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Charles Lee THORNTON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Cookie"
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: The Kirkwood City Council shooting - Revenge
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: February 7, 2008
Date of birth: December 23, 1955
Victims profile: Tom Ballman, 37, police officer / Kenneth Yost, 61, public works director / Michael H.T. Lynch, 63, council member / Connie Karr, 51, council member / William Biggs, 50, police officer
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Kirkwood, Missouri, USA
Status: Killed during a shoot-out with the police the same day
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 

victims

 
 
 
 
 
 

anatomy of a rampage

 
 
 
 
 
 

The Kirkwood City Council shooting occurred on February 7, 2008, in Kirkwood, Missouri, United States. A gunman went on a shooting rampage at a public meeting in the city hall, leaving six people dead and two others injured.

Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton shot one police officer with a revolver across the street from city hall and took the officer's handgun before entering city hall. Thornton reached council chambers with these two weapons shortly after the meeting began.

There, he shot a police officer, the public works director, two council members, the mayor, and a reporter. In total, the gunman killed five and wounded two others. He was then shot and killed by police.

Background

The perpetrator, Charles Lee Thornton, 52, was a lifelong resident of Meacham Park, a century-old, modest-sized, historically-black-super majority neighborhood in an initially unincorporated part of St. Louis County, Missouri.

In 1992, a ballot proposition appeared under which Kirkwood, an abutting, comparatively prosperous city with only a small percentage of African-American residents, would annex the low-income Meacham Park area. After spirited debate and campaigning, residents of both Meacham Park and Kirkwood approved the annexation. Upon annexation, the municipal codes of Kirkwood became the law for Meacham Park, which had previously lacked municipal codes due to its unincorporated status.

During the 1990s, Thornton was active in a number of civic and charitable organizations in Kirkwood. He ran for Kirkwood City Council in 1994, unsuccessfully.

Via eminent domain, part of the Meacham Park area was taken for a large commercial development in the late 1990s in a tax increment financing project. Thornton, who foresaw that his construction company would get contracts in this development, was a public proponent of it, in this respect opposing the views of some others in Meacham Park.

He sought and received some work for his construction company during this commercial development. Family members and friends have said that he became resentful over having gotten less than he felt he had been promised.

In 1999, Thornton filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging racial discrimination in the awarding of contracts he had wanted.  It has been reported that he had never actually bid on the contracts.

In 1996, Thornton had begun receiving citations from Kirkwood for violations of city codes. In June, 1998, he pleaded guilty to 6 violations; and agreed to a five-phase plan to bring his property and his paving business into conformance with city codes within two years.

But this plan was not fulfilled, and Thornton began to leave new tickets unpaid. By late 2001, Thornton had been cited many dozens more times by Kirkwood officials under municipal code enforcement actions for operating an unlicensed business from his home, in a (since the 1992 annexation) residentially-zoned incorporated area; illegal dumping; destruction of property; parking his construction company's equipment near his home as he had always done; and for numerous other municipal code violations.

Kirkwood said in a state court memorandum in 2003 that by May 2002, multiple trials in city and county courts had concluded with Thornton pleading guilty to, or being found guilty of, more than 100 of 114 charges. Charges were dropped, or Thornton was found not guilty, on at least a dozen other charges.

Thornton said later in federal court, and at Kirkwood city council meetings, that he had received more than 150 tickets. Courts ordered that he pay nearly twenty thousand dollars in fines and court costs. Links to files showing scanned copies of most of the citations have been placed on-line as part of an investigative story by a local television station.

Thornton filed for bankruptcy in December 1999. During the bankruptcy process, he was put on a plan to get out of debt: he would pay $4,425 a month for five years. But Thornton stopped making the payments within four months, and moved the portion of his business that had for a while occupied a rental property in a nearby commercially zoned area, back into his residentially zoned neighborhood.

Thornton never paid any of the fines from the Kirkwood code violation cases concluded in 2001 and 2002. Instead, he appeared regularly at city council meetings complaining of persecution, fraud and coverup by city officials. In 2003, he had signs on the side of his van, in which he vowed he would never again "accept lies from the city of Kirkwood".

Thornton also repeatedly sued the city and Kirkwood public works director Ken Yost in state court unsuccessfully during a period of several years in the early 2000s. From around 2004 onward Thornton, despite having no education, training or experience in the practice of law, acted as his own attorney.

In 2005, the Missouri Court of Appeals opinion dismissing his suit against Kirkwood and Ken Yost for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations termed his brief "largely incomprehensible".

After several years of the lawsuits, he declined an offer from the city to let his fines remain unpaid in exchange for dropping his last lawsuit against the city and no longer disrupting council meetings.

On May 13, 2002, Thornton was convicted of assault on Ken Yost, Kirkwood's public works director, who later became one of the murder victims.

He was also arrested and handcuffed at two city council meetings in 2006. The first occasion was May 18, 2006. Thornton was charged with disorderly conduct and was released.

On June 1, 2006, the council considered resolutions to ban Thornton from attending or speaking at meetings. However, both were defeated; Kirkwood mayor Mike Swoboda stated then that, "We will act with integrity and continue to deal with him at these council proceedings. However we will not allow Mr. Thornton, or any other person, to disrupt these proceedings."

On June 24, 2007, Thornton was charged with misdemeanor assault after a struggle outside PJ's Restaurant in Kirkwood. Thornton had been picketing outside the restaurant and began stomping the owner until subdued by bystanders. The criminal case was pending. Carrying signs complaining about Kirkwood officials, Thornton often picketed in non-governmental but high-traffic locations in and near Kirkwood.

On January 18, 2007, Thornton sued the city in federal court for $350. On March 15, 2007, Thornton entered a motion with the court with the purpose of amending the January 18 suit in several ways, including adding a claim for $14 million in damages. On June 21, 2007, a federal judge denied the motion to amend the original federal lawsuit. Thereafter, only the remaining (original) suit, which sought but $350 in damages, was in contention.

Yet as late as February 1, 2008, -- more than six months after the attempt to amend for an increased claim of damages had lost, and three days after the entire remaining suit had been dismissed -- Thornton continued to tell friends of his hopes of winning millions from the suit.

A federal judge in St. Louis, Missouri ruled on January 28, 2008 on the lawsuit by Thornton in which he claimed his free speech rights were violated by Kirkwood officials preventing him from speaking at meetings. The judge dismissed his claims, citing his convictions for disorderly conduct at the 2006 meetings and concluding, "Because Thornton does not have a First Amendment right to engage in irrelevant debate and to voice repetitive, personal, virulent attacks against Kirkwood and its city officials during the comment portion of a city council public hearing, his claim fails as a matter of law."

Included among documents from Thornton's federal lawsuit are court filings, evidence, judgments, etc. from several of the city, county and state court cases, both criminal and civil, in which Thornton had been a plaintiff or a defendant.

Witnesses, relatives, and acquaintances of Thornton reported that his motive for the shooting spree was anger about not receiving construction contracts he believed he was promised, his parking tickets, disputes with local government, and finally the dismissal of his federal lawsuit.

The shooting

Thornton parked his van on the side street near Kirkwood City Hall and saw Kirkwood Police Sgt. William Biggs, who was on duty but walking across the street to pick up dinner nearby. In a parking lot across the street from City Hall, Thornton confronted Biggs and shot him with a .44 magnum revolver, killing him instantly. Before Thornton fired, Biggs had hit a distress signal on his radio to summon additional police officers.

Thornton took Biggs' .40 caliber handgun and went inside City Hall. There, in the city council chambers, The Pledge of Allegiance had just been recited and the mayor was starting the city council meeting with 30 people attending. Thornton then entered the room quietly from the back with both of his weapons concealed but soon got close to his intended victims. He first fatally shot Kirkwood Police Officer Tom Ballman in the head and continued shooting other victims at close range while reportedly repeating the phrase "Shoot the mayor!"

He fatally shot council members Connie Karr and Michael H.T. Lynch, and Public Works Director Ken Yost. He shot Mayor Mike Swoboda twice in the head and left him for dead. Witnesses reported about 15 gunshots. Ignoring the four other council members, Thornton chased City Attorney John Hessel, who slowed Thornton by throwing chairs at him until escaping from the room.

