KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ A long grudge against the Roman Catholic Church associated with his divorce could be a gunman’s motive in the fatal shooting rampage at Conception Abbey this week, authorities said Wednesday.
Lloyd Robert Jeffress, 71, of Kearney, Mo., shot four monks at the Benedictine monastery Monday morning, killing two and wounding two, before killing himself in the church basilica in rural Conception.
“According to his ex-wife, he was very, very upset” about the divorce and the church, said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “It seems to be a pretty plausible reason why he did this. It’s not 100 percent; there’s no note or anything. … This is the only area in his life where he was very mad, at the church and his ex-wife.”
Lyon said it could be early next week before authorities determine exactly what it was about the divorce and the church that so upset Jeffress.
“Maybe for whatever reason, this got stirred up again in his mind,” Lyon said.
Jeffress and his wife married in 1954 at Roanoke Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. She converted to Roman Catholicism in 1957, and the couple divorced in 1959, according to church records.
But Jeffress’ relationship with the church remains unclear.
His daughter told investigators that Jeffress had been raised a Roman Catholic but left the church at some point as an adult.
Records of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, however, show that Jeffress became a Catholic in 1977. Those records also show he had been baptized as a Methodist in 1953.
Jeffress initiated annulment proceedings against his ex-wife after joining the church, and the diocese granted the annulment in May 1979, said the Rev. Patrick Rush, vicar general of the Kansas City diocese.
“If there was a resentment, I don’t know if it was from going through that process,” Rush said Wednesday.
The Roman Catholic Church does not officially recognize divorce and remarriage. The annulment is an effort by the church to assess whether God was present when the marriage was celebrated and therefore whether the marriage is legitimate in the eyes of the church. Rush said the annulment process could be painful, but could also help with healing.
Typically, Catholics who obtain civil divorces and want to get married again in the church seek an annulment.
But Jeffress, a man estranged from his family and living with few belongings in a small apartment, never remarried.
Authorities say Jeffress’ ex-wife, whom they have not publicly identified, has been instrumental in helping them understand his possible motive. But no one yet knows why Jeffress took two rifles to Conception Abbey on Monday and opened fire.
“We’re still puzzled as to why he went there,” Lyon said.
Rush said that, while some monks at the monastery are canon lawyers, none of them were involved in Jeffress’ annulment process.
Jeffress killed Brother Damian Larson, 64, and the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85. He wounded the Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, and the Rev. Norbert Schappler, 73. Jeffress then killed himself in a rear pew of the basilica.
Both wounded monks remained hospitalized Wednesday. Reichert was listed in fair condition. Schappler had been moved from the intensive care unit and his condition was improving, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The Jackson County Medical Examiner has concluded the autopsies of Jeffress and the monks. Results are expected to be released later.
Authorities have said that Jeffress had a prescription for Prozac, an anti-depressant. The laboratory report that would indicate whether he was taking his medication at the time of the shooting was not yet available.
Possible motive emerges in shooting rampage at Missouri abbey
Knight Ridder/Tribune News
June 12, 2002