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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Schweich's aide Spence Jackson found dead

Spence Jackson
From his LinkedIn page
Spence Jackson

Spence Jackson, spokesman for the late Missouri auditor Tom Schweich, was found dead in his apartment Sunday, according to a press release from the Jefferson City Police Department. His death is being investigated as a suicide.

Spence Jackson
Credit From his LinkedIn page
Spence Jackson

The news release stated that at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jefferson City police went to check on Jackson at the behest of a family member. The initial assessment, according to the release, "indicated that Jackson died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound."

"Physical evidence at the scene, along with an examination of the apartment, did not indicate any signs of forced entry or struggle, but detectives began a full investigation with the assistance of patrol personnel to canvas the area and contact those who knew Jackson," the release stated. "This investigation is still an open investigation, and no details regarding findings will be released as of yet."

At a news conference late this morning, Jefferson City Police Capt. Doug Shoemaker said their investigation so far does not include any possible link to Schweich’s suicide last month:

“We are very aware of the political issues that are alleged with Mr. Schweich’s death,” he said, “but our agency won’t comment or really entertain questions that might link Mr. Jackson to any type of political issue, whether it’s perceived or real.”

When asked, Shoemaker did say that Jefferson City investigators have contacted authorities in Clayton, where Schweich lived and where he fatally shot himself last month.  Shoemaker would not comment, though, on what they talked about.

A note was found in Jackson’s apartment, Shoemaker said, but he would not comment on its contents. He did say that it appears Jackson died sometime early during the weekend, possibly Friday evening. An autopsy is scheduled today.

Jackson was 44, an earlier release from the police department incorrectly gave his age as 45.

In a statement, state Auditor John Watson called Jackson "a respected spokesman for the auditor’s office and long-time servant in state government."

"The work of the Missouri auditor’s office will continue in this difficult time, but no doubt it will be with heavy heart," said Watson, who is serving as state auditor on an interim basis.

'Hard-working, well-liked and quick-witted'

Jackson had served as Schweich's spokesman since 2011. Before that, he worked as communications official for a number of prominent Republican officials -- including former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and former Gov. Matt Blunt.

On Monday morning, some of the state's top Republican officials remembered Jackson as a smart, witty and vigorous communications official. In a statement, Blunt said that he and his wife were "deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Spence Jackson who was a good friend for many years."

"Spence was a gifted communicator who dedicated his talents in public affairs to public service," Blunt said. "Over his career he served as chief spokesman for three of Missouri's statewide offices including that of the governor when I held that post. Spence was hard-working, well-liked and quick-witted. He will truly be missed. We mourn his passing and offer our prayers to his family and friends."

Other prominent Missouri officials who knew and worked with Jackson expressed sadness about his death through social media:

When I left @AuditorSchweich's office, it was so great to have Spence take over. 2/6— Gary McElyea (@garymcelyea) March 30, 2015

He understood the nuance and skill of flacking for a statewide elected. 3/6— Gary McElyea (@garymcelyea) March 30, 2015

More importantly, he had a renewed vigor to be back it. A truly great guy. My heart breaks for his family. 4/6— Gary McElyea (@garymcelyea) March 30, 2015

Very sad news. My condolences to friends and family of Spence Jackson.— Roy Temple (@roytemple) March 30, 2015

Spence Jackson, #RIP— Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder) March 30, 2015

Schweich, who was running for governor, took his own life in February after accusing state Republican Party chairman John Hancock of spreading rumors that he was Jewish. Since then, the party has been bitterly split, with former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth calling for an end to smear campaigns.

At Schweich's funeral, Jackson called for Hancock to resign.Hancock has forcefully denied that he engaged in any religiously bigoted campaign against Schweich.

After Schweich's death, Nixon appointed Watson, his longtime chief of staff, to serve as interim auditor. He's expected to pick a permanent successor to Schweich soon.

Republican Party executive director Jonathon Prouty said in a statement to St. Louis Public Radio that Jackson "was an aggressive and successful communicator who spent years effectively advancing the Republican cause and the conservative agenda."

"We are saddened by his tragic death, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family," Prouty said. "He will be missed.”

Time for reflection?

James Harris, a GOP political consultant, worked with Jackson in Blunt's administration. He described his former colleague as a "wonderful person" who "never met a stranger."

Political consultant James Harris worked with Jackson during Gov. Matt Blunt's administration. He says the deaths of Jackson and state Auditor Tom Schweich should prompt reflection within the state's political community.
Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Political consultant James Harris worked with Jackson during Gov. Matt Blunt's administration. He says the deaths of Jackson and state Auditor Tom Schweich should prompt reflection within the state's political community.

"He really loved and enjoyed what he did," said Harris in a telephone interview. "I know he loved and enjoyed working for Auditor Schweich and respected Tom immensely."

Since Schweich's death, there's been plenty of discussion about whether the discourse in the state's political community has gotten too toxic. For his part, Harris said the deaths of Schweich and Jackson should mean that "people in politics – and especially within the Republican Party – have to reflect on what are we doing and what we should change."

"I do think it’s probably time to reflect – whether it’s party leaders, candidates or others – about what should we all strive to improve upon so that our candidates are better able to articulate their visions, better able to go out and communicate with citizens about what their vision is to move the state forward," Harris said. "It is a hard conversation, because as you alluded to, people have personal relationships and this whole situation has been so traumatic from so many different angles."

Harris said the last few weeks should prompt people "to stop and pause and go ‘what we do we need to do to improve … things?’"

"This is a horrible, tragic situation," Harris said. "This is not good for the party. This is not good for the candidates. It is not good for the families that have lost loved ones. It’s not good for some many different things. And it is a time probably to pause and reflect."

This story is developing. Marshall Griffin contributed to this story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.