Sunday, June 23, 2013

THE STAUDTE FAMILY

Rachel & Diane Staudte, November 2012

Mark Alan Staudte's LinkedIn profile listed his occupation as "Independent Performing Arts Professional," but that was just a fancy way of saying "musician." From his early days growing up in St. Louis he loved music, and it was fitting that he went to school at St. John's College, a two-year Lutheran college in Winfield, Kan., home of the internationally known Walnut Valley Festival, a bluegrass-rich event held every September.

Staudte's taste and talent in music was more blues than bluegrass. He was in a local blues band, Messing With Destiny, singing and playing rhythm guitar and harmonica with an enthusiasm that earned him the nickname "Mark the Spark."

But St. John's held a special place in Staudte's life. He first went to school there in the late 1960s, and kept attending classes after his family moved to Topeka, Kan., in the summer of 1970.

"My parents were from St. Louis," says his older brother, Michael, "but my Dad was in the Air Force and we moved pretty much every two years. I think that had an impact on Mark, and he tended to be a bit more reclusive and read books rather than get out and find new friends."

It was in Winfield that Mark apparently met his wife, Diane Elaine Richter, a fellow music lover, who says her mother "nudged me to learn organ and flute … (and) found me a nice Lutheran college to go to."

On Dec. 28, 1985, Diane Richter became Diane Staudte.

Seven months later, Diane gave birth to Shaun. Over the next four years they would have two more children — Sarah and Rachel — and then, a late arrival: one more daughter, Brianna, born right after the new century.

Diane went to work in health care. Mark played in bands. The family lived modestly in northwest Springfield, in a 912-square-foot house at 2444 W. Page. Both Mark and Diane stayed close to their Lutheran roots; his band listed "God" as the manager, and Diane regularly played music at Redeemer Lutheran Church.

A family of six: from the outside looking in, life seemed serene. Unlike many couples of their generation, the Staudtes celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Their children were good students. The only brush with the law was a speeding ticket Diane got in Polk County in 1998.

In 2012, Diane would turn 50. Mark would celebrate his 61st birthday. Oldest daughter Sarah would graduate from Missouri State University. Rachel would start her last year of college. Diane would come to call it a "year of change" — but for entirely different reasons.

---

"It's always the quiet ones, after all."
— Rachel Staudte, from her Facebook page

April was a special month in the Staudte family. Diane's birthday was April 5; her husband's was two days later. In 2012 the month was made even more special by Easter, which fell on Sunday, April 8, the day after Mark turned 61.

But there were no sounds of celebration inside the house on West Page Street. Mark was sick — worse than sick, actually. His wife said he started feeling weak on Friday, the day after her birthday. By Easter Sunday he was having seizures, she said. By that night he could barely speak, she said, and could only respond with his eyes.

After Mark's third seizure, Diane says she checked on him and found he wasn't breathing. She called police. They found the musician dead, with "what appeared to be blood around (his) mouth," police wrote in their report. They didn't see any other signs of trauma on his body.

One officer asked Diane why she didn't call 911 when her husband started having seizures. Her answer: Mark told her he didn't want to go to the hospital.

The medical examiner ruled Mark died of natural causes.

The next day Diane quoted scripture on her Facebook wall: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going."

She said Mark had "reached his eternal home."

Their daughter, Rachel, quoted the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from his poem about sleeping nature, "Wayfarer's Night Song II":

"Over all the hilltops
Is calm.
In all the treetops
You feel
hardly a breath of air.
The little birds fall silent in the woods.
Just wait ... soon
You'll also be at rest."

Mark Staudte's body was cremated; a memorial service was held on April 20 at Redeemer Lutheran Church. His bandmate in Messing With Destiny, Sean Clavin, wrote in a memory book: "It has been my honor to play music with you this past year. Your enthusiasm for the blues and music in general is what everyone who performs needs. It has been a fun ride, thank you for being a part of it with me."

Later, Clavin thought about the way Diane Staudte acted at the memorial service. "She seemed to just be 'there,' not really grieving, just 'there,'" he recalled. "I just thought she was in shock from the death."

The Staudte's oldest child, Shaun, was terse as he described the events of the day.

"I had the funeral of my dead father," he wrote. "His body was cremated. His ashes were dumped in Lake Springfield. His soul has been in heaven since he died."

In a little more than four months, Shaun Staudte would be dead, too.

---

An outpouring of sympathy washed over the Staudte family in the weeks after Mark's sudden death. A member of the Johnnies alumni from St. John's College noted the date of Mark's death — Easter Sunday — and said the musician had "entered the church triumphant."

After that first Facebook post on the day after Mark's death, Diane did not mention her husband again on the social network. She posted no pictures from the memorial service.

In July, the family moved from the small house on West Page. Now they were living in a 1,324-square-foot home at 1644 W. Swan St. — east of Kansas Expressway, and just north of the James River Freeway. The house and lot have an appraised value of $79,000. Diane bought it. She had just been named a clinical review supervisor for UnitedHealth Group in Springfield.