All of this gunfire was audible at the Kirkwood police department building, located across a small parking lot from the rear entrance to city hall. Two Kirkwood police officers rushed to the council chambers. There, Thornton fired on them from behind a desk. The officers returned fire; Thornton, who still had rounds left, sustained two wounds and died on the spot.

In total, Thornton killed five and wounded two people during his shooting spree. Mayor Mike Swoboda was taken to St. John's Mercy Medical Center in critical condition.

The mayor was shot in the lower jaw, with the bullet exiting from his cheek, and was also shot in the back of his head. He underwent surgery on February 7 and again on February 8, the latter surgery lasting three hours.

Mayor Swoboda's condition was upgraded after a few days to 'serious', and after two weeks to 'satisfactory'. Since then, he has begun eating soft food and talking. His family said that he had no memory of the shootings. He will need reconstructive surgery for his face; other long term health effects are unknown.

On April 18, Swoboda returned to city hall to briefly address the last city council meeting before the expiration of his second and (due to term limits) final term as mayor. A reporter for the local Suburban Journals, Todd Smith, was also injured. He was shot in the hand and was released from the hospital within 24 hours.

Shooting victims

1. Tom Ballman, 37, police officer, killed

2. Kenneth Yost, 61, public works director, killed

3. Mike Swoboda, 69, mayor, orig. critical; later released from hospital

4. Michael H.T. Lynch, 63, council member, killed

5. Connie Karr, 51, council member, killed

6. Todd Smith, 36, reporter, released from hospital

7. William Biggs, 50, police officer, killed

Reaction

On February 8, Deputy Mayor Timothy E. Griffin thanked the police for coming courageously to the aid of those in the council chambers, saying that "this is a tragedy of untold magnitude." Police Chief Jack Plummer added, "we will move past this."

Gerald Thornton, one of Charles Thornton's brothers, told CNN that his brother Charles thought his "constitutional protections" were violated and that his act was the only option. In other interviews he said that "my brother went to war tonight with the government," that he could not resolve his problems through communication, and that "this was not a random rampage." Gerald Thornton himself served 5 years in Missouri prison for fatally stabbing a man in 1996.

Gerald Thornton's television and newspaper interviews were conducted and published before the news media had checked and published his criminal record.

Charles Thornton left a one-line note on his bed, saying: "The truth will come out in the end" or "The truth will win out in the end." The note was considered to be a suicide note, indicating that Thornton may have intended to die in the shooting. One of Thornton's brothers, Arthur Thornton, said that his family was "truly, truly sorry" for the shootings. Stream added that the shooter had many problems with the city and for an unknown reason, "he just snapped."

The Meacham Park Neighborhood Association (MPNA) met the afternoon of February 8th. In attendance were 100 people, including Thornton's mother, and a "procession of ministers" who spoke at the meeting.

Many there spoke sympathetically of Thornton. Elder Harry Jones of Men and Women of Faith Ministries said "This is something that took place over time, and perhaps it could have been avoided. There always has been a great divide between Kirkwood and Meacham Park."

Thornton's mother spoke last, saying "We've got to do things the Bible way. I'm sad that this happened." A blog entry that same day from a minister who used to live and work in Kirkwood provides some background about the relationship between Meacham Park and Kirkwood:

People who had lived in [Meacham Park] for generations were paid to move out so that Wal Mart could move in. [They] were made promises about how the money the city made from Wal Mart would be given to improve the living conditions in Meacham Park. When I met with the MPNA, there were residents who had been organizing and feeling frustrated for quite a while. They felt that the city officials were not following through on their promises and that the Meacham Park residents made a grave mistake in trusting the city officials....we were able to get our hands on some financial documents that flat out proved that the city promised money that they had not paid but there were legal loopholes that seemed insurmountable without a sea of money to devote to legal fees. When I stepped down from my work with Meacham Park, I knew that the frustrations were far from resolved.

The town of Kirkwood mourned on February 8, with flags at half-staff, and with prayer services and vigils being held throughout the day. A vigil was held across the street from city hall, with black fabric held over the entrance of it and a memorial of flowers, at 7 P.M. local time, about 24 hours after the shooting.

Notes were left with the flowers, some addressing the deceased, one note inside purple tulips saying "Thank you Tom [Ballman], for being our friend. We will never forget you." Outside of the Kirkwood police department building various flowers and an American flag were laid in memoriam of the two officers killed during the shooting.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Charles Lee 'Cookie' Thornton: Behind the smile

By Stephen Deere and Doug Moore - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

05/04/2008

Kirkwood In his hands were a bank ledger, an envelope of money and a photo album.

He knocked on the door of Chuck Runnels' home and flashed that wide, toothy smile that made everyone feel comfortable calling him "Cookie."

It was Feb. 7, three hours before Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton walked through the doors of City Hall carrying two handguns. Three hours before six people would be dead, Thornton among them.

"I need you to do me a favor," Thornton said.

Runnels said Thornton wanted him to hold on to the money and photos from a civic group they had helped to start. Thornton didn't say why. Runnels never thought to ask. The friends had known each other since kindergarten.

"I automatically assumed he was going to Florida for a couple of weeks," Runnels said. "I wish I would have said, 'Cookie, why are you dropping this off?'"

Now a series of "if-onlys" flit through Runnels' mind. Did he miss a sign that something was wrong? Could he have changed anything with a question?

But no one seemed to know the level of anguish behind Thornton's smile. His deception. His delusion. His demons.

Sure, most folks around town knew about the spectacle of Thornton's protests against City Hall. The histrionics at meetings. The lawsuits.

The more than $20,000 Kirkwood had fined him for parking and other code violations? That was the least of his problems.

He had used his parents' two homes like a personal ATM, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans, then squandering it all. The dump trucks he bought for his demolition and asphalt business had been repossessed. About a year before the killings, the IRS took out two liens against Thornton for more than $200,000.

And yet, Thornton always talked as though fortune was just around the corner. He would tell friends and family that he was doing "FAN-TAS-TIC," stretching out the word as if doing so could somehow make it true.

At least once a week, Thornton stopped by Runnels' house to chat. This time, Runnels offered him dinner. A hamburger, fried up in a skillet. The two sat on Runnels' leather sofa and watched NFL highlights on the same TV that by the end of the night would broadcast Thornton's face and the words "crazed killer."

A PERCEPTION OF SUCCESS

He hung the sign on his office door: "World Headquarters of Cookco Construction."

In 1999, Cookie Thornton leased a run-down service station on Kirkwood Road. He swept it clean, painted it and talked of the prosperity that would soon be his.

"Everything at the time looked like he was on his way up," said Thornton's former attorney, Michael Gibbons, now a state senator.

In reality, Thornton was almost $500,000 in debt. Between 1992 and 1998, he had failed to file quarterly withholding tax returns 22 times. He owed his ex-wife more than $10,000 in child support for a daughter living in Florida.

Friends and family said Thornton never told them he was getting deeper into debt.

"It's not like he's going to go out on the porch and scream and shout it," Runnels said.

In the mid-1990s, when developers targeted the Meacham Park neighborhood where Thornton grew up, he supported their efforts. He told friends that plans to build a Wal-Mart and other retail spots would generate numerous jobs and business for himself.

Thornton's relatives say he was promised a good portion of the demolition work in exchange for his support. At least, that's what he told them. City leaders say they told Thornton only that minority-owned businesses within Meacham Park would get preference.

But Thornton would never put together a formal bid, and he leveraged his business for work he never had.

"He went out and bought a construction truck and put himself into debt," said Rosalind Williams, Kirkwood's former director of community development.

Paul Ward, a former council member, tried to help Thornton put together bids a fruitless attempt Thornton just couldn't seem to appreciate.

"He believed that because he lived there he was guaranteed work, and that was that," Ward said.

Thornton did get a few demolition contracts between $60,000 and $80,000 worth of work, Ward recalled. About 1995, when one of Thornton's competitors won a majority of the contracts, Thornton sued the developer and his competitor, alleging racism. The case was tossed out.

"He does this and is dismayed that they didn't want to use him anymore?" Ward said.

Thornton tried to get the city to force the developer to rehire him, said John Hessel, Kirkwood's city attorney.

"I said, 'Cookie, we can't do that,'" Hessel said. "That was the first time I saw him getting really mad."

Claiming he had been betrayed, Thornton used his dump trucks to block a competitor's access to job sites. When police officers showed up and asked him to move, "he would just blow his air horns," Ward said.

DEBTS RISE; TICKETS MOUNT

Cookie Thornton filed for bankruptcy protection in December 1999 and was put on a plan to get out of debt. He would pay $4,425 a month for five years.

Within four months, Thornton stopped making the payments.

Unable to pay the $1,675 monthly rent for his "World Headquarters," he was evicted just six months after he opened shop. He was forced to move his business back to his parents' Meacham Park house. He stored his equipment on a lot across the street, a code violation that would spark his battles with Kirkwood government.

"He came across as a really good businessman," Gibbons said. "He really wasn't. The dream kept slipping away."

Meanwhile, Meacham Park was changing. What was once a cluster of aging homes and pockmarked streets in unincorporated St. Louis County was looking up. In the late 1990s, the city was using public money to invest in the annexed neighborhood, building new houses and renovating old ones. No longer were city leaders willing to turn a blind eye to obvious code violations.

Thornton received a slew of citations, ranging from parking a commercial vehicle in a residential neighborhood to illegal dumping. In 2000, Thornton got nearly 60 tickets. But that didn't deter him. The next year, he got 39.

When the city held court, Thornton often was the only one on the docket. He eventually amassed more than $20,000 in fines.

All along, he rarely discussed his finances, instead focusing his frustration on the city. He started showing up at City Council meetings in 2000, hurling insults at council members. He regularly came with props: bananas, chunks of asphalt, bales of hay and a poster of a donkey.

The man and his antics, everyone knew about. The man with mounting debts, however, remained under wraps.

"We just did not know that person," said the Rev. John Sykes, Thornton's pastor for 15 years.

FAITH IN GOD AND COOKIE

The display sits on a table in the living room. A balloon with the words "I love you" dangles from a photograph of a smiling Cookie Thornton.

Looking at it, Annie Bell Thornton still can't believe her son shot and killed five people. For so long, she had put her faith in her son, one of nine Thornton children.

"He was a child of God," said Annie Bell, 83.

She can't recall exactly why she gave Cookie power of attorney years ago, except that it was something God had directed her to do. Long after the family's home in Meacham Park had been paid off, Cookie refinanced the house for $72,000 in 2003. A year later, he refinanced his parents' retirement home in St. Petersburg, Fla., for $230,000.

Annie Bell isn't sure why he refinanced the homes, or what happened to the money.

"The Lord told me it was in his hands," she said. "God hadn't failed me yet."

Cookie needed his brother, Arthur Thornton, to co-sign the refinancing of the St. Petersburg home. Arthur said he tentatively agreed, but his brother never passed along the loan documents and ultimately ended up forging his name.

"It was a bad deal," said Arthur, who rarely spoke to Cookie afterward.

That didn't stop Cookie from refinancing the St. Petersburg home again last year, this time getting a loan for $352,000. Records show the house went into foreclosure in January.

Since Cookie's death, the family found out that the Meacham Park house also is in foreclosure, and, at one point, Cookie's mother and brother Gerald Thornton, who lived with Annie Bell, were days away from being homeless. They persuaded the lender to delay the sale of the home originally scheduled for last month. Plans call for Maureen Thornton, Cookie's second wife, to transfer ownership of the house to her mother-in-law, who will try to set up a payment plan with the bank.

Maureen and Cookie met in Kirkwood and were married in 1995. She moved to Florida four years ago, and he occasionally went there to visit her. She declined to comment for this story.

It is hard to describe the marriage during the past few years, Gerald said, though he knows Cookie rarely saw his wife during this time. It was just another secret he seemed to hold close.

"That part of his life, he didn't talk about," Gerald said.

REACHING OUT, BACKING OFF

During the past few years, many people around town sensed something was troubling Cookie Thornton. Police Chief Jack Plummer occasionally went to lunch and out for sodas with Thornton. He hoped to talk him out of his fixation with the city.

Try selling cars, Plummer would suggest. Thornton had the personality for it.

"Every time I saw Cookie, I'd stop to talk to him," Plummer said. "I was constantly trying to look for resolution. My big concern was that the obsessiveness of what he was doing was going to ruin his life."

The city tried to make itself less of a distraction for Thornton. After 2001, he was rarely ticketed. Records show that since 2002, Thornton was ticketed only four times. It had become pointless, Hessel said.

Then, the city offered to erase the fines from all the tickets, so long as Thornton agreed to be less confrontational.

Thornton wouldn't hear of it, demanding his day in court. The more time passed, the more intense Thornton became. By 2005, Thornton was picketing Hessel's office.

"Slaves again, slaves again," read the sign draped around his neck. "Why oh why in Kirkwood are we treated like slaves again."

Hessel said he tried to approach Thornton during one of the protests.

"Cookie, what's this all about?" Hessel said.

"It's a cover-up," Thornton told him. "I got it in my car."

"Let's go and look at it," Hessel said.

The two walked about 10 steps, then Cookie stopped.

"I'm not giving you anything," Thornton said.

Hessel put his hand on one of Thornton's protest signs tied to a parking meter, telling Thornton he couldn't use public property to picket.

Thornton pushed Hessel off the curb and gave him a menacing look.

"He stood there and said 'Touch it again!'" Hessel said.

After Thornton was arrested twice in 2006 for disrupting council meetings, Plummer talked with other city officials about having Thornton mentally evaluated. In the end, they decided not to intervene.

"If you didn't know Cookie and saw him standing on the street corner making noises like a donkey, sure, we'd take him in," Plummer said. "We didn't think he'd approached that point."

THE FINAL DAYS

Six days before the shootings, on a Friday afternoon, Sykes opened the door of his Wildwood home to find Cookie Thornton standing on the front step. A blanket of snow covered the pastor's driveway. Thornton was there to shovel it.

Sykes was Cookie and Maureen's pastor at Grace Community Bible Church in Maryland Heights, until Maureen moved to Florida. Cookie Thornton had sealed and striped the church's parking lot and took care of other projects for the church, often free of charge. Sykes wasn't surprised to see him again, ready to offer another good deed.

"He was a very giving person," Sykes said.

Thornton mentioned that he was looking forward to a jury trial in March, referring to a federal suit seeking $14 million from the city of Kirkwood. It was his only remaining legal challenge that hadn't been dismissed.

"At that point, he was still upbeat," Sykes said.

That Sunday, Thornton arrived at the Kirkwood Church of God in Meacham Park. The church was taking collections for people needing help with utility payments. He handed a check to one of the ushers and left. "It was a small amount," pastor Miguel Brinkley said, "a small token."

On Tuesday, two days before the shootings, Thornton called Joe Cole, a family friend, and told him that Thornton's federal suit had been tossed out. A judge ruled that Kirkwood did not violate his free-speech rights.

"He was talking off the wall," Cole said. "He was sniffling and crying."

Gone was Thornton's last hope of vindication, his last chance to get himself and his family's finances out of trouble. Thornton choked out something about the upcoming City Council meeting.

"I just thought all he was going to do was go up to City Hall and throw chairs," Cole said. "All he said was, 'They aren't going to get (away) with this.'"

On the day he would walk into City Hall for the last time, Thornton was finished crying. He was back to being the man who punctuated his greetings with "Praise the Lord!" Back to being the man who was always beyond the reach of a helping hand.

He sat on Runnels' sofa, the two flipping through photos of the Men's Breakfast Club, a local group that helped kids in the neighborhood. Thornton reminisced about their days at Kirkwood High School.

An hour passed. Thornton stood up and said he had to go.

"He walked out of here with that million-dollar smile," Runnels said.

Among his last words to his friend were "Glory be to God," a farewell he had spoken countless times.

Looking back, it seems a chilling line for a man about to take five lives. But that was Cookie. Everything was always fine, even when it wasn't.

 
 

Thornton Bio

Born Dec. 23, 1955

Graduated from Kirkwood High School in 1974. Played basketball and was a track star, winning the triple jump state championship in 1973 and 1974.

Graduated from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) in Kirksville in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Holds school record for both indoor and outdoor high jump, both set in 1979. Named an All-American track star for both high and triple jumps. Inducted into Truman's sports hall of fame in 1994.

Registered Cookco Construction with the state on Sept. 15, 1987.

Married Marilyn Ann Thomas on April 9, 1988. Thomas gave birth to a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, in 1991.

