Government & Politics

Danforth aide on the phone with Tom Schweich moments before Missouri auditor’s suicide

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth leaves The Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Mo., on Tuesday after delivering the eulogy at the funeral for Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich.
Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth leaves The Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Mo., on Tuesday after delivering the eulogy at the funeral for Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich. Associated Press

A despondent Tom Schweich — outraged over what he saw as a whisper campaign about his religion — threatened to kill himself during a phone conversation just moments before the auditor took his own life on Feb. 26.

Martha Fitz, an aide to former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth, said Thursday she was on the phone with Schweich moments before the auditor’s suicide and was talking with his wife, Kathy, when the fatal shot was fired.

Fitz revealed the dramatic details of her conversation with the Schweichs in a statement to The Star Thursday following an inquiry by the newspaper to Danforth.

Fitz said she was contacted early in the day Feb. 26 by Trish Vincent, Schweich’s chief of staff. Vincent was worried about Schweich’s emotional state and wanted Fitz, a close family friend, to reach out to the auditor and his wife.

“Tom,” Vincent said in a statement released late Thursday, “… was distraught, as he had been the last few days, regarding untruths about his religion. He also said he had not slept and had been physically ill most of the night. I tried to counsel him on how to handle the situation, but he dismissed my advice and the call ended shortly thereafter.”

That’s when Vincent tried to reach Kathy Schweich on her cellphone. Failing to reach the auditor’s wife, she asked Fitz if she could get Kathy Schweich to respond.

Kathy Schweich returned Vincent’s call about 9:30 that morning and said that Tom Schweich had been making phone calls.

“While I was talking with Kathy,” Vincent said in the statement, “Tom came into the room and inquired who she was talking to. Kathy said it was me and that I was concerned about him. I told her I would let her go and to advise Tom that I would be checking back after lunch to see if he wanted to keep his afternoon appointments. Our call then ended.”

At 9:40 a.m., Kathy Schweich called Fitz. A few minutes into that conversation between the two women, Tom Schweich took the phone.

“He spoke solely about his outrage concerning the rumors that were being spread about his religion, and how he could respond to those rumors,” Fitz wrote in a statement. “I told him I thought it best to let others stand up for him.”

At that point, Fitz wrote, Schweich threatened to kill himself and handed the phone back to his wife.

“Seconds later I heard Kathy say, ‘He shot himself!’” Fitz’s statement says.

Schweich’s spouse called 9-1-1 on another phone. Fitz and Kathy Schweich remained on the phone together until paramedics arrived.

Fitz said she had given the information to the Clayton Police Department.

In his email, Danforth said Fitz was “heartbroken by this tragedy.”

Fitz’s statement Thursday seems to clarify Schweich’s final moments. Early that morning he called two reporters, asking them to attend an afternoon news conference about alleged anti-Semitic statements made by Missouri Republican Party chairman John Hancock to others in the GOP. Schweich’s grandfather was Jewish, but the auditor and candidate for Missouri governor worshiped as an Episcopalian.

Hancock has admitted to referring inaccurately to Schweich as Jewish. He has denied any anti-Semitic intentions.

In his eulogy earlier in the week, Danforth said he had spoken directly with Schweich about the auditor’s concerns over a whisper campaign about his religion.

The former senator said he had advised Schweich to let others raise the issue. Danforth said Schweich was upset with that advice and that their disagreement may have led to Schweich’s feelings of isolation.

In the eulogy, Danforth said he was “haunted” by the Tuesday phone call.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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