Her two oldest daughters, Sarah and Rachel, were in school at Missouri State University; the youngest child, Brianna, was just about to start her last year of elementary school at Horace Mann. All three girls had reputations for being good students.

Shaun Staudte was different. "I get nervous a little bit," he wrote on his Facebook profile. "People say I am intelligent." But the 2005 Central High School graduate didn't attend college, and he apparently wasn't working during the summer of 2012. On one of his two Facebook pages, he said he'd never worked outside the home.

His mother reportedly told friends Shaun had a mild form of autism. She also said he was sick for much of August — an illness like the flu, with diarrhea, nausea, body aches, headaches. She said she didn't take him to the hospital because he was able to keep fluids down.

On Saturday night, Sept. 1, Shaun reportedly told his mother he wasn't feeling well and went to bed around 10:30 p.m. Diane said she checked on her 27-year-old son throughout the night; he was still sleeping when she went to church at 6:30 a.m., she said.

Diane said she returned home from church at 12:30 p.m. and went to check on her son. "She said (Shaun) was curled up on the floor with a blanket over his midsection," according to court documents. "Diane said she checked (Shaun) to see if he had a pulse. She said he did not, and she said she called 911."

For the second time in less than five months, a member of the Staudte family was dead. Like his father, Shaun had a seizure before he died. Like his father, Shaun had dried blood around his mouth.

As he did in the case of Mark Staudte, the medical examiner found no foul play in Shaun's death, and said "prior medical issues" were to blame.

There is no record of a local funeral or memorial service for Shaun Staudte. A week after he died, his mother posted a Facebook message to Rachel, his sister: "Hang in there, hope today is a better day for you (and me too)."

Almost three weeks after Shaun died, his mother posted on Facebook: "Today we remember Shaun's life. May we have a portion of the peace he now enjoys."

By mid-October, things had changed in the house on West Swan. "Don't think I've seen mom so chilled out like this in a long time," Rachel noted on her Facebook page.

Diane posted a photo of herself. Unlike most public pictures of her, in this one she is smiling.

---

"Be obscure clearly."
— a quote from E.B. White posted on Rachel Staudte's Facebook page

Sarah and Rachel Staudte are very close in age — Sarah is 24, Rachel is 22 — but their public personas, at least, are as different as sun and moon.

Sarah graduated from Central High School in 2007 and then went to Missouri State University — but unlike most people her age, she is not listed on any of the social networks.

Rachel, however, is all over the digital landscape, as big and bright as the artwork she posts with her comments. She is a straight-A student at Missouri State, a regular on the Dean's List, a young woman with a quirky personality. She says she speak four languages — German, Japanese, Russian and English — and she appears to be as comfortable with math as she is with art.

Her public profile is a study in extraordinary contrasts. She likes the cranky poet Charles Bukowski and Howl's Moving Castle, the gentle animated fantasy film by Hayao Miyazaki. She is the sort of young woman who enjoys cat art and, in the next breath, will complain, "My chemistry textbook is insulting my intelligence."

There is another big difference between the Staudte sisters: the amount of attention received from their mother, Diane.

When Sarah graduated in late 2012 from Missouri State, her mother posted two words on Facebook: "Congrats Sarah." Compare this to the almost running dialogue between Diane and Rachel, in which mother repeatedly teases, compliments and jokes with her daughter:

"Congrats on getting your paperwork completed. You are officially in Sr Exhib. next fall … Awesome job tonight ! …  Congrats — straight A's! … Just think, next week by this time , you will be done for the semester!"

So it was a marked change in tone when Diane suddenly announced on June 9: "Asking for prayers as my daughter Sarah is in critical condition in ICU tonight."

Over the next several days she provided updates on her Facebook page, chronicling Sarah's slow but steady recovery from a mystery illness. Rachel did not comment on the posts.

On June 19, Diane wrote: "Sarah update: out of ICU and able to walk a little."

On June 20, Springfield police asked Diane about Mark, Shaun and Sarah.

"Initially, she denied any involvement in the deaths of Mark or (Shaun)," according to court documents. "She also denied any involvement in the sickness to Sarah. During the course of the interview, she began to change her story. Eventually, she admitted that she used antifreeze to poison them all … She stated she killed Mark because she hated him … She stated that she killed (Shaun) because he was worse than a pest … She stated she wanted to kill Sarah because she would not get a job and had student loans that had to be paid."

She said it was her evil, and no one else was involved.

The next day police asked Rachel if she was involved. After denying it at first, she reportedly confessed to helping her mother.

Only after they told Diane that Rachel had confessed did the mother admit to her daughter's alleged role.

Both are now in the Greene County Jail, charged with murder and felony assault. They could face the death penalty.

At the dawn of 2013, Diane Staudte looked back on the past year's tumult and wrote: "May we take 2012's lessons and learn and use them in positive ways in the New Year. May we show love, compassion, and continue to lift each other up in 2013."

On her Facebook page, Rachel Staudte quoted the journalist Henry Brooks Adams:

"No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Better journalism here for this story than anywhere else. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Ron. Always appreciate you work.