A man accused of sexually assaulting two women and killing another at a Catholic Supply store in Missouri was tracked down by cops thanks to a business card he gave to a server at a nearby bar, police said.
St. Louis County Police Sgt. Shawn McGuire told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that a business card found in the trash led investigators to apprehend Thomas Bruce, 53, less than 48 hours after he allegedly entered a Catholic Supply store in Ballwin on Nov. 19 and forced three women inside to undress at gunpoint before sexually assaulting them.
Police said Bruce then shot Jamie Schmidt, 53, of House Springs, when she refused to follow his orders.
“Without that business card, we’re still searching for this guy,” McGuire told the newspaper. “That broke the case.”
Responding officers to the store found no trace of Bruce at the scene, prompting them to start their investigation by interviewing victims. Once it was established that there appeared to be no link between the suspect and his victims, police then sought out tips from the public.
Investigators also reached out to employees at nearby businesses in the strip mall, including a furniture store, a restaurant and a sports bar called Hotshots. McGuire said a description of the suspect provided by the victims at the crime scene also played a pivotal role in apprehending Bruce.
“They were key in this,” McGuire told the newspaper. “They paid attention to a lot of the intricate details about him.”
Police went back to the strip mall one day after the attack and an updated description of the suspect prompted a server at Hotshots to recall that she had actually crossed paths with Bruce prior to the fatal shooting, the Post-Dispatch reports. A man matching the suspect’s description had given her his business card, but the server threw it in the trash. McGuire said detectives were able find the card since the trash hadn’t been picked up yet.
McGuire declined to identify the business, but sources confirmed to the newspaper that the woman had been working at the bar at the time.
It’s unclear what information was on Bruce’s business card, but it led investigators to a trailer park in Jefferson County where he lived with his wife. McGuire said the lead was among more than a dozen then being considered by police.
A customer at the bar, meanwhile, said she recognized Bruce from his booking photo as the man who flirted with her some 34 minutes before police were called in response to the shooting.
“I’m still in shock,” the customer told the Post-Dispatch.
Bruce’s motive remains unclear, authorities have said. He made his first court appearance Monday and requested a public defender, according to the newspaper. He remains held without bail on charges of first-degree murder, sodomy, armed criminal action, kidnapping, burglary and tampering with evidence.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar confirmed McGuire’s account, but said he didn’t want to provide additional details because he wants to ensure a conviction in the case. If convicted, Bruce could face the death penalty.
“That’s really what broke the case,” Belmar told KTVI of the business card. “It goes back to the fact we put information out there. It’s an important case, though they all are, especially when you don’t have an individual that’s identified at this point.”
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