ST. LOUIS, Missouri — A discarded business card led police to the man accused of killing a woman and sexually assaulting two others inside a religious supplies store near St. Louis.
Details provided by the surviving victims also helped lead investigators to Thomas Bruce, St. Louis County Police Sgt. Shawn McGuire told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story published Thursday.
Bruce, a 53-year-old married former pastor from Imperial, was arrested two days after the terrifying Nov. 19 attack at a Catholic Supply store in Ballwin, another St. Louis suburb about 20 miles northwest of Imperial. He is jailed without bond on multiple charges, including first-degree murder, sodomy and kidnapping. Calls from The Associated Press to his lawyer, Brice Donnelly, rang unanswered on Thursday.
According to prosecutors, Bruce entered the store posing as a customer before leaving briefly and returning with a handgun, which he used to usher the three women inside into a back room. He ordered them to strip and to perform sexual acts on him. Prosecutors say a 53-year-old customer and mother of three, Jamie Schmidt, refused, so he shot her in the head. Bruce fled after sexually assaulting the other two women and managed to blend in along the busy street outside.
McGuire told Post-Dispatch that surveillance cameras were of no help and that 24 hours after the crime, with concern growing about a killer on the loose, police had no credible leads. Investigators were helped by details provided by the two surviving victims, which were released to the public.
“They were key in this,” McGuire said. “They paid attention to a lot of the intricate details of him.”
Detectives were interviewing people at the other businesses at the strip mall the day after the attack when a woman told them she had interacted with a man who fit a more detailed description of the attacker that had recently been released and that he had given her his business card, McGuire said.
The woman had tossed the card in the trash, but the trash hadn’t been collected yet and detectives were able to find the card. McGuire said he didn’t know specifically what was written on the card, but it led police to Bruce.
At around 5 a.m. on Nov. 21, detectives went to the trailer park where Bruce lived with his wife. It’s not clear what they found, but soon, dozens of officers swarmed in and were carrying away boxes and checking beneath the home. Within hours, Bruce was arrested for the store attack.
Bruce’s motive remains unclear, authorities said. He apparently didn’t know the victims and he had no criminal history. Investigators are trying to see if he’s connected to any unsolved cases.