone just seemed to end up around him.
He loved adventures and saw every day as a new opportunity for learning, she said. “I called him Clark Griswold because he was all about teaching us things,” Susan said. “We’d go see the Largest Ball of Twine and old historical sites in Arizona. It would be fun, but he would always be teaching us something.”
Kinsley’s teaching was cut short in 1998 when he was found beaten to death in a McDonald’s parking lot.
As a proud Native American, Kinsley dedicated his life to advocating for Native American and minority causes. During his time as a student at Dartmouth College, Kinsley was part of a group that successfully removed Native American imagery from the school’s athletic department.
“Being a Native American and recognizing and honoring that heritage was a huge part of who my dad was,” his daughter said. “Even though he didn’t live on the reservation anymore, he never forgot where he came from and what he wanted to do.”
After Travis’s divorce from his first wife, Travis returned home to Arizona where he worked at the Phoenix Indian School before moving to Oregon and working at Chemawa Indian School. Here he met Sherry, the mother of his two eldest children, Susan and her brother. Travis and Sherry remained on friendly terms and routinely called to chat about the day or if something was happening in their lives. They remained close friends even after separation, their two children split time visiting with both parents.
Travis eventually moved from Oregon to Oakland, California. While living in the Bay Area, Travis was very active in the Native American Community working for various agencies such as the Indian Child Resource Center and the Intertribal Friendship House. He eventually became a public servant for the City of Oakland for many years. Travis then met Susan, the mother of his youngest daughter. Travis was a loving and caring father to all his children.
“He worked with the cultural arts programs in [Oakland] and would always take us to fun things,” Susan said. “My favorites were going to see the Nutcracker every year and attending the big Stanford gala.”
One morning, those adventures ended abruptly.
Early one March morning in 1998, a McDonald’s worker in Oakland, California was taking out the trash when he found Travis Kinsley beaten, bloody, and barely conscious. To this day, Oakland police still have no leads. Travis was rushed to a local hospital and placed on life support.
Susan, who was 18 at the time, was living in Salem, Ore. She and her brother quickly made plans to fly down to Oakland to see him for one last time.
“When I walked into the hospital, I knew,” Susan said. “We made the decision to cut the machines off. That’s something you’re never prepared for, especially at 18 years old.”
According to her, each family member took the loss in their own way. She said that it was like the unthinkable had happened. “I remember my eldest brother being completely beside himself,” she said. “The last time he and Dad talked, they had an argument about something silly. I know he took it harder than the rest of us.”
Over two and a half decades later, Susan has a family and kids of her own. Even though decades have passed, and the outside world has moved on, she says her fight will never end.
“I want to be able to release that and set him free, but I feel like we can’t until our family has gotten that closure.”
If you have any information on this case, please call the Oakland Police Department Homicide Unit at (510) 238-7950.
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