Police: No clear motive in Missouri auditor's suicide

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2015 6:15 PM
Police: No clear motive in Missouri auditor's suicide

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The embattled chairman of the Missouri Republican Party gained some support Monday as police said they have no evidence of an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against a state auditor who killed himself.

A prominent GOP donor on Monday also revised his account of hearing a negative remark about the auditor's religion, reaffirming the basic sentiment but saying the comment occurred earlier than he originally had recalled.

The twofold developments came as GOP Chairman John Hancock said he is weighing whether to remain in the job or resign following the Feb. 26 suicide of Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who had said that Hancock was spreading false information about his religion.

Some Schweich supporters have called on Hancock to resign, or for the Republican state committee to remove him.

Hancock, who was elected chairman Feb. 21, said Monday that he would step down only if the controversy damages his ability to raise money for the Republican Party or hurts his other job as a paid consultant for GOP candidates.

He added: "I've received a tremendous amount of support from the state committee to continue on in this role."

Schweich shot himself at his Clayton home just minutes after telling an Associated Press reporter that he wanted to go public with allegations that Hancock had been telling people Schweich was Jewish. Schweich, who was Christian but had Jewish ancestry, also had expressed angst to friends over what he perceived to be an anti-Semitic whispering campaign.

Clayton Police Detective Lt. Don Bass said Monday that the investigation into Schweich's death is nearing an end. He said Schweich left behind no message explaining his actions, and detectives have found no evidence that he was the target of political bullying.

"I think everybody's looking for a rational reason for an irrational act ... but right now we're not finding anything," Bass told The Associated Press. He said based on "the leads and sources that we have heard from, we have not been able to prove that there was a whispering campaign."

KMOX radio first reported that police had no clear motive for Schweich's death.

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, an Episcopal priest who was Schweich's friend and political mentor, suggested during his funeral eulogy that Schweich had been driven to kill himself by political bullying and an anti-Semitic whispering campaign.

Last week, Republican businessman and donor David Humphreys became the first person to publicly assert he had heard Hancock mention that Schweich was Jewish. Humphreys had released an affidavit saying Hancock made the remark — with the implication that it was a negative attribute in a gubernatorial campaign — during a Nov. 24 meeting at his Joplin office.

On Monday, Humphreys released a revised affidavit stating the remark actually was made during a Sept. 12 meeting.

The date matters, because Hancock has said he once mistakenly believed Schweich was Jewish but that he never mentioned that to anyone after learning during a Nov. 14 conversation with Schweich that he actually was Christian. Hancock has said it's possible he may have mentioned Schweich was Jewish before that date, though he has no specific recollection of doing so.

In separate interviews Monday, Hancock and Humphreys confirmed they met Sept. 12 to discuss an effort by the Heartland Resurgence political committee to develop a more modern voter database for the state Republican Party. Hancock said he also discussed an effort to woo Catholic voters. Humphreys said their conversation eventually turned to the governor's race.

"He made the comment that Tom was Jewish, in a way that was clear that he wanted me to know that was a negative for Tom's race," Humphreys said. "I think he was frankly testing me to see if I'd agree with that."

Humphreys said he decided after that meeting to no longer giver money to Hancock for any reason.

At the time, Schweich was still running for re-election, though he was widely expected to enter the governor's race. Humphreys said he never told Schweich about Hancock's remark and only mentioned it to Schweich's campaign staffers when they called him last week inquiring about what he wanted them to do with money he had previously donated to Schweich's campaign.

Hancock and Humphreys met again on Nov. 24, and Hancock described it as "a most amiable" discussion.

"He did not mention in our November meeting that he had any concerns about anything I had said in September," Hancock said.

Schweich officially launched his gubernatorial campaign Jan. 28, aggressively denouncing his Republican primary rival Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. attorney. Hancock had done political research for Hanaway's campaign, but Hancock said his efforts were focused on the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Chris Koster, not on Schweich.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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Information from: KMOX-AM, http://www.kmox.com