Wasted seven family members, including
four of his children.
He then tried to blame his fourteen-year-old nephew who died in the
rampage for the crime.
Boy, 14, kills 8 in his family, is
slain by uncle
The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 26, 1987
A 14-year-old farm
boy yesterday shot to death his parents, three young brothers and an
aunt before he was killed in a scuffle with an uncle, authorities said.
Authorities said they had not
determined a motive. Neighbors described the boy's family, who lived on
a dairy farm in southwestern Missouri, as financially strained.
With 7 dead, friends look for
September 27, 1987
Kirk Buckner was a
quiet boy. Well-behaved and unusually hard-working for a 14-year-old, he
was still just a sprout of a boy - thin and wiry from his farm work.
Once in a while he would get sad or
a little depressed, friends said, but not in a serious way. "He'd just
mope around and not want to go fishing or something," one of his pals
Mo. man charged in murders of 7 kin
The Boston Globe
October 6, 1987
MARSHFIELD, Mo. --
The sole survivor of a shooting rampage that killed seven relatives was
charged yesterday with murder in the slayings, which had been blamed on
a 14-year-old family member who was among the victims. The survivor,
James E. Schnick, 36, of rural Elkland, was charged with murder in the
Sept. 25 killings of his wife, her brother and the brother's wife and
to arrest of uncle in 7 deaths
Missouri killings first laid to
The Boston Globe
October 7, 1987
MARSHFIELD, Mo. --
Police investigating the killings of seven members of a rural family
turned their suspicion from a slain 14-year-old to his wounded uncle
after learning that the boy was left-handed and that the murder weapon,
a gun, was found in the boy's right hand, officials said yesterday.
A Missouri Highway Patrol
investigator said the uncle, James Schnick, admitted during a two-hour
interrogation Monday that he was responsible for the shootings on the
morning of Sept. 25.
In 7 Deaths, Town
Knew What Experts Didn't
By Dirk Johnson - The New York Times
October 7, 1987
MARSHFIELD, Mo. —
To the police, the clergy and the farm crisis experts, the
killing frenzy here attributed to a 14-year-old farm boy, seemingly
pushed to the breaking point by searing poverty and a relentless
workload, had made a kind of tragic sense.
But it did not make sense to everyone at the coffee
shops, the fire station or the grain store here. The townspeople knew
something the experts did not. They knew Kirk Buckner. The boy, who died
in the rampage 11 days ago, has been cleared of the killings of his
parents, three young brothers and an aunt. After a deluge of calls and
tips from residents convinced that the youth did not commit the slayings,
the police on Monday charged the man who contended he was the sole
survivor of the attack, James Schnick, Kirk's uncle.
''There's no way Kirk could have done it,'' said one
of the townspeople, George Chapman. ''He's a good boy. Everybody knows
that.'' Even before the authorities arrested Mr. Schnick, talk around
town centered on details of the case that did not make sense.
''Oh, did we get calls,'' said Don Cheever, the
Webster County prosecutor. ''A lot of it didn't check out. But some of
it was legitimate.''
In one of the key findings that led to the murder
charges against Mr. Schnick, it was determined that the youth was left-handed
but that the gun used to kill the relatives was found in his right hand.
Injuries Less Severe
Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the 90-pound teen-ager
had been able to drag the 250-pound body of his father, Steve Buckner,
to a cemetery after the man had been shot, as the police initially
Finally, Mr. Schnick, who said he had been seriously
wounded in a gun battle with Kirk that ended in the boy's death, turned
out to be much less seriously hurt than he had contended.
''He was overacting,'' said Sheriff Eugene Fraker. ''And
then he didn't want to be released from the hospital.''
On Friday, when Mr. Schnick was about to take a lie-detector
test, he agreed to make a statement, the police said.
Around town, many residents said they knew all along
that Kirk, a well-mannered youth who rose every day before sunrise to do
his chores, could not have committed such a heinous crime.
Funeral for Family
''This boy could look you in the eye and talk sense,''
said Audie DeHarty, Kirk's principal at the Marshfield Junior High
But now, the community that only last week struggled
to understand how Kirk could have killed all those people is now
fighting is understand another set of circumstances.
''It makes me sick to think about it,'' said Frank
Eugan, a cattle dealer here. ''I can't believe Schnick would do it. But
you've got to look at the evidence.'' The family members were buried in
a joint service a week ago Monday. The flower-draped caskets, in a
circle at the First Baptist Church, held the bodies of Mr. Buckner, 35
years old; his wife, Jan, 36; Kirk; his brothers, Dennis, 8; Timothy, 7,
and Michael, 2, and Mr. Buckner's sister, Julie Schnick, 30.
