ST. LOUIS • James Lacey was supposed to see his son this month for the first time in 10 years.
Family members of Tammie Thurmond and her daughter, Paige Schaefer, were considering giving them another chance to move in and try to kick their addictions.
And Schaefer’s best friend had just turned 21 when an attacker killed the others and left her for dead March 27 in a crime that continues to challenge the police.
“They were all very beautiful people who made dangerous and bad choices,” said Lorrie Chacin, whose sister, Thurmond, and niece, Schaefer, were among those killed. “But they didn’t deserve this.”
The lone survivor, the 21-year-old, called police about 2:45 p.m. to a boarding house where she had been living with Lacey in the 4400 block of Itaska Street, in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. Officers found her lying in a bed, unconscious, with a wound in the head and her cellphone beside her. Officials have not revealed her name.
In the same room, Lacey, 47, and Schaefer, 23, sat dead in their chairs, shot in their heads at close range.
About an hour later, police radios at the scene crackled with word of another shooting: in an alley behind the 4200 block of Grace Avenue in the Dutchtown neighborhood, about 20 blocks away, Schaefer’s mother, Thurmond, 54, was discovered lying next to a Dumpster. She’d been shot in the head.
She died in a hospital two days later without regaining consciousness. Police determined the same gun had been used to shoot all four.
No arrests have been made. At first, investigators speculated the killer might be one of Schaefer’s ex-boyfriends. Now, police sources say, the investigation has “widened.” Detectives believe it was a targeted attack but are unsure whether that target was one or all of them.
“We’re terrified because we don’t know who did this,” said Chacin, 50, of Lemay. “When people say, ‘I want closure,’ I totally get that now. It’s not going to change the outcome. We still lost them, but I want to know how, and I want to know why.”
Initially, there was confusion about how the victims were connected — prompted, in part, by the relationship between Lacey and the women being relatively new.
For most of the past seven years, Thurmond had been homeless, Chacin said. And for most of her life, she had struggled with various drugs.
But Thurmond recently moved back in with a former boyfriend in an apartment along the 4700 block of Gravois Avenue. Chacin went to see her March 27, their first meeting in months. Thurmond looked well. They talked of moving a sleeper sofa into the apartment.
At 1:37 p.m., Thurmond texted her sister a message: “So nice seeing you sissy. So glad you’re not mad at me. I love you.”
Chacin responded: “You’re my sister. I’ll always love you.”
Within about an hour, Thurmond would be dead.
Thurmond’s new place was about five blocks from Lacey’s home.
Family and friends of the victims are unsure about how the group met, but all believe Lacey let Schaefer and the surviving victim move in because they had nowhere else to go.
“Jimmy was trying to help them out and keep them from the streets,” Chacin said.
It’s a lifestyle that Lacey’s ex-wife, Amy Rae Yard, thought he had been ready to leave behind. The couple had a son together, David, who is now 17 and lives with Yard in Los Angeles. And despite Lacey’s history of domestic abuse, along with a record of assaults and marijuana possession, Yard said he kept in close contact with her, talking as often as three times a day.
Several events in his life, including the suicide of his second wife and his finding stable work at a bar within walking distance of his home, seemed to have grounded him, she said. But she and his friends said he still liked to drink, although he seemed to keep it under control.
“He called me to apologize for all of the years of hell he put me through and said he wanted to make amends with me and be right by his son,” Yard said. “And I believed him. It took him 16 years of living the crazy life he lived to finally hit a point where he wanted to change.”
So, Yard let Lacey book a flight for April 12 so he could see his son for the first time in 10 years. They were going to meet in Las Vegas.
He called Yard’s phone to leave a message for his son about 9 p.m. March 26. It said: “Call me when you get this. This is your dad. I love you, son.” Lacey died the next day.
“It’s not like I can tell (my son), ‘We’ll do it some other time,’ or, ‘I’ll make this up to you,’” Yard said, through tears.
Along with their discussions about a reunion, Lacey told Yard that a 21-year-old woman had moved in with him. Yard believes they were dating. He seemed happy.
Employees at a south St. Louis bar, where Lacey worked informally for about three years, said he showed up faithfully to do odd jobs for $20 a day. He had his Meals On Wheels food delivered there and saved any snacks, such as raisins or crackers, for the children of other employees.
Bar managers, who agreed to speak only if their names and the bar’s were not made public, said they were haunted by letting Lacey go home early the day he died.
Yard said her ex-husband had wrapped up a sandwich to take home from the bar. Police found it at the crime scene, still wrapped.
“He hadn’t even got a chance to eat it,” she said.
Thurmond’s sister, Chacin, described Lacey as “a really nice guy.”
Chacin’s son, Kyle Neel, 27, said his aunt and cousin had lived with family members on and off through the years.
Schaefer’s Facebook page reads like a diary, in which she vents her struggles with heroin addiction and wishes of reuniting with her son, Izayah, 5.
A January post read, in part: “I am so ready to start getting my life right again, I miss my baby terribly.”
Neel said Schaefer once lived with his family in Sedalia, Mo., while trying to sober up, but it didn’t work out.
She went to Fox High School, participated in Job Corps and wanted to become a certified nursing assistant, family said.
“All she wanted to do was be a good mom,” Neel said. “We feel horrible about it. We were just talking with her about possibly coming back. This doesn’t happen to our family. This is like a TV show, not our family.
“They burned a lot of bridges in life, but we loved them all the same. If any one of us thought this was a possibility, then they wouldn’t have been in St. Louis.”
Thurmond was one of six children and had three children beside Schaefer. She graduated from Roosevelt High School. One of Thurmond’s sons missed a call from his mother about 10 a.m. the day she was killed, Chacin said.
Chacin describes the surviving victim as “another niece” who was like a sister to Schaefer. Chacin said that woman is expected to survive but with possible lifelong medical challenges.
Lacey’s funeral arrangements are pending. A memorial service for Schaefer and Thurmond has been planned for noon to 3 p.m. April 11 at Kutis Funeral Home, 2906 Gravois Avenue. They will be cremated and their remains shared among their families.