Tom Schweich kept a file about Jeff Roe.
In the months before his shocking suicide at age 54, the Missouri auditor compiled information — one friend called it a dossier — about Roe, the most prominent and controversial Republican campaign consultant in the state. Schweich collected emails, notes, documents, “some things about what Jeff had done over the years,” an associate recently recalled.
The file was meant to help Schweich in the coming campaign for governor, friends said. It could be used to thwart expected attacks by Roe or client Catherine Hanaway, who posed the greatest political threat to Schweich.
But Tuesday’s release of a police report on Schweich’s suicide hints at another reason for the file. The Republican was a troubled man during his final years, one who thought he had few friends but many enemies.
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Roe, he was convinced, was among them.
The Star recently talked with a dozen GOP operatives and politicians about the lingering impact of Schweich’s suicide. Nearly all spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
All believe the public has yet to render its final verdict on Schweich’s death, a potential problem for their party. Campaign tactics and candidacies may hinge on how the suicide is ultimately perceived and how — or if — it alters the state’s approach to elective politics.
As a result, the internal Republican debate over the suicide remains especially intense and has continued in recent days. Talk of a lawsuit has surfaced.
“There is something going on to discredit Tom Schweich,” a Schweich ally said last week.
An emphasis on the auditor’s mental state, the friend said, might absolve other Republicans of any connection to Schweich’s death.
Some Republicans denied any such connection. All the evidence shows Schweich’s suicide was a solitary, irrational act, they said, offering no larger lessons for politicians and campaigns. Business should and will return to normal.
But Schweich supporters still believe their often brittle friend was driven to a drastic decision by fear of a bitterly personal campaign, exemplified by whispers about his religion and a commercial comparing him to bumbling TV character Barney Fife.
“Everybody’s talking about the whispering campaign and the ad,” one Schweich associate told The Star. “But there’s no question that Tom Schweich’s concerns were deeper than that.”
Compiling information about political opponents is common. But it’s rare for a candidate to do the work on his or her own, as Schweich did with Roe.
The result hasn’t been made public, so judging its veracity and value isn’t possible. But friends said Schweich believed he held information damaging to Roe. Schweich even wrote about his concerns in a potential column he wanted to submit to The Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He believed the potential release might also insulate him from real or threatened information from the other side, Schweich’s friends said.
Schweich’s associates say he feared and admired Roe’s research capabilities. Schweich even tried to hire Roe, they said — and was disappointed when the Kansas City-based consultant said no.
Roe declined to comment on the existence of any dossier about him or private conversations he might have had with Schweich.
He did confirm paying for the radio ad that angered the auditor, and he defended it.
“His resemblance to Barney Fife had been characterized in Missouri newspapers,” Roe told The Star. “He made fun of himself on the stump. It was a parody.”
Schweich’s close friends urged the auditor to keep his Roe research under wraps. They weren’t sure it would help the campaign, and they suspected the information might not have been accurate or relevant. Releasing the material, they said, might backfire.
He never published the column or made his other research public.
Early this year, Schweich associates again told the candidate to back down when concerns surfaced about a “whisper campaign” regarding Schweich’s faith.
GOP chairman and Hanaway ally John Hancock, Schweich believed, was inaccurately telling Republican donors that the auditor was Jewish. The chairman has said he doesn’t recall mentioning Schweich’s religion but may have done so inadvertently.
Again, Schweich’s friends urged caution.
“What’s your goal?” adviser Martha Fitz asked Schweich in a phone call minutes before his suicide. “We are not against you, Tom. We are trying to help you and give you our best advice. We can’t all be wrong.”
Schweich’s response, Fitz told police, was a threat to kill himself.
Some friends close to Schweich told The Star last week his suicide was not a complete shock. They described Schweich as difficult, moody, obsessive, angry.
But others close to Schweich said they still believe the alleged Hancock statements and the radio ad further destabilized the auditor, leading to his suicide.
“Clearly,” Fitz later told police, “he felt like he was alone.”
Within days of the suicide, Schweich associates discussed filing a wrongful-death or defamation lawsuit against Republican Party officials.
They wanted to use the legal process to obtain memos and under-oath depositions from party operatives to examine their supposed statements about Schweich and believed that depositions might confirm his suspicions.
Discussion of such a lawsuit is ongoing but far from certain or imminent, supporters said last week.
But some attorneys close to Schweich have dismissed the idea of a lawsuit. There would be no basis for a defamation or wrongful-death claim, they have concluded, and the case would be quickly dismissed.
Some believe a protracted legal dispute would extend the discomfort of the Schweich family as it struggles to understand the auditor’s decision.
Those at odds with Schweich before his death insist they have done nothing since the suicide to tear down his character. They say they were unaware of pending volleys from Schweich loyalists. They also said they were unaware of anything they had to fear if those loyalists tried to retaliate for perceived wrongs against the late auditor.
Kathy Schweich told police her husband had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory disorder of the digestive system. He took medicine to counteract the illness and had nearly two dozen prescriptions in the home. Still, the medical examiner concluded drugs played no role in the suicide.
He owned two handguns, which he kept in the closet of the second-floor bedroom in their suburban St. Louis home.
Former U.S. senator Jack Danforth, a Schweich friend and associate for decades, told police the auditor was “hypersensitive” and hurt by the ad and the references to religion.
Seven weeks after the suicide, though, clear evidence of any anti-Semitic whisper campaign against Schweich remains hard to come by.
Some Republicans said they are still furious with Danforth. They felt smeared when the former senator used Schweich’s eulogy to launch a campaign against negative politics in the state. Danforth has called on Hancock to step aside.
The furor surrounding the suicide started to recede in March. It was renewed, though, when Schweich spokesman Spence Jackson took his own life March 27 in Jefferson City.
The second suicide prompted new talk about alleged “personal destruction” politics in the state.
Yet Jackson’s final note said only that a fear of joblessness drove him to take his life.
Roe said he has reconsidered his own approach in the days following the suicide.
“This is an awful situation for everyone involved,” he said. “There’s no way that anyone could ever go through and be a part of the political landscape and not be impacted by the tragedies that have happened the last two months.”