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Juan Ignacio Blanco

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James E. SCHNICK

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - To benefit from wills and insurance policies
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: September 25, 1987
Date of arrest: October 6, 1987
Date of birth: 1951
Victims profile: His wife, Julie Schnick, 30; his brother-in-law, Steve Buckner, 35; Mr. Buckner's wife, Jeannette, 36, and the Buckners' sons, Kirk, 14, Dennis, 8, Timmy, 6, and Michael, 2
Method of murder: Shooting (.22-cal. pistol)
Location: Elkland, Webster County, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1988. Overturned. Pleaded guilty to three of the deaths and was sentenced to three life prison sentences without parole on May 1, 1992
 
 

 
 

Wasted seven family members, including four of his children.

He then tried to blame his fourteen-year-old nephew who died in the rampage for the crime.


Boy, 14, kills 8 in his family, is slain by uncle

The Philadelphia Inquirer

September 26, 1987

A 14-year-old farm boy yesterday shot to death his parents, three young brothers and an aunt before he was killed in a scuffle with an uncle, authorities said.

Authorities said they had not determined a motive. Neighbors described the boy's family, who lived on a dairy farm in southwestern Missouri, as financially strained.


With 7 dead, friends look for reasons

The Philadelphia Inquirer

September 27, 1987

Kirk Buckner was a quiet boy. Well-behaved and unusually hard-working for a 14-year-old, he was still just a sprout of a boy - thin and wiry from his farm work.

Once in a while he would get sad or a little depressed, friends said, but not in a serious way. "He'd just mope around and not want to go fishing or something," one of his pals explained.


Mo. man charged in murders of 7 kin

The Boston Globe

October 6, 1987

MARSHFIELD, Mo. -- The sole survivor of a shooting rampage that killed seven relatives was charged yesterday with murder in the slayings, which had been blamed on a 14-year-old family member who was among the victims. The survivor, James E. Schnick, 36, of rural Elkland, was charged with murder in the Sept. 25 killings of his wife, her brother and the brother's wife and children.


Clues led to arrest of uncle in 7 deaths

Missouri killings first laid to man's nephew

The Boston Globe

October 7, 1987

MARSHFIELD, Mo. -- Police investigating the killings of seven members of a rural family turned their suspicion from a slain 14-year-old to his wounded uncle after learning that the boy was left-handed and that the murder weapon, a gun, was found in the boy's right hand, officials said yesterday.

A Missouri Highway Patrol investigator said the uncle, James Schnick, admitted during a two-hour interrogation Monday that he was responsible for the shootings on the morning of Sept. 25.


In 7 Deaths, Town Knew What Experts Didn't

By Dirk Johnson - The New York Times

October 7, 1987

MARSHFIELD, Mo. To the police, the clergy and the farm crisis experts, the killing frenzy here attributed to a 14-year-old farm boy, seemingly pushed to the breaking point by searing poverty and a relentless workload, had made a kind of tragic sense.

But it did not make sense to everyone at the coffee shops, the fire station or the grain store here. The townspeople knew something the experts did not. They knew Kirk Buckner. The boy, who died in the rampage 11 days ago, has been cleared of the killings of his parents, three young brothers and an aunt. After a deluge of calls and tips from residents convinced that the youth did not commit the slayings, the police on Monday charged the man who contended he was the sole survivor of the attack, James Schnick, Kirk's uncle.

''There's no way Kirk could have done it,'' said one of the townspeople, George Chapman. ''He's a good boy. Everybody knows that.'' Even before the authorities arrested Mr. Schnick, talk around town centered on details of the case that did not make sense.

''Oh, did we get calls,'' said Don Cheever, the Webster County prosecutor. ''A lot of it didn't check out. But some of it was legitimate.''

In one of the key findings that led to the murder charges against Mr. Schnick, it was determined that the youth was left-handed but that the gun used to kill the relatives was found in his right hand.

Injuries Less Severe

Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the 90-pound teen-ager had been able to drag the 250-pound body of his father, Steve Buckner, to a cemetery after the man had been shot, as the police initially speculated.

Finally, Mr. Schnick, who said he had been seriously wounded in a gun battle with Kirk that ended in the boy's death, turned out to be much less seriously hurt than he had contended.

''He was overacting,'' said Sheriff Eugene Fraker. ''And then he didn't want to be released from the hospital.''

On Friday, when Mr. Schnick was about to take a lie-detector test, he agreed to make a statement, the police said.

Around town, many residents said they knew all along that Kirk, a well-mannered youth who rose every day before sunrise to do his chores, could not have committed such a heinous crime.

