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Treatment by Church May Have Been Shooting Motive

Crime: Rampage could have been spurred by '79 annulment process from '59 divorce, officials say. Man killed two monks.

June 13, 2002|From Associated Press

CONCEPTION, Mo. — The man who killed two monks and wounded two others at a Roman Catholic abbey was unhappy about how the church treated him after he divorced, officials said.

Investigators on Wednesday were pursing Lloyd Jeffress' bitterness toward the church as a potential motive in the shooting rampage Monday at Conception Abbey. Jeffress, 71, also killed himself.

Police planned to view Jeffress' annulment papers from 1979, 20 years after his divorce, to learn more about his complaints.

"We're hoping some documents from the church will shed some light on this," said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon of the highway patrol. "We don't know if we'll ever be able to say this is the motive, but it sure could be."

A source close to the investigation said Jeffress' daughter and brother said Jeffress was upset at the way he was treated by the church after the breakup of his five-year marriage with Della Steward.

The source did not elaborate about how the church might have mistreated Jeffress.

On Wednesday, monks sprinkled holy water on the basilica walls of the abbey, about 90 miles north of Kansas City, and held Mass before reopening to visitors.

Jeffress didn't speak as he walked the monastery halls, killing Brother Damian Larson, 64, and the Rev. Phillip Schuster, 85. Schuster had spent 51 years at the abbey; Larson had been there 32 years.

Larson, the first victim, pleaded for his life before he was shot, Abbot Gregory Polan said.

"He said 'No, no,' and [Jeffress] just plugged him" with the rifle, Polan said.

Two other monks were shot after they peeked out of an office to see what had happened. Jeffress then shot himself in the mouth with the Ruger .22-caliber rifle, Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey said.

The wounded monks remained hospitalized and were expected to recover.

Jeffress and Steward were married Nov. 24, 1954, according to the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records, and were granted a divorce May 11, 1959.

The Dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the couple were granted an annulment by the church in 1979. Details of the couple's relationship are kept private, spokeswoman Rebecca Summers said.

Lyon said Summers was cooperating with investigators, although he declined to elaborate.

A search of the diocese's database of membership turned up nothing on Jeffress, and none of its 100 parishes had indicated he was a member, Summers said. Jeffress converted to Catholicism after his marriage, Espey said.

Jeffress recently had been attending Methodist services at a church in Kearney, where he lived in a senior citizen complex. A woman who rented Jeffress an apartment in Excelsior Springs between 1993 and 1997 said he never spoke of Steward, their marriage or his feelings about the church.

"We assumed he had been married because he had a daughter," apartment manager Sue McDougan said

Police said Jeffress had served in the Army, but no other details were known because his personal records were among many destroyed in a fire.

Jeffress was born in Kansas City, Kan., and worked for a steel company and later the U.S. Postal Service, Lyon said.

A search of his apartment turned up nothing to suggest he was preoccupied with the Catholic Church, Espey said.

Investigators did find the antidepressant Prozac in the apartment, although they were not sure whether Jeffress was taking it. Toxicology tests could be complete in two weeks, Espey said.

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