Missouri

Man shoots wife and 6 other relatives, tries to blame killings on 14-year-old victim

September 25, 1987
Elkland, Missouri
James Schnick kills his wife and six relatives (including four children) and blames the murders on one of the victims

Schnick was found by paramedics, writhing in pain from gunshot and stab wounds, while responding to a 911 call. His wife Julie was found dead in their bedroom, killed by two gunshot wounds to her head. In a hallway, the body of the Schnicks’ 14-year-old nephew, Kirk Buckner, was found, clutching a .22-caliber pistol in his right hand. Schnick stated the teen had gone on a rampage which was only ended after Schnick killed him.

Police were dispatched to Buckner’s home, where deputies discovered the bodies of Kirk’s mother, Jeanette, and Kirk’s brothers: Dennis, 8; Timmy, 6; and Michael, 2. Kirk’s father Steve was found on the side of a gravel road between the two homesteads. Each victim had been shot in the head.

Police initially accepted Schnick’s accounts of the events, and the first guess given for the reason behind the murders related to the “searing poverty and a relentless workload” teenagers working on a struggling family farm experience.

Suspicion turned to Schnick due to the superficial nature of his wounds, and after learning Kirk was left-handed. Confronted with these pieces of evidence, Schnick confessed to the murders directly before he was to take a polygraph test. He was convicted and originally sentenced to death in 1988, though the conviction was overturned when his lawyer contested Schnick’s confession was not freely given. He was retried, pleaded guilty to three of the murders, and sentenced to three life terms.

No clear motive was given for the seven slayings, though it has been speculated the victims were killed for their insurance and/or inheritance.

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