Funeral for Family

''This boy could look you in the eye and talk sense,'' said Audie DeHarty, Kirk's principal at the Marshfield Junior High School.

But now, the community that only last week struggled to understand how Kirk could have killed all those people is now fighting is understand another set of circumstances.

''It makes me sick to think about it,'' said Frank Eugan, a cattle dealer here. ''I can't believe Schnick would do it. But you've got to look at the evidence.'' The family members were buried in a joint service a week ago Monday. The flower-draped caskets, in a circle at the First Baptist Church, held the bodies of Mr. Buckner, 35 years old; his wife, Jan, 36; Kirk; his brothers, Dennis, 8; Timothy, 7, and Michael, 2, and Mr. Buckner's sister, Julie Schnick, 30.

Mr. Schnick had been brought to the funeral by his wife's parents.

Reports of a Feud

At his arraignment today, Mr. Schnick appeared in a white tee-shirt and blue jeans, unshaven, his hair matted.

Authorities would not comment on reports around town that Mr. Schnick, a dairy farmer and a volunteer firefighter, had been feuding recently with Mr. Buckner. He was being held without bond at the Webster County jail.

Mr. Schnick's daughters, Jamie, 8, and Mindy, 6, were staying with their mother's parents.

After the killings, police speculated that the Buckner family's severe financial problems had taken their toll on Kirk.

Today, Sheriff Fraker defended their initial beliefs about Kirk, noting that evidence at first appeared to substantiate Mr. Schnick's account of the killings. But he said ''pressure by the news media'' may have forced his department to issue the findings prematurely.

''You had to give them something,'' Sheriff Fraker said. ''And this was what seemed obvious. It happens a lot this way.''

Hard Times Were Nothing New

The Buckner family lived in a rundown farm house in rural Ekland, about 11 miles from here, and Kirk was so busy with chores before and after school that he had scarcely any time for anything else.

But many residents in this hilly region about 30 miles from Springfield discounted theories that the farm crisis had much to do with the killings.

Farmers have always scraped to make a living on the rocky soil here, and hard times were nothing new.

''These people had lived all their lives just getting by,'' Mr. Chapman said of the Buckners and the Schnicks. ''What happened here was unbelievable. But it has nothing to do with the finances.''

Some townspeople here voiced anger that Kirk had been buried as a killer.

''Kirk got the most unbelievable raw deal - to be killed and accused of killing,'' said Gordon T. Grant, the assistant principal at the Marshfield High School. ''And this was a kid that never got himself into trouble.''

'Locking Their Doors'

In a region where crime comes so rarely, the killing rampage marked the second outbreak of violence in less than a month.

Earlier in September, three people were killed by a hitchhiker near Conway, Mo., about 10 miles southwest of here, the police said. The police identified the killer as Howard Franklin Stewart, 37, whose parents lived in the region. Mr. Stewart then made his way to Corsicana, Tex., and the authorities say that on Sept. 22 he killed three people, including his wife, and then killed himself.

''People are changed now,'' said Mr. Chapman. ''They're locking their doors, locking their cars. We didn't use to do that. And some of them are keeping a loaded gun around.''

There was some sense of quiet relief around town that Kirk's memory would not be besmirched. But grief still dominated this town, where one of the largest employers is a maker of funeral caskets.

''The guilty party seems to have changed, but the crimes haven't,'' said Mr. DeHarty. ''We've still got seven people lying at the Timber Ridge Baptist Cemetery.''


Residents in Mo. town grope to deal with 7 slayings

The Boston Globe

October 11, 1987

ELKLAND, Mo. -- Folks living in this sleepy dairy town still shake their heads in disbelief as they recount the chilling details of how a mass murder in their midst shattered their quiet lives.

"I just don't know how it can happen here," sighed Wilma Cox, 66, as she stared out the window of her small cafe in the center of this peaceful village nestled in the rolling back hills of Missouri's Ozark region.


Missouri slayings: Doubts, a probe, then a confession

The Philadelphia Inquirer

October 12, 1987

The gate on James E. Schnick's neat little dairy farm is padlocked. The killings happened here and over at the Buckner place.

At first, everyone thought the boy had done it - just gone berserk and killed his parents and three younger brothers and his aunt, James Schnick's wife. They had found the gun in 14-year-old Kirk Buckner's hand as he lay dead on the floor. Schnick said he had to kill the boy, his own nephew, to stop the rampage.


