Investigators say Abbey gunman's motive might stay mystery

Thursday, June 20, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Investigators might never know why an elderly Missouri man went on a deadly shooting spree at a Roman Catholic abbey and then killed himself, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Wednesday.

"Short of someone coming forward with information we don't have, we don't really have any more sources to evaluate or check at this time," Sgt. David Merrill said.

Initially, investigators focused on lingering bitterness from Lloyd Robert Jeffress' 1959 divorce -- and an annulment granted by the church 20 years later -- as a possible motive for Jeffress' rampage on the morning of June 10 at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri.

Jeffress, 71, shot and killed two monks -- the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85, and Brother Damian Larson, 62 -- and wounded two others before killing himself in the abbey's Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

While the church has made no public comment on the annulment, Merrill said a review of records and interviews with Jeffress' neighbors and family members turned up nothing.

Jeffress had been estranged from his family for years, investigators said.

Neighbors at his apartment complex in Kearney, about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City, said he rarely spoke to them.

A search of Jeffress' apartment turned up a prescription for the anti-depressant drug Prozac, but investigators did not know whether Jeffress had been taking it.

Report next week

The Jackson County Medical Examiner's office said Wednesday that a final toxicology report likely will not be available until next week.

Jeffress and his wife, Della Lee Jeffress, were married in 1954.

A copy of their divorce decree, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, lists her as the plaintiff.

The court also awarded Della Jeffress custody of the couple's daughter, with visitation rights for four hours each Sunday for Jeffress.

He was also ordered to pay $80 a month in child support.

Della Jeffress' attorney, former state Sen. Henry Panethiere, said Wednesday he did not even remember the divorce case.

"That's 40-some years ago," said Panethiere, now retired and living in Kansas City. "I don't remember him at all."

Attempts to locate Jeffress' attorney in the case, Harry Ellis, were unsuccessful.

Residents of the abbey were already resigned to never knowing the reason for Jeffress' rampage, spokesman Dan Madden said.

"It's only human nature that we would like to know, but even if we knew, I don't know if it would make it any less senseless," Madden said. "I think everybody's moved past expecting to find out."

The injured monks, the Rev. Norbert Schappler and the Rev. Kenneth Reichert, remain hospitalized in fair condition.

It could be two weeks before they return to the abbey, Madden said.

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