Tuesday, July 02, 2013

THE STAUDTE FAMILY: THE DEVIL INSIDE

Rachel Staudte is a talented artist. Just one look at the work on her Facebook page and you realize she has potential to spare. She has imagination and verve and a considerable amount of daring for her age (she's 22).

She may never get to grow or show that talent. Now charged with murder and felony assault, she faces the death penalty if convicted of killing her father and brother, and trying to kill her older sister.

People who knew Rachel and her mother, Diane, before their arrests are using the same word to describe the women: odd. People who attended church with them say Diane Staudte wasn't very likable and tended to pass judgment on people she didn't know. They also say she was socially awkward.

One person also noticed this: "Diane possessed body odor. I found this odd, because she looked clean, but didn't smell that way." This person, schooled in mental health, says it's a sign that Diane Staudte may be mentally ill; personal hygiene often goes by the wayside when someone's mental balance deteriorates.

When it came to Rachel, this same person says she was as awkward as her mother: "She would never say hello or talk to me or anyone else for that matter unless you said something first. She would answer you, then the conversation would end soon after it would start."

A person who attended Central High School with Rachel says she was one of the handful of band students who kept to themselves, even on a trip to Six Flags. "She was weird," he recalls. "And she was second-chair flute." For an overachiever like Rachel Staudte, this must have been cutting.

Her mother offered frequent — almost constant — positive strokes. The last public posting on Rachel's Facebook page is from her mother complimenting her on making the Dean's List. That was on May 22, less than three weeks before the women allegedly tried to poison Rachel's sister, Sarah.

The issue of mental illness will be something that defense attorneys naturally explore here. It's a tough case to make in Missouri; jurors have to acquit someone of a crime if they find the defendant suffers from a mental disease or defect. There is no "guilty, but insane" verdict.

Making it tougher here: the methodical nature of the alleged crimes. Prosecutors say Diane and Rachel Staudte researched and carried out three crimes over the course of 14 months. There is no sudden explosion of seemingly insane violence — if Mark, Shaun and Sarah Staudte were poisoned, whoever did it planned the crimes. That's deliberation to an extreme degree, and it would seem to point to minds that are diabolical, not diseased or defective.

Other things to consider:

-Diane's Staudte's church acquaintances say they noticed a change in her behavior in the months before her husband died. That's about the same time Staudte started working from home. She would have been spending much more time in her husband's orbit, and he was a 61-year-old man who played in a blues band and apparently didn't have a full-time job. She would have had daily exposure to a person she reportedly told police she "hated."

-Diane Staudte's closest friend appears to have been her daughter, Rachel. The women played flute together; they were the two Staudte mainstays at their Lutheran church (parishioners say they didn't often see Mark and rarely saw Shaun or Sarah). On their Facebook pages they shared jokes and gigged each other with the ease of longtime friends — something that doesn't appear to have been the case between Diane and her other children. Some acquaintances say Diane and Rachel even drank together — not a scandal, both are adults, but it's behavior that Diane probably didn't indulge in with Sarah or Shaun.

-People who know her say Rachel Staudte liked to confound people. She cites a Banksy quote as one of her favorites: "If you want to say something and have people listen then you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest then you have to live a lie." And she apparently created a Facebook page for one of her likes: "inducing paranoia with a smile."

Next stop for reporters covering this story: trying to get a better feel for the family dynamics leading up to April 2012, when Mark Staudte died, and continuing through last month, when Diane and Rachel Staudte were arrested.

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