Thomas and Thornton divorced on Nov. 4, 1993. Thomas and daughter, now 17, live in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Ran unsuccessfully for Kirkwood City Council in April 1994, finishing fifth among six candidates.

Married Maureen Carol Sutherlin on Aug. 26, 1995. She has a bachelor's degree in education from Harris-Stowe State University and a master's degree in secondary administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She is a former teacher at Nipher Middle School in Kirkwood and assistant principal at Selvidge Middle School in Ballwin, part of the Rockwood School District. Since February 2004, she has worked for the Pinellas County Schools in Florida. She is currently a middle school principal in St. Petersburg.

 
 

Thornton timeline

June 30, 1999

Thornton signs a five-year lease to pay $1,675 a month in rent for a building at 915 South Kirkwood Road. By December, he is not paying rent and not making property improvements, including adding a new roof, creating drainage for water runoff, tuckpointing or painting the exterior, as agreed to in the lease. A judge allows the landlord to evict Thornton.

Dec. 17, 1999

Thornton files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to reorganize his debts, which were listed at $488,430.80. Parties making claims include the state Department of Revenue, Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as $10,425 from state child support services.

April 28, 2000

Court dismisses the bankruptcy case because Thornton fails to make consistent monthly payments of $4,425 to court.

May 2001

Thornton is convicted of 19 city violations in Kirkwood. He is fined $12,250. He eventually receives more than 200 tickets and more than $20,000 in fines.

June 23, 2001

Thornton is charged with assaulting Ken Yost, Kirkwood's public works director.

May 13, 2002

Thornton is convicted of the assault charge against Yost. He is also convicted of 26 ordinance violations, which include parking violations and improper storage of equipment. He is fined a total of $6,200.

Sept. 25, 2003

Thornton sues Kirkwood for malicious prosecution, arguing the city should pay him $12 million. A judge dismisses the case. He appeals to the state Supreme Court, which refuses to take the case and sends it to an appeals court.

Jan. 5, 2004

Thornton files a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Supreme Court for not taking his case. It is dismissed.

April 26, 2005

Missouri appeals court dismisses Thornton's lawsuit against Kirkwood.

May 18, 2006

Thornton interrupts a Kirkwood City Council meeting. He is arrested for disorderly conduct when he refuses to leave.

June 15, 2006

At a City Council meeting, Thornton sets up a poster on an easel with a drawing of a donkey. He leads off with the words "jackass, jackass, jackass." He is arrested for disorderly conduct and is later fined $2,000.

Jan. 1, 2007

IRS files a tax lien of $195,241 against Thornton's assets; a second IRS lien for $17,539 is filed March 8, 2007.

Jan. 16, 2007

Thornton sues Kirkwood in St. Louis County court, accusing the city of "willfully and wrongfully" denying his right to speak at a public meeting. He asks that the city not be notified before a court decision. He calls it "Preliminary Injunction Without Notice." Two days later, he files a similar suit in federal court, asking a judge to force Kirkwood to let him speak at meetings. He requests that more than $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages be added to the suit.

June 24, 2007

Thornton pickets outside PJ's Restaurant in Kirkwood. He struggles with owner Paul Cartier. Cartier falls, and Thornton stamps on Cartier's leg until bystanders subdue him. Thornton is charged with misdemeanor assault. The criminal case was pending when Thornton was killed.

Oct. 10, 2007

A St. Louis County judge dismisses Thornton's free speech lawsuit.

January 2008

Foreclosure proceedings begin on Thornton family house in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is listed in the names of Thornton's wife, Maureen, and his brother, Arthur. The house was refinanced twice. The mortgage grew to $352,750 from the initial price of $124,900.

Jan. 28, 2008

Thornton's federal lawsuit is dismissed.

Feb. 7, 2008

Thornton arrives at Kirkwood City Hall. He fatally shoots police Sgt. William Biggs just outside the building and takes Biggs' gun. Inside, with two guns, Thornton kills police officer Tom Ballman, Councilwoman Connie Karr, Councilman Michael H.T. Lynch and Public Works Director Ken Yost. Mayor Mike Swoboda is critically wounded. Suburban Journals reporter Todd Smith is shot in the hand. Police shoot and kill Thornton at the scene.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

 

 

 
 
 
 
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