JEFFERSON CITY • The last conversation that Auditor Tom Schweich had before he shot himself focused on his “outrage concerning the rumors that were being spread about his religion,” says a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. John Danforth.
The aide, Martha Fitz, said in a written statement that she was on the telephone with Schweich and Schweich’s wife, Kathy, the morning of Feb. 26, in an attempt to check on the auditor after his chief of staff in Jefferson City expressed concern about his emotional state.
Tom Schweich, a Republican candidate for governor, believed that a top GOP official was conducting a whispering campaign that he was Jewish in an attempt to hurt his bid for the office.
The auditor picked up Kathy Schweich’s phone to talk to Fitz for about three minutes about how he should respond to the rumors about him, Fitz said.
Fitz said she told him she “thought it was best to let others stand up for him. He then threatened to kill himself and handed the phone back to Kathy. Seconds later I heard Kathy say, ‘He shot himself!’ Kathy then called 911 on another line while I stayed on the first line with her until the paramedics arrived.”
Police have said Schweich, 54, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Clayton home.
Fitz works for Danforth at the Bryan Cave law firm in St. Louis, where Schweich also used to work.
Fitz released the written statement late Thursday. She said she had also given the information to the Clayton Police Department.
In the week before he died, Schweich alleged to the Post-Dispatch and others that John Hancock, a political consultant and the new chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, had been conducting a whispering campaign suggesting that Schweich was Jewish.
Schweich, who was Episcopalian but whose grandfather was Jewish, alleged the comments were anti-Semitic and an attempt to smear him.
Hancock has said he may have mentioned that Schweich was Jewish, but that it was innocent conversation.
He has vehemently denied it was meant to inject religion into Schweich’s race against Republican Catherine Hanaway for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination.
Others have said Schweich also was upset with a radio commercial produced by a political action committee with ties to Hanaway. The ad had made fun of Schweich’s physical appearance, comparing him to the Barney Fife character from the old “Andy Griffith Show” and saying he could be squashed like a “little bug.’’
Danforth, an Episcopal priest and Schweich’s political mentor, gave the eulogy at Schweich’s funeral on Tuesday. In a strong rebuke to his party’s leaders, Danforth blamed Schweich’s suicide on “bullies” intent on “winning at any cost” and asked mourners to pledge “that we will not put up with any whisper of anti-Semitism.”