Mr. Schnick had been brought to the funeral by his
Reports of a Feud
At his arraignment today, Mr. Schnick appeared in a
white tee-shirt and blue jeans, unshaven, his hair matted.
Authorities would not comment on reports around town
that Mr. Schnick, a dairy farmer and a volunteer firefighter, had been
feuding recently with Mr. Buckner. He was being held without bond at the
Webster County jail.
Mr. Schnick's daughters, Jamie, 8, and Mindy, 6, were
staying with their mother's parents.
After the killings, police speculated that the
Buckner family's severe financial problems had taken their toll on Kirk.
Today, Sheriff Fraker defended their initial beliefs
about Kirk, noting that evidence at first appeared to substantiate Mr.
Schnick's account of the killings. But he said ''pressure by the news
media'' may have forced his department to issue the findings prematurely.
''You had to give them something,'' Sheriff Fraker
said. ''And this was what seemed obvious. It happens a lot this way.''
Hard Times Were Nothing New
The Buckner family lived in a rundown farm house in
rural Ekland, about 11 miles from here, and Kirk was so busy with chores
before and after school that he had scarcely any time for anything else.
But many residents in this hilly region about 30
miles from Springfield discounted theories that the farm crisis had much
to do with the killings.
Farmers have always scraped to make a living on the
rocky soil here, and hard times were nothing new.
''These people had lived all their lives just getting
by,'' Mr. Chapman said of the Buckners and the Schnicks. ''What happened
here was unbelievable. But it has nothing to do with the finances.''
Some townspeople here voiced anger that Kirk had been
buried as a killer.
''Kirk got the most unbelievable raw deal - to be
killed and accused of killing,'' said Gordon T. Grant, the assistant
principal at the Marshfield High School. ''And this was a kid that never
got himself into trouble.''
'Locking Their Doors'
In a region where crime comes so rarely, the killing
rampage marked the second outbreak of violence in less than a month.
Earlier in September, three people were killed by a
hitchhiker near Conway, Mo., about 10 miles southwest of here, the
police said. The police identified the killer as Howard Franklin Stewart,
37, whose parents lived in the region. Mr. Stewart then made his way to
Corsicana, Tex., and the authorities say that on Sept. 22 he killed
three people, including his wife, and then killed himself.
''People are changed now,'' said Mr. Chapman. ''They're
locking their doors, locking their cars. We didn't use to do that. And
some of them are keeping a loaded gun around.''
There was some sense of quiet relief around town that
Kirk's memory would not be besmirched. But grief still dominated this
town, where one of the largest employers is a maker of funeral caskets.
''The guilty party seems to have changed, but the
crimes haven't,'' said Mr. DeHarty. ''We've still got seven people lying
at the Timber Ridge Baptist Cemetery.''
Residents in Mo.
town grope to deal with 7 slayings
The Boston Globe
October 11, 1987
ELKLAND, Mo. -- Folks
living in this sleepy dairy town still shake their heads in disbelief as
they recount the chilling details of how a mass murder in their midst
shattered their quiet lives.
"I just don't know how it can happen
here," sighed Wilma Cox, 66, as she stared out the window of her small
cafe in the center of this peaceful village nestled in the rolling back
hills of Missouri's Ozark region.
Doubts, a probe, then a confession
The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 12, 1987
The gate on James E.
Schnick's neat little dairy farm is padlocked. The killings happened
here and over at the Buckner place.
At first, everyone thought the boy
had done it - just gone berserk and killed his parents and three younger
brothers and his aunt, James Schnick's wife. They had found the gun in
14-year-old Kirk Buckner's hand as he lay dead on the floor. Schnick
said he had to kill the boy, his own nephew, to stop the rampage.
Auguries of Innocence
By Laurence Zuckerman and Staci D. Kramer - Time.com
October 19, 1987
When paramedics answered an emergency call at the
farm of James and Julie Schnick in the south Missouri hamlet of Elkland
(pop. 200), they found James Schnick rolling on the floor and wailing in
pain from a gunshot and stab wounds. He had spotted an unknown intruder
in the house and fatally stabbed him after a ferocious struggle, he told
Webster County Sheriff Eugene Fraker. In the bedroom Schnick's wife lay
dead, shot twice in the head. The mysterious intruder, who was sprawled
dead in the hallway, a .22-cal. pistol clutched in his hand, turned out
to be Kirk Buckner, Schnick's 14-year-old nephew.
