Clara Jean Rector was the ideal daughter-in-law.
So says Gerry Rector of Camdenton, Mo., whose son married Clara in 1999.
“She’s a great mother, a hard worker, and she’s always cleaned my windows and taken care of my garden,” said Gerry Rector, the longtime principal at Camdenton Bible Baptist School.
Thus, news that Clara had been arrested for sexually stalking the preacher came as quite a shock.
“I was just blindsided,” Gerry Rector said.
And she hadn’t heard the big one yet. During questioning on the stalking charge, authorities say, Clara, 36, blurted out that she’d killed a man with a butcher knife nine years earlier. Jumped on his back, stabbed him in the ear and cut his throat during a drug deal.
The disclosure hardly fit the image of a sweet, small-town mom of three, churchgoer and author of a Christian blog, complete with testimonials, prayer requests and photos of sunsets.
“It’s just all beyond me,” Gerry Rector said. “But I love her, and that won’t change.”
The murder of Tommy Hope, whose body was found on the floor of his Camdenton home on April 29, 2004, had long ago achieved cold-case status. If not for an impromptu confession, Rector probably never would have been charged.
“Here was someone, a member of the community, had a family, involved in church, and I think it manifested to the point she couldn’t hold it in anymore,” Camden County Sheriff Dwight Franklin said last week.
Clara Rector is charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and aggravated stalking. She is due back in court May 28. Her attorney, Deirdre O’Donnell, declined to comment.
, perhaps gives clues as to any burden in her life — and maybe to what was coming.
In her testimonial, she referred to past sins and said that only by asking God’s forgiveness could she ever be redeemed.
“I believe that Jesus died on the cross for the redemption of all people, even me,” Rector wrote not long ago.
The blog includes a poem she wrote called, “To the Greatest father.” The final verse: “For freedom from my past and forgiveness of my sins / the only thing I had to do / was open up, believe and let Christ in!”
But the blog said nothing about leaving sexually explicit notes on the preacher’s windshield.
Late last month, Jerry Sousley, pastor of the Camdenton Bible Baptist Church, contacted the Camden County sheriff’s office, alleging that Clara Rector had been stalking him and sending him messages “regarding inappropriate matters of a sexual nature,” according to court documents.
When Sousley rebuffed her advancements, the messages escalated, some even showing up on the windshield of his car, the court documents allege. Sousley also found a notebook at the church in which Rector had allegedly written an account of a fictitious sexual relationship between her and the preacher.
At one point, the married Sousley told her to stay away. When Rector went to the church to retrieve the notebook, she was arrested for stalking.
“She became infatuated with him and let him know what she wanted to do,” Franklin said.
Documents say Sousley told authorities that Rector threatened to “destroy” him and that he feared for the safety of himself, his family and church members.
During the stalking investigation, Rector surprised detectives by confessing to killing Hope nine years earlier. She had been a “person of interest” back then, having admitted to an affair with Hope and buying drugs from him.
But there was never enough evidence to charge her with the murder.
During recent questioning, Rector said she left her house in the middle of the night of April 24, 2004, to go to Hope’s residence to buy drugs. When he told her he didn’t have any, she grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen, “jumped on his back and cut his throat,” documents say.
“I was high and not thinking,” she told detectives.
She is being held in the Camden County Detention Center. A request for bond was denied.
Her husband, Jason Rector, is charged with evidence tampering in the stalking case. He allegedly disposed of Clara’s notebook — the one with the fictitious story about her and the preacher — at the Hillbilly Fairgrounds in Laurie, Mo.
On her blog, Clara Rector told of being raised Catholic but then falling into drug use and promiscuity after a traffic accident killed her first husband. She and her baby survived the wreck. Her life became one of despair.
She wrote: “I searched high and low for the answer by trying different drugs and alcohol to the point that I became an addict and am still, daily, in recovery from addiction. I thought the love of men would fill the void, but promiscuity was not the answer. Everywhere I looked, everything I tried nothing was able to fill the ‘God-shaped’ space in my heart.”
Then, at the urging of friends, she became a fundamentalist Christian, remarried and started speaking out against the dangers of illegal drugs.
Gerry Rector blames Clara’s new trouble on a relapse.
“Prior to that, you couldn’t ask for a better person,” Gerry said. “Methamphetamine changed all that. It’s like when you throw a rock into a pond — you create a lot of ripples.”
She doesn’t know how her family’s legal woes are playing in a church congregation she described as “very fundamental and very old-fashioned.”
“There’s been no negative feedback. I mean, it’s probably there, I just haven’t heard it.”