Auguries of Innocence

By Laurence Zuckerman and Staci D. Kramer - Time.com

October 19, 1987

When paramedics answered an emergency call at the farm of James and Julie Schnick in the south Missouri hamlet of Elkland (pop. 200), they found James Schnick rolling on the floor and wailing in pain from a gunshot and stab wounds. He had spotted an unknown intruder in the house and fatally stabbed him after a ferocious struggle, he told Webster County Sheriff Eugene Fraker. In the bedroom Schnick's wife lay dead, shot twice in the head. The mysterious intruder, who was sprawled dead in the hallway, a .22-cal. pistol clutched in his hand, turned out to be Kirk Buckner, Schnick's 14-year-old nephew.

Two deputies dispatched to the Buckner's dairy farm five miles away discovered an even more gruesome scene: Kirk's mother and his three younger brothers had all been killed by gunshots to the head. The body of Kirk's father lay by the side of a gravel road, midway between the two farms.

Sheriff Fraker, along with others in the area, assumed that the family's dire economic circumstances had pushed Kirk over the edge. It seemed to be yet one more tragic testament to the desperation of so many of the country's debt- burdened family farmers. Said the Rev. Wilburn Steward at a funeral service for the slain family attended by more than 500: "In mankind, there's a breaking point. Something in Kirk had reached that point, and he just snapped."

But for many of the Buckners' friends the explanation just didn't ring true. They knew Kirk as a good-natured teen, devoted to his family, who seemed incapable of such cold-blooded violence. "I'd seen him with his brothers and how he loved his mother," says Neighbor Mary Shoemaker. Her son Billy, 15, was a close friend of Kirk's and once saved him from drowning. "I never thought Kirk did it," he says.

Haunted by his own suspicions, Sheriff Fraker began to probe a bit more. He called in Sergeant Tom Martin, a friend with the Missouri Highway Patrol. The two reviewed the evidence and discovered several curious discrepancies. How could Kirk, who weighed only 130 lbs., have moved his 250-lb. father so far from their farmhouse? Schnick's wounds, it turned out, were superficial. Although Schnick claimed he had attacked the boy only with a steak knife, an autopsy revealed that Kirk may have died from a gunshot. Then, at the high school where Kirk had just begun his freshman year, Fraker and Martin learned of a shattering piece of evidence: Kirk Buckner was lefthanded. The murder weapon had been found in his right hand.

Last week, as Schnick was about to undergo a lie-detector test, he broke down and confessed that he had committed the murders and tried to frame his dead nephew. Appearing in court wearing bib overalls and a white T shirt, he was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder. Though authorities suspect that Schnick may have killed to benefit from wills and insurance policies, Sheriff Frager still feels there is some mystery involved. "I don't know what was in the man's mind," he says. "There's always a possibility we'll never know."


Death penalty urged for Missouri farmer

Wichita Eagle-Beacon

April 16, 1988

MARSHFIELD, Mo. - A jury recommended Friday that a southwestern Missouri dairy farmer be put to death for killing his wife and two nephews, including a teenager whom he originally had blamed for the killings.

The jury that convicted James Schnick of Elkland of three counts of first- degree murder could have recommended life in prison. If a judge accepts the jury's recommendation, Schnick will become the 57th person on death row at the Missouri State Penitentiary.


Death Penalty Recommended in Missouri Murders

The New York Times

April 16, 1988

MARSHFIELD, Mo. A jury recommended today that a 37-year-old dairy farmer be put to death for killing his wife and two nephews, one of whom was a 14-year-old boy he first blamed for the killing of seven family members.

The farmer, James E. Schnick of Elkland, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder Thursday night. The jury deliberated about two hours after hearing two and a half days of testimony.

If a judge accepts the jury's death penalty recommendation, Mr. Schnick would become the 57th person on death row at the Missouri State Penitentiary, where there has not been an execution since 1965.

Mr. Schnick was convicted in the deaths of his wife, Julie, and two nephews, Kirk Buckner, who Mr. Schnick originally said committed the murders, and Michael Buckner, 2 years old.

Mr. Schnick was also accused but not tried in the deaths of his brother-in-law, Steve Buckner; Mr. Buckner's wife, Jeannette, and the Buckners' other sons, Dennis, 8, and Timmy, 6. Mr. Schnick's wife was the sister of Mr. Buckner.

All the victims were killed Sept. 25 in the early morning at the two dairy farms of the families in nearby Elkland. Mr. Schnick eventually confessed, but his lawyer contended the confession was not freely given.


Man given life in prison for deaths of relatives

May 2, 1992

A man accused of killing his wife and six other relatives pleaded guilty Friday to three of the deaths and was sentenced to three life prison sentences with no chance for parole.

James Schnick, 40, originally was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the Sept. 25, 1987, slayings, and sentenced to death. But the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the convictions.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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