SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — The ex-wife of a convicted arsonist who committed suicide after killing the prosecutor who sent him to prison 31 years ago says she was not surprised by the events because the man was a severe manic-depressive.
"I can't say I was shocked that he killed the district attorney," Frances Roe, 68, of San Rafael told the Marin Independent Journal in a copyrighted interview. "It was something I would have expected of him the way he was. This tragedy is merely a culmination of many, many other things that happened."
Malcolm Roland Schlette, 72, apparently plotted the death of former Marin County Dist. Atty. William O. Weissich and others responsible for his imprisonment for years before setting the plan into action on Tuesday.
Claims 'Monstrous Wrong'
Schlette said in documents protesting his innocence that a "monstrous wrong" had been done against him and his family when he was convicted in 1955 for setting fire to some beer crates at his ex-wife's tavern. He spent 20 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Schlette took his revenge for that perceived wrong by gunning down Weissich in his law office. Later, Schlette killed himself by swallowing an unidentified substance a few blocks away. Police found weapons, survival gear and handcuffs in his van. At his apartment, officers found a hit list naming four others he had planned to slay.
Roe said Schlette long had been capable of violence and acts of revenge when he was suffering the black throes of depression. On several occasions, he beat her and their children, she said.
Schlette spent a year in a mental hospital and was diagnosed as a manic-depressive after a night in 1951 when he awakened his wife and children, struck them, then called police and said, "If you don't lock me up, I'm going to have to have lawyers to defend me in a murder trial."
'Like Night and Day'
"He was like night and day," Roe said. "Sometimes he'd just sit for days and days staring at a wall. Or he'd be buried in a book. He'd be deeply, deeply depressed and you couldn't talk to him or get near him. Then other times, he'd be all jolly and happy and he'd say, 'Let's go here, or let's go there.' "
Schlette's mental problems predated the couple's wedding in 1939, Roe said.
She said that his mother, who was devoted to him, warned Schlette when he married Mrs. Roe not to mention that he had spent six months in a mental hospital two years before the wedding.
"She told him not to tell me about it or he'd lose me," she said. "I honestly have to say I probably wouldn't have married him if I had known."
Roe said she left Schlette several times during their 15-year marriage, but she and their two children always returned because they could not make it on their own.
No Place to Go
"In those days, there were no places for battered wives to go," she said. "You had to call the police. Police couldn't do anything without a warrant. What good is a father if he's stuck in jail? It's a dead end. We ran away many a time, but we always had to come back. There was nothing for us to do."
She said Schlette was "insanely jealous" of her, even after they were separated. He set the fire at her tavern because he saw her talking with a customer and assumed that they were lovers, she said.
Roe, who later remarried and worked at a car dealership here, said she saw Schlette occasionally over the years after his release from prison.
"He had threatened to shoot me once, but I wasn't afraid of him," she said. "I was very calm in his presence and I think he realized he made mistakes in the past."