Tom Schweich’s home in Clayton was cold and quiet on Thursday afternoon as Carol Fichtelman and Phil Berwick walked by, shocked to have learned from a TV news crew that their colleague and neighbor was dead.
“We’re Democrats, but I’m a lawyer and I can recognize a good lawyer,” Fichtelman said.
Schweich’s death on Thursday from what police say was an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound astonished the legal and political worlds. Schweich, 54, worked for Bryan Cave for nearly 20 years before embarking on a career of public service and elected office. In his second term as state auditor, he had announced a month ago that he would seek to be the Republican candidate for governor and appeared to be relishing the coming campaign.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Kevin Murphy, chief of the Clayton Police Department, said all evidence suggested suicide.
“There is nothing to suggest it was anything other than that at this point,” he said.
Walter Metcalfe Jr., who had worked with Schweich at Bryan Cave, said the news of Schweich’s death was “absolutely stunning.”
“It’s so stunning because there was much opportunity,” he said. “And when you see what’s happening in Missouri today, and how much we need people like Tom Schweich.”
Schweich was a graduate of Yale University and got his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1985. He was a partner in the St. Louis office of Bryan Cave for 19 years, where he focused on litigation, government contracts and white collar criminal defense.
“Tom’s public service and exemplary professional dedication has been a source of great pride for our firm, and we join with his family and the entire community in mourning his loss,” Bryan Cave Chairwoman Therese Pritchard said in a written statement.
Metcalfe recalled his former colleague as “high-energy, high intelligence, high values, highly motivated and driven to be the best he could be.”
“He was somewhat impatient with people who, perhaps, did not have the same goals and values that he had, but that didn’t take away from his effectiveness and his great work at the firm,” Metcalfe said.
Ned Lemkemeier, also of Bryan Cave, said he “greatly respected” Schweich’s abilities and stayed friends with him after Schweich left the firm.
“He was a friend largely because I trusted his judgment and respected his abilities,” he said. “It’s a loss to the community.”
Police responded to a call at 9:48 a.m. Thursday at Schweich’s home for a gunshot wound, possibly self-inflicted. Responding paramedics attended to the victim, identified as Schweich, and he was transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s trauma center, where he was pronounced deceased from a single gunshot wound.
Murphy, the Clayton police chief, would not say where Schweich was wounded or the type of gun that was used, aside from saying it was a handgun. He said he did not know if Schweich owned the gun.
One family member was in the home at the time, Murphy said. The police don’t have anything to suggest drugs or alcohol were involved, but an autopsy was pending. Murphy also said the department wasn’t aware of a history of mental illness or of any political threats, but he stressed that the investigation is ongoing.
Schweich had announced his run for governor on Jan. 28. On Feb. 12, he went before members the Missouri Press Association at the state Capitol and laid out his vision for the state of Missouri, touting his experience in having twice won statewide elected office.
“I don’t think you have anyone who is better qualified than I am,” Schweich said.
Schweich defeated incumbent Democratic State Auditor Susan Montee in 2010. He was re-elected last year after running unopposed.
It was a job well suited for a brainy and historically minded lawyer. In a 2008 profile in Missouri Lawyers Weekly, Schweich talked about his extensive collection of coins and other historic items, including a bronze coin issued by the Roman emperor Hadrian in A.D. 125, a 1638 copy of the King James Bible and an October 1798 envelope signed by George Washington. He said he loved ancient coins because the emperors’ inscriptions would tell stories of military victories and other triumphs.
“It was sort of a network news headline,” Schweich said. “Of course, it was propaganda, so they only told the good things.”
During his time as auditor, Schweich said he’d he’d caught 33 public officials embezzling money. He’d recently released a string of high-profile audits, including one of the St. Joseph School District that found at least $25 million in unapproved stipends had been handed out to administrators. Schweich told reporters that audits involving money received in the wake of the 2011 Joplin tornado was forthcoming.
“When there is this much money coming in, and that much pressure to get it out, that can cause problems,” he said.
Schweich had raised about $1 million for a primary fight against Catherine Hanaway, a former House Speaker and U.S. Attorney. Hanaway said in a statement that she was “deeply saddened” by Schweich’s death and described him as “an extraordinary man with an extraordinary record of service to our state and nation.”
Schweich’s supporters for his gubernatorial campaign were floored.
Ken Suelthaus, a shareholder at Polsinelli in St. Louis, came to know Schweich through the Republican political scene in Missouri and supported his run for state auditor and later for governor.
“Tom was a highly capable individual,” Suelthaus said.
Kevin Gunn, principal at Paladin Energy Strategies who was fresh out of law school when he met Schweich, said his death was “hard to imagine.” The timing was especially troubling, given that Schweich was “gearing up for a tough campaign” for the governor’s office, Gunn said.
Gunn said he saw Schweich at a Clayton area fitness center a couple of months ago, where Schweich seemed happy and looked in good shape.
“Tom was relentless. He was a really good lawyer. He was good at everything he did,” Gunn said.
Schweich left Bryan Cave in 2004 when he became chief of staff under John Danforth, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Schweich had also worked with Danforth when the former U.S. senator served as special counsel to the Justice Department investigating the 1993 deaths of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
In a written statement, Danforth called Schweich’s death “an awful loss.”
“Tom Schweich was my dear friend and long-time colleague,” Danforth said. “He was brilliant and energetic and he lived the highest standards of personal conduct and professional ethics. In the Waco investigation, at the United Nations and as State Auditor he was the model of excellent public service. His principles were his passion.”
Ed Dowd, a former Bryan Cave partner and now at Dowd Bennett, was deputy special counsel on the Waco investigation.
“He was one of the smartest, hardest working lawyers I’ve ever known,” Dowd said. “The Waco investigation would have never been as successful or done as quickly as it was without Tom getting so much done so quickly.”
President George W. Bush appointed Schweich to the State Department in 2005 as an international law enforcement official, and later appointed Schweich to coordinate anti-drug and justice reform efforts in Afghanistan.
“He risked his life numerous times there,” Dowd said.
In 2008, Schweich returned to St. Louis and served as of counsel to his old law firm, as well as ambassador-in-residence at Washington University School of Law.
Schweich’s neighbor, Berwick, is the retired director of Wash U’s law library and said he’d been impressed by his former colleague’s career.
“As auditor he did a great job, letting the facts and the data take him where he needed to go,” Berwick said. “Schweich was an amazing person and lawyer, and it’s a shame for his family and the state that he’s gone.”