Two deputies dispatched to the Buckner's dairy farm
five miles away discovered an even more gruesome scene: Kirk's mother
and his three younger brothers had all been killed by gunshots to the
head. The body of Kirk's father lay by the side of a gravel road, midway
between the two farms.
Sheriff Fraker, along with others in the area,
assumed that the family's dire economic circumstances had pushed Kirk
over the edge. It seemed to be yet one more tragic testament to the
desperation of so many of the country's debt- burdened family farmers.
Said the Rev. Wilburn Steward at a funeral service for the slain family
attended by more than 500: "In mankind, there's a breaking point.
Something in Kirk had reached that point, and he just snapped."
But for many of the Buckners' friends the explanation
just didn't ring true. They knew Kirk as a good-natured teen, devoted to
his family, who seemed incapable of such cold-blooded violence. "I'd
seen him with his brothers and how he loved his mother," says Neighbor
Mary Shoemaker. Her son Billy, 15, was a close friend of Kirk's and once
saved him from drowning. "I never thought Kirk did it," he says.
Haunted by his own suspicions, Sheriff Fraker began
to probe a bit more. He called in Sergeant Tom Martin, a friend with the
Missouri Highway Patrol. The two reviewed the evidence and discovered
several curious discrepancies. How could Kirk, who weighed only 130 lbs.,
have moved his 250-lb. father so far from their farmhouse? Schnick's
wounds, it turned out, were superficial. Although Schnick claimed he had
attacked the boy only with a steak knife, an autopsy revealed that Kirk
may have died from a gunshot. Then, at the high school where Kirk had
just begun his freshman year, Fraker and Martin learned of a shattering
piece of evidence: Kirk Buckner was lefthanded. The murder weapon had
been found in his right hand.
Last week, as Schnick was about to undergo a lie-detector
test, he broke down and confessed that he had committed the murders and
tried to frame his dead nephew. Appearing in court wearing bib overalls
and a white T shirt, he was charged with seven counts of first-degree
murder. Though authorities suspect that Schnick may have killed to
benefit from wills and insurance policies, Sheriff Frager still feels
there is some mystery involved. "I don't know what was in the man's mind,"
he says. "There's always a possibility we'll never know."
penalty urged for Missouri farmer
April 16, 1988
MARSHFIELD, Mo. - A
jury recommended Friday that a southwestern Missouri dairy farmer be put
to death for killing his wife and two nephews, including a teenager whom
he originally had blamed for the killings.
The jury that convicted James
Schnick of Elkland of three counts of first- degree murder could have
recommended life in prison. If a judge accepts the jury's recommendation,
Schnick will become the 57th person on death row at the Missouri State
Death Penalty Recommended in
The New York Times
April 16, 1988
MARSHFIELD, Mo. —
A jury recommended today that a 37-year-old dairy farmer be put
to death for killing his wife and two nephews, one of whom was a 14-year-old
boy he first blamed for the killing of seven family members.
The farmer, James E. Schnick of Elkland, was
convicted of three counts of first-degree murder Thursday night. The
jury deliberated about two hours after hearing two and a half days of
If a judge accepts the jury's death penalty
recommendation, Mr. Schnick would become the 57th person on death row at
the Missouri State Penitentiary, where there has not been an execution
Mr. Schnick was convicted in the deaths of his wife,
Julie, and two nephews, Kirk Buckner, who Mr. Schnick originally said
committed the murders, and Michael Buckner, 2 years old.
Mr. Schnick was also accused but not tried in the
deaths of his brother-in-law, Steve Buckner; Mr. Buckner's wife,
Jeannette, and the Buckners' other sons, Dennis, 8, and Timmy, 6. Mr.
Schnick's wife was the sister of Mr. Buckner.
All the victims were killed Sept. 25 in the early
morning at the two dairy farms of the families in nearby Elkland. Mr.
Schnick eventually confessed, but his lawyer contended the confession
was not freely given.
life in prison for deaths of relatives
May 2, 1992
A man accused of
killing his wife and six other relatives pleaded guilty Friday to three
of the deaths and was sentenced to three life prison sentences with no
chance for parole.
James Schnick, 40, originally was
convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the Sept. 25, 1987,
slayings, and sentenced to death. But the Missouri Supreme Court
overturned the convictions.