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Man causes tens of thousands of dollars in damage to Scott Joplin House

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A man on Sunday barricaded himself inside the historic Scott Joplin House causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Shannon Williams, a Bellefontaine Neighbors resident, speaks about witnessing the incident and reporting it to the police. Video by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A man on Sunday morning broke into the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site on Delmar Boulevard and damaged tens of thousands of dollars in furniture and historical artifacts. He also wrote several suicide notes and briefly barricaded himself inside the historic home, police said.

Authorities were called to the house just before 7 a.m. by Bellefontaine Neighbors resident Shannon Williams, who told the Post-Dispatch he was dropping someone off at work when he saw glass on the ground outside the home.

“I didn’t know anybody was still inside, so I called the police and I walked down to the corner, and by the time I made it to the corner, he threw a glass cup at my back,” Williams said of the man inside the Joplin House. Williams said he was not injured.

While officers were investigating broken windows outside the building, they said a 38-year-old man began throwing large items from a second-story window.

Damage after Scott Joplin House vandalized

Christian Gooden, Post-Dispatch

Jess O’Brien, with the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, arranges damaged and blood-stained items that may need special cleaning after they were recovered from the ground outside the museum, on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. A vandal broke in early Sunday causing serious damage.

Additional officers — about 20, Williams said — entered the building as the man continued to throw artifacts and other items.

Police tried to talk the man down and get him to surrender, but officers said he barricaded the staircase so they could not get to him.

Williams said the man’s great uncle arrived at one point to try to help calm the man down. The uncle told Williams the man had mental health struggles.

As officers began to remove items from the staircase, the man began throwing furniture down at them, then left the building from a balcony.

A short time later, officers found a broken window at the E.M. Harris Construction building at 2600 Delmar Boulevard, less than a block from the Scott Joplin House.

Damage after Scott Joplin House vandalized

Christian Gooden, Post-Dispatch

Jess O’Brien, with the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, sorts through fragments of ceramics on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, after a man broke in and caused damage early Sunday.

Police said the man damaged more property there, then barricaded himself in a conference room.

Officers forced their way into the room and arrested the man after a brief struggle.

“He was bloody head to toe,” Williams said.

Both the man and three officers were injured by broken glass, and the man was taken to a hospital. He had not been charged as of Monday afternoon.

On Monday, several of the artifacts at the house were covered in blood. Brian Stith, deputy director of resources for Missouri State Parks, which operates the home, said employees spent Sunday focusing on the damage to the building itself and were still working through the artifacts to assess the total damage.

Damage after Scott Joplin House vandalized

Portions of the display at the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site are photographed stained with blood on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, after it was recovered from the ground outside the museum. A vandal broke in early Sunday, damaging artifacts, furniture and office equipment inside. Much of the items were covered in the suspect's blood, and some was tossed from second-story windows he broke until he was in police custody. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Joplin, known as “The King of Ragtime,” lived in a flat at 2658 Delmar Boulevard from 1901 to 1903.

The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site is where Joplin rented a room in 1902 and includes museum exhibits of his life.

Stith said the house doesn’t actually house original items owned by Joplin, though the artifacts are original to the time period.

“So from that standpoint, those are a little bit easier to replace than, say, if that were the original Scott Joplin artifacts,” he said. “We do have a few of those, but at this point, we don’t think we have anything damaged in that regard.”

Stith noted the house will be closed to the public indefinitely as they work to repair the damage.

He also confirmed on Monday that a request for $5 million in federal stimulus aid to upgrade the Scott Joplin State Historic Site was not funded.

Photographer Christian Gooden contributed to this report.

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