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ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY • A Missouri Ku Klux Klan leader might have been shot in his sleep because he had told his wife he wanted a divorce, St. Francois County Prosecutor Jarrod Mahurin said Monday after filing murder charges.

“It may have been a marital issue,” he told a reporter. He said Frank Ancona, 51, was shot in the head between 2 and 3 a.m. on Thursday.

Malissa Ann Ancona, 44, of Leadwood, Mo., and her son, Paul Edward Jinkerson Jr., 24, of Belgrade, Mo., were charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse.

Jinkerson shot his sleeping stepfather in the bedroom of the victim’s home in Leadwood, sheriff’s Detective Matt Wampler wrote in an affidavit accompanying the charges. Ancona’s body was taken in Jinkerson’s vehicle to an area outside Belgrade, where it was dumped near the Big River, Wampler wrote.

Ancona called himself an imperial wizard with the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

A website for that group features an image of Ancona in a white hood and robe standing in front of a burning cross. His wife is shown next to him in another photo.

The Park Hills Daily Journal said Ancona was reported missing Friday, when his employer called Leadwood police to say that he failed to show up work Wednesday or Thursday. A neighbor said Ancona had a job delivering parts for a St. Louis auto supply company.

Malissa Ancona told investigators that he had been sent on a trip deliver a part, but the employer denied that, the newspaper said. She told authorities she had last seen her husband Wednesday.

When investigators searched the Ancona home Saturday, they found “extensive blood evidence” in the master bedroom, officials said. Malissa Ancona told police in a recorded interview that Jinkerson shot her husband, and she helped clean up the blood and tried to cover up the crime, Wampler wrote.

Mahurin said that both Ancona and Jinkerson were involved in disposal of the body and the cleanup.

Police also found a safe that had been broken open. Frank Ancona’s guns were missing. Malissa Ancona told police her husband took them and was planning to file for divorce when he returned from his work trip.

Frank Ancona’s abandoned car, found before his body was, appeared to have been “wiped down,” the prosecutor said, based on a chemical smell. Nearby was a pile of what appeared to be burned clothing, he said.

Mahurin was not aware of any significance to the site where the body was left, other than it was nearby.

The prosecutor said Jinkerson did not live with the Anconas but stayed with them occasionally. He called Jinkerson’s relationship with Frank Ancona “so-so,” saying that there had been issues in the past but not lately.

Both defendants could be arraigned as early as Tuesday, he said. They were held in jail without bail.

Jinkerson also faces unrelated charges of property damage and attempted stealing, and was jailed over the weekend on a warrant that was issued after he was accused of violating his probation in a 2016 drug possession case.

Eric Barnhart, a lawyer who represents Jinkerson in other cases, reacted to the murder charge by saying, “I don’t believe it for a second that he did it.” Barnhart said he did not know if he will represent Jinkerson on the murder charge.

Barnhart also said he did not believe that Jinkerson was involved in any hate groups. The young man was attending a local college, the lawyer said. Jinkerson’s Facebook page says he is studying computer science at Mineral Area College in Park Hills.

Leadwood police referred a reporter’s questions to the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri Highway Patrol, which were not available for comment.

On Friday night, Malissa Ancona had said on Facebook that her husband was missing and asked that anyone with information call the police. In online comments the next morning, she thanked friends for their good wishes and wrote, “My heart is breaking.”

James Russell, 58, who lives next door to the Ancona residence, said the couple had lived there for about five years.

Russell said he frequently heard Malissa Ancona screaming at her husband. Russell said he did not hear any gunshots on the day in question. But he did hear the banging of metal on metal in the predawn hours. Russell said he presumes that Malissa Ancona was seeking access to her husband’s safe.

He described Frank Ancona as a good man who was working to change attitudes about the Klan. Russell said Ancona hosted a few small Klan gatherings at the house in recent years, including one in which Ancona and perhaps 10 others wore robes and burned a cross.

“Everybody is talking about the Klan thing, but they are living in the past,” Russell said, “Frank was trying to improve the Klan and make it a force for good.”

Ancona has been quoted in stories in the Post-Dispatch about KKK leafletting in Desloge. His group was also at the center of a legal fight over a gathering of members at Fort Davidson State Historic Site, a Civil War battlefield in Pilot Knob, Mo.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate organizations, said that Ancona’s group was “not very significant at all. This was one of the smallest groups out there.”

Potok said the members received a lot of attention because they frequently handed out leaflets. He said he would be surprised if there were 40 members spread out among chapters in Potosi, Hayden, Idaho and Pennsylvania.

Ancona had been in a dispute with other Klan leaders, Potok said, who accused Ancona of being secretly Jewish and Malissa Ancona of being a Wiccan. Both were untrue, Potok believes, but the accusations are typical of the Klan world today, which consists of 29 different named organizations, “each one claiming to be the one true Klan and denigrating the others.”

Tony Rothert, who as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri had represented Ancona in his court fights, called him a “complicated and conflicted man.” Rothert estimated his followers numbering in the low double digits.

“I and the (ACLU) found his views abhorrent and would say so. He understood that and recognized how unrealistic his views were at some level,” Rothert added.

An old Twitter page for Malissa Ancona contains links to Ancona’s group and describes her as a member. Lately on social media, however, she was focused on creating a no-kill shelter for pets.

Russell, the neighbor, said Frank Ancona grew up in the Potosi area.

The Ancona home is a small, white frame house in need of repairs. Chicken wire is stapled across the posts of the front porch. Russell said Malissa Ancona had many pet cats, several of which were seen wandering the property Monday. Two dogs were barking inside the home.

An American flag was nailed to the front porch. Next door, on the other side from Russell’s home, is a blue mobile home where the victim’s father lives. Out back is a white shed bearing two faded flags — the American flag and the Confederate battle flag.

Family at Frank Ancona’s daughter’s home declined to comment to a reporter.

Leadwood, a town of about 500 people, is near Park Hills, about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis. As its name implies, it used to be the home of a lead mine and is in the heart of Missouri’s old Lead Belt.

Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch and The Park Hills Daily Journal contributed to this report. Tim O’Neil reported from Leadwood.

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Tim O'Neil is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch