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St. Louis County man charged with shooting estranged wife, killing father-in-law

St. Louis County man charged with shooting estranged wife, killing father-in-law

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FENTON — Authorities are searching for a man who they say shot his estranged wife inside a home near Fenton and killed her father when he tried to intervene.

James M. Kempf, 45, of unincorporated St. Louis County, has been charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action. 

Kempf arrived Thursday evening at his wife’s home in the 1800 block of Charity Court and shot her in the leg, according to police. When her father, John Colter, 66, tried to intervene, police said, Kempf shot him in the head and killed him.

Kempf’s wife was able to flee and called 911.

Officers initially believed Kempf barricaded himself inside the home and spent the next several hours in an overnight standoff, but when they entered the house they discovered he had fled the scene immediately after the shooting.

County records show Kempf and his wife were in the middle of a contentious divorce. 

The couple separated in April after 17 years of marriage. Officers were called to the home that month for a domestic disturbance, but no arrests were made and no physical assault had occurred, according to St. Louis County police. James Kempf recently had been living in the 1700 block of Hawkins Road, about two miles away from the home on Charity, according to court papers.

Kempf’s wife filed for divorce in September. She claimed in court filings that her husband made physical and verbal threats during a custody exchange in September, and the next month said he sent damaging emails to her family and friends. Kempf denied those allegations in court.

In October, the woman sought an order of protection against Kempf. A judge granted the order before Thanksgiving, saying that Kempf could not come within 500 feet of her.

Kempf worked for Abbott EMS, a private ambulance service, and his wife worked for the Mehlville Fire Protection District, according to a court filing in October.

Kempf was placed on leave as soon as the EMS company heard from law enforcement in the case, regional director Mark Corley said.

The woman is represented by Clayton attorney Caitlin Keene, who was too distraught Friday to discuss the case with a reporter, said Sam Hais, a lawyer who works with Keene.

“We assume this man will be caught and put to trial,” Hais said. “All I can tell you it was very traumatic and we’re hoping for a quick resolution.”

Hais declined to comment on the protection order, and a law firm representing Kempf declined comment. According to the divorce file, the woman sought joint custody of the couple’s two children, ages 8 and 4.

A settlement conference was scheduled for Feb. 6 in the divorce case.

Colter was a “very beloved” pharmacist who worked at several locations for SSM Health in St. Louis, spokeswoman Stephanie Zoller said.

“I know our team is distraught today,” Zoller said. “Our thoughts are with his family.”

Anyone with information about James Kempf's whereabouts is asked to call St. Louis County police at 636-529-8210 or CrimeStoppers at 866-371-8477.

Charity Court is a dead-end road in the Sancta Maria Estates subdivision of unincorporated St. Louis County, just west of Highway 141.

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