JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last Thursday, on the one-month anniversary of the suicide of his boss, Missouri’s Republican auditor and a candidate for governor, Spence Jackson took the day off.
Tom Schweich’s suicide came amid what had become a brutal campaign for governor and shocked the state’s Republican Party.
The circumstances surrounding his death, including nasty, anti-Semitic rumors, pitted donors and party elites like former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth against Missouri Republicans like former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former U.S. Senator Kit Bond, who were calling for party unity.
Jackson, Schweich’s spokesman, was in the middle of that fight.
And last week, Jackson took his own life.
Police say it was the fear of losing a job, not political whispers, that may have haunted him the most in his final days.
Until about three weeks ago, Jackson, like a loyal soldier without a commander, continued to carry the torch in Schweich’s memory.
Only moments after Schweich’s funeral, Jackson was one of the first to call for the resignation of John Hancock, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party who Schweich believed had orchestrated an anti-Semitic “whisper campaign” against him (Schweich was Episcopalian, but had Jewish heritage).
Jackson pushed the late auditor’s side to reporters and influencers in the state party as he and others tried to shame Hancock out of the office.
But, Hancock—who has vehemently denied the allegation that he was pushing an anti-Semitic message against Schweich—has not stepped down, and on Friday, Catherine Hanaway, who Schweich was challenging in what had already become a brutal Republican primary for governor, reemerged on the campaign trail.
On Friday, Jackson was back in the auditor’s suite in an office building the street from the state Capitol for part of the day.
But after lunch, Jackson did not return to work, police here said.
Those who knew him said when Jackson left the office, he turned out the light and closed his door.
But on Friday afternoon, he left his lights on, the door open and his things as they were.
At some point later in the day, Jackson returned to his apartment only a couple miles away from his workplace.
There, he penned a note and left it in his living room before disappearing into his bedroom, where police say he fatally shoot himself with a .357 Magnum revolver, which was found with him in his bed.
It was not until Sunday night, when Jackson’s mother was in Jefferson City to meet with him in advance of a scheduled doctor’s appointment on Monday, that Jackson was found dead in his apartment by police responding to a “check well-being call.”
Jackson, who had worked as a Republican communicator for nearly two decades, had served in former Governor Matt Blunt’s administration as a personal spokesman for the governor and then for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. When Blunt decided to not seek reelection and Democrat Jay Nixon was elected to take his place, Jackson was let go and left without a job.
“I am so sorry. I just can’t take being unemployed again,” Jackson apparently wrote, according to Captain Doug Shoemaker of the Jefferson City Police Department.
David Luther, a spokesman for John Watson, Nixon’s temporary appointee as auditor as Nixon seeks a full-time replacement to fill out Schweich’s term though 2018, told reporters on Tuesday that senior staff had been told last week that “if there was a change in the interim auditor, that might impact them.”
But, Luther said, nothing was specific, and nobody had been told they would soon be out of a job.
“Everybody was going to continue to be under employment, but in the political landscape, those things can change,” Luther said. “No one had been told their job was in jeopardy, but knowing that there would probably be a change down the road, I’m sure they were all understanding of that.”
Jeff Layman, a fraternity brother of Jackson who attended Missouri State University with him 25 years ago, said he was “heartbroken over the loss.”
“Spence was kind, caring and loyal; but most importantly, he was like a brother to me. Spence was a savvy political communicator who was passionate and intense about his politics. I will miss his huge smile, infectious laugh and larger than life personality,” Layman said on Monday.
Jackson’s coworkers and other Schweich staff members would not speak on the record for this article. But, speaking privately, one Republican who knew both Schweich and Jackson said the two had “emotional highs and lows” and “wore their emotions on their sleeves.”
Still, the fear of losing a job, at least immediately, should have been unfounded, the Republican said: “Nothing was going to happen immediately. He had a job and people were looking out for him to find something next. It doesn’t make any sense.”