Spence Jackson provided the official confirmation a month ago that his boss, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, was dead from what police described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On Monday, police confirmed that Jackson had shot himself in an apparent suicide – marking a second, stunning jolt to Missouri politics, though police declined to say whether the deaths were directly related.
Jackson was found dead Sunday evening in his home in Jefferson City, police