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Missouri Auditor Schweich dies from self-inflicted gunshot wound

Tom Schweich is sworn in for his second term as state auditor in January.
Tim Bommel, House Communications
Tom Schweich is sworn in for his second term as state auditor in January.

(Updated 5:10 p.m.)

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich has died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, shocking the state’s political world and throwing turmoil into the state’s 2016 contest for governor.

"It is with great sadness that I confirm the passing of Missouri state Auditor Tom Schweich today," wrote Spence Jackson, the auditor's spokesperson. "Please keep in mind his wife, Kathy, and two children."

The announcement followed statements this morning that Schweich was at Barnes-Jewish hospital after what his office described as “a medical situation at his home this morning.” Schweich lived in Clayton.

Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy said police received a call at about 9:45 a.m., and that Schweich was pronounced dead at Barnes. "Everything at this point suggests that it is an apparent suicide,” Murphy said. “We are conducting a thorough investigation, and we’re doing what we would do in any similar circumstance.”

Murphy said an autopsy was scheduled for Friday.

Gov. Jay Nixon canceled a planned Thursday news conference in St. Louis on an unrelated matter, and a flurry of political officials in both parties issued statements communicating their sorrow and shock. The Missouri House held an afternoon prayer service on behalf of Schweich and his family.

State records indicate that Schweich may have been the first Missouri statewide official to commit suicide since Gov. Thomas Reynolds shot himself in the governor’s mansion in 1844.

Schweich, a Republican, had announced less than a month ago that he was running for governor. At his campaign kick-off at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he’d displayed his usual drive as he pledged to be a crusader who would “clean up Jefferson City with a level of intensity, tenacity, transparency and rigor that this state has never seen before.”

He had been very visible at the state GOP’s Lincoln Days event last weekend in Kansas City, where he hosted a hospitality suite and dished out ice cream.

But his trademark intensity also was on display. Schweich eagerly related to a reporter his pleasure over compliments from party activists. At the same time, the candidate suffered a two-pronged defeat that weekend by the party’s election of GOP consultant John Hancock as the new state party chairman and the ouster of Schweich’s chief of staff, Trish Vincent, as party vice chair.

Schweich disliked Hancock because the consultant’s firm previously had worked for Schweich’s Republican rival for governor, former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway.

By late Monday, rumors were rampant that Schweich planned a news conference on Tuesday in the state Capitol to accuse Hancock of making disparaging remarks about Jews, of telling donors in error that Schweich was Jewish and then he would call for Hancock to step down.

Hancock had denied the accusations, other than to confirm that he had mentioned in a conversation months ago that he thought Schweich was Jewish. He said he had done so in an off-hand way in the context of observing that Hanaway was Catholic. Hancock said he later apologized to Schweich for the error.

In any case, Tuesday's alleged news conference never took place.

True or not, the episode appeared in line with Schweich’s passionate approach to politics.  Even for a politician, he could be unusually blunt and direct with his praise and criticisms. It wasn’t unusual for him to call a reporter with compliments or complaints. His speeches were notable for their rapid-fire delivery and often accompanied by witty asides.

Schweich, 54, had been in office since 2011, after defeating Democratic incumbent Susan Montee. He easily won re-election last November to another four-year term. He did not have a Democratic opponent, a fact that Schweich and his allies emphasized as proof of his bipartisan appeal.

A lawyer with financial expertise, Schweich had garnered bipartisan praise for his conduct as state auditor. He was particularly close to former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., who was his mentor and former boss.

Schweich had a tense relationship with Nixon, stemming from the auditor’s lawsuit challenging some of the governor’s budgetary powers. Schweich lost the lawsuit but strongly supported the constitutional amendment approved by voters last fall that curbs the governor’s powers when it comes to the state budget.

Schweich also had been at odds lately with some in the GOP establishment. Although he had been outraising Hanaway, he had gone public with accusations that her top donor, financier Rex Sinquefield, was trying to buy a governor.

His outspoken concern about the corrosive nature of money in politics had prompted Schweich to launch his campaign for governor with self-imposed restrictions on how much money he would accept from a single donor. He had called on his best-known rivals — Hanaway and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat — to consider doing the same.

As the political shock subsides, Schweich’s death could prompt other Republicans to consider running for governor.  The impact also will be felt when Nixon names an interim state auditor, who according to the state constitution would serve out the remainder of Schweich's term, which runs through 2018.

Danforth, who knew Schweich better than any other political figure, said in a statement that the auditor "was my dear friend and long-time colleague.  He was brilliant and energetic and he lived the highest standards of personal conduct and professional ethics.  In the Waco investigation, at the United Nations and as state auditor he was the model of excellent public service.  His principles were his passion ... What an awful loss."

Reporter Rachel Lippmann contributed information for this article.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.