Authorities investigate the scene at a Catholic supply store in Baldwin, Missouri, on November 19, 2018. (Photo: AP)
A suburban St. Louis man has been charged with killing one woman and sexually assaulting two others after herding them at gunpoint into the back room of a religious supplies shop.
The arrest of 53-year-old Thomas Bruce ended a two-day manhunt that followed the brazen Monday afternoon attack at a Catholic Supply store in the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin. The attack frightened the region and led some schools, churches and businesses to close.
Bruce, of Imperial, was charged Wednesday with 17 counts, including first-degree murder, sodomy and attempted sodomy, kidnapping and other crimes. He is jailed without bond. It wasn’t yet clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
At a news conference announcing the arrest, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch called the crime “heartbreaking,” a sentiment that was echoed by the county’s police chief, Jon Belmar.
“It shocked the senses,” a somber Belmar said.
Authorities allege that Bruce entered the store and said he was shopping, then left briefly before returning with a handgun. He forced the three women into the back room, told them to strip, exposed himself and ordered them to “perform deviant sexual acts on him,” detectives wrote in the criminal complaint.
Two of the women complied but the third, 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt of nearby House Springs, refused, so he shot her in the head, they wrote. The attacker ordered the other women to continue performing the sexual acts on him, and he later fled, apparently able to blend in along the busy street in broad daylight.
McCulloch said there was no indication the store was targeted because of its religious affiliation.
“It seems to me a guy like this saw an opportunity — three women in the store alone,” McCulloch said.
Bruce, who claimed to be a Navy veteran on his LinkedIn page, had no previous criminal record in Missouri beyond a traffic ticket in 2001. McCulloch said his office is checking with other states.
Belmar said tips from the public helped lead to Bruce’s arrest, though he declined to elaborate.
McCulloch said the aggravating circumstances make the crime eligible for the death penalty, but he said that decision will be up to the man who replaces him in January. McCulloch, the county’s prosecutor for nearly three decades, lost to Wesley Bell of Ferguson in the August Democratic primary. Bell ran unopposed in the November general election.