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A St. Louis County police officer looks from a home on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, as they investigate in the Quail Run mobile home park in Jefferson County. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Days before he was charged with sexually assaulting two women and fatally shooting a third, Thomas Bruce wrote on Facebook that he wanted to “end gun-free zones and put the criminals on notice that they will be stopped.”

Bruce, 53, of rural Jefferson County, wrote the comments on a post he shared on gun control laws in England, arguing in favor of private gun ownership.

“In England today you cannot carry any type of weapon for self defence and you cannot use a firearm to defend your home, family, or property,” the post ended. “The gun and weapon laws have made crime safe for criminals and the other violent thugs.”

Thomas Bruce

Thomas Bruce, of Jefferson County, was charged with murder, sodomy and other charges in connection with an attack on people inside a Catholic Supply store on Manchester Road. 

On Wednesday, Bruce was charged with first-degree murder and multiple counts of sodomy, armed criminal action, kidnapping, burglary and tampering with evidence in the crime at the Catholic Supply store on Manchester Road on Monday. He is being held without bail.

His concern about the safety of gun-free zones was among many interesting pieces of the life of a man now charged in what police are calling a horrific incident.

He also worked as a pastor from about 2003 to 2007 for a few dozen people at Calvary Chapel of Cape Girardeau, according to David Fitzgerald, a pastor at an affiliated church in St. Louis County.

The chapel folded about 10 years ago, said Fitzgerald, 69. The Missouri Secretary of State’s office identifies Bruce as the operator of a nonprofit church that was formed in 2003 and dissolved in 2007.

Fitzgerald said the pastors of area Calvary Chapels, which are affiliated under a ministry that originated in California and now has about 1,500 churches throughout the U.S, would get together every few months.

But since the church folded, he has talked to Bruce only occasionally. He last spoke with him three years ago.

He said he was shocked to see Bruce charged with the crime.

“It was completely out of character for the Tom Bruce that I knew, completely surprising,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the amount of evidence against him I would think they’ve got the wrong guy.”

Fitzgerald said he knew Bruce owned guns, but that he never discussed gun ownership, politics or social issues and that he was not aware of his posts on social media.

“There’s just nothing in my relationship with Tom in the past that would indicate this type of behavior in the least,” he said. “People are people, but I tend to hold people in the ministry to a higher standard.”

On social media, Bruce was outspoken on politics and social issues. A supporter of President Donald Trump, he posted video from the president’s rally this month in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and frequently slammed Democrats and members of the GOP establishment who criticized Trump.

He has also retweeted comments expressing support for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and criticizing Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford during the Senate judicial confirmation hearings in October. He also shared or wrote comments arguing for allowing fewer immigrants or refugees into the U.S., fewer restrictions on gun control and for a ban on abortion.

His personal LinkedIn page implied a varied employment history in which he moved from place to place and switched jobs every few years.

As police searched Bruce’s trailer home at the Quail Run Estates mobile home park in the Antonia area of Jefferson County on Wednesday, an American flag and a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waved on a pole outside.

A neighbor said Bruce lived in the trailer with his wife. The neighbor, Kathy Schroeder, said the couple had moved in about May.

In January 2017, Bruce and his wife, Diane, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in St. Louis, listing assets of about $92,000 and debts of nearly $159,000.

The couple’s assets included a home in unincorporated St. Louis County, valued at $70,000, and several firearms, valued at $400, including an AR-15 Bushmaster and three handguns, one of them a Glock 43.

Debts included about $16,000 in student loans, $15,000 owed to the mortgage lender, and unsecured claims of more than $45,000, much of it credit card debt.

According to the filing, Bruce was unemployed but received an annual military stipend of about $1,600. Bruce describes himself online as a Navy veteran. His wife worked as a manager at an area grocery.

The bankruptcy was discharged in April 2017. Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on the couple’s home in August, records show.

Former neighbors on Lacklink Drive in unincorporated northwestern St. Louis County said Bruce didn’t associate much with those who lived nearby.

“Never saw him outside much at all, and I lived here long before he did,” said Joseph R. Blumer, who lived across the street from Bruce and his wife.

About a year ago, Bruce started as a staffer working for an American Family Insurance agent in Maryland Heights, company spokesman Ken Muth said. But Bruce hadn’t shown up to the office for an extended period of time, Muth said.

The agent, who is considered an independent contractor with American Family Insurance, is cooperating with the police investigation, Muth said. He did not have more information.

An American Family agent who asked not to be identified said Bruce spent three weeks with the agent’s office in early 2017 before resigning. The agent described Bruce as being quiet, but ultimately not a good fit for the office.

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His LinkedIn profile also lists a connection with Calvary Chapel, a past job at the Jewish Community Center of Greater St. Louis and volunteer work at the Missouri Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau. He also lists himself as a life member of VFW Post 4105 in Florissant.

‘Doesn’t look familiar’

“World traveled leader with the ability to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary,” the profile says.

Barb Johnson, a bartender at the VFW post, said Wednesday night that there were no records of Bruce’s being a member.

“He doesn’t look familiar to any of us,” Johnson said.

The post’s commanders could not immediately be reached by phone.

Bruce claimed on his LinkedIn page to have been a pastor visiting inmates at the Cape Girardeau County Jail from August 2005 to June 2007, but as of Tuesday, officials had not found any record of Bruce’s working at the jail in any capacity, the Cape Girardeau Sheriff’s Office said.

On his Twitter account, started in 2016, Bruce has mainly shared his views on politics, occasionally commenting on some prominent media personalities.

In one tweet, for example, he called commentator Ann Coulter “the smartest sexiest sweetest gal in the WORLD.” In another tweet, he said Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro has the “best damn legs” and also told Pirro she was a “1,000 times more sexy” than former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman.

In September, Bruce tweeted: “As an American male, I’ve often been accused of being obsessed with sex.”

In 2003, Bruce wrote a letter to the editor published in the Southeast Missourian that strongly opposed abortion. He also advocated for a "strong deterrent to horrific crimes."

"Until we decide to turn away from a selfish and self-centered life and turn to the living God with a true and humble heart, there is no expectation but to continue to deteriorate to an even more debased level," he wrote. "May God have mercy on us all."

Robert Patrick, Joel Currier, Leah Thorsen and Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

Denise Hollinshed is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch