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Abbey Killer Upset Over Divorce

June 13, 2002

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CONCEPTION, Mo. (AP) _ The man who killed two monks and wounded two others at a Roman Catholic abbey was unhappy about how the church treated him after he divorced his wife, authorities said Wednesday.

Investigators were pursing Lloyd Jeffress’ bitterness toward the church as a potential motive in the shooting rampage Monday at Conception Abbey. Jeffress, 71, killed himself after the shooting.

Police planned to view Jeffress’ annulment papers from 1979, 20 years after his divorce, to learn more about his complaints.

``We’re hoping some documents from the church will shed some light on this,″ said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon of the Missouri Highway Patrol. ``We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to say this is the motive, but it sure could be.″

Jeffress’ daughter, brother and ex-wife Della Steward told police that Jeffress was upset by the way he was treated by the church after the breakup of his five-year marriage with Steward, investigators said.

Investigators couldn’t elaborate on how the church mistreated Jeffress, but thought more information would come from his annulment papers.

On Wednesday, monks sprinkled holy water on the basilica walls of the abbey, about 90 miles north of Kansas City, and held a formal Mass before reopening to visitors for the first time since the shootings.

Jeffress didn’t utter a word Monday morning as he walked the monastery halls, killing Brother Damian Larson and the Rev. Phillip Schuster. Schuster, 85, had spent 51 years at the abbey; Larson, 64, had been there 32 years.

Larson, Jeffress’ first victim, pleaded for his life before he was shot, Abbot Gregory Polan said.

``He said `No,no,′ and (Jeffress) just plugged him ... with a (rifle),″ Polan said.

Two other monks were shot after they peeked out of an office to see what had happened. Jeffress then shot himself in the mouth with a Ruger .22-caliber rifle, Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey said.

The wounded monks remained hospitalized Wednesday and were expected to recover.

A Nodaway County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher said Wednesday that a monk called 911 after the four monks had been shot, whispering from inside a locked office for fear of being heard by the gunman. Selena Frampton said she heard one gunshot during the call, which she believes was Jeffress turning the gun on himself.

Jeffress and Steward were married Nov. 24, 1954, according to the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records, and were granted a divorce on May 11, 1959.

The Dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the couple was granted an annulment by the church in 1979. Details of the couple’s relationship are kept private, spokeswoman Rebecca Summers said.

Efforts by the AP to locate Seward were unsuccessful.

An earlier search of the diocese’s electronic database of membership turned up nothing on Jeffress, and none of its 100 parishes had indicated he was a member, Summers said.

Jeffress converted to Catholicism after he married Steward, Espey said.

Jeffress recently had been attending Methodist services at a church in Kearney, where he lived in a senior citizens’ complex. A woman who rented Jeffress an apartment in Excelsior Springs, Mo., between 1993 and 1997 said he never spoke of Steward, their marriage or his feelings about the Catholic church.

``We assumed he had been married because he had a daughter,″ said apartment manager Sue McDougan. ``But he never talked about a wife.″

Police said that Jeffress had served in the Army, but no other details were known because his personal records were among hundreds destroyed in a fire.

Jeffress was born in Kansas City, Kan., and worked for a steel company and later the U.S. Postal Service, Lyon said.

A search of his apartment turned up nothing to suggest he was preoccupied with the Roman Catholic Church, Espey said.

Investigators did find the anti-depressant Prozac in the apartment, although they were not sure whether he was taking it. Toxicology tests could be complete on Jeffress in two weeks, Espey said.

___ On the Net:

Conception: http://www.conceptionabbey.org

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