Friday, February 27, 2015


"History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging."
— George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

Generations not yet born will look back on February 2015 as a month of madness. Nearly two dozen people dead across the Ozarks — many the victims of murder-suicides, almost all of them shot — and the first gut reaction is to wonder what has happened to this normally quiet area, “a place to raise a family, not a fuss,” as some locals like to say.

But none of this is new.

The fall of 1987: that’s what came to mind on Friday when the news from Texas County broke.

In September 1987 a man named Howard Franklin Stewart shot and killed three people near Conway, in Laclede County. His parents lived here and he was hitchhiking. He wound up in Corsicana, Texas, where he killed three more people, including his wife, before killing himself.

Less than a month later, the Stewart spree was eclipsed by a crime that became known for two names: Schnick-Buckner.

Kirk Buckner was 14 when police say he went on a rampage and killed six members of his family, including his parents, his three brothers and an aunt. It happened in Elkland, in rural Webster County. The teen was shot dead by his uncle, James Schnick, and for the next several days every story from Elkland was about the teen who snapped and wiped out his family.

The Buckners were poor farmers. Investigators thought the hard times broke Kirk. His best friend in school remembered the teen being strangely quiet the day before the killings.

The funeral service was agonizing — seven coffins in a row, bearing mute witness to the violence. The funeral home ran out of hearses so it had to use GMC Suburbans to transport some of the bodies to the cemetery. The youngest victim was 2; a grim-faced man carried his tiny casket to the grave site.

And then James Schnick confessed after being confronted with a simple, damning fact: Kirk Buckner had the gun in his right hand, but he was left-handed. Kirk Buckner was buried a killer but was actually a hero; he had tried to stop the rampage. Schnick was the murderer; he killed seven people and almost succeeded in framing his nephew for the crimes.

Fourteen bodies in a month. Reporters covering the mayhem were sent to counselors by their newsrooms. Everyone agreed that we would never see a similar eruption of violence — not in our lifetimes, at least. There was comfort in that agreement.

But history is a wheel. What has happened before will happen again. This is the time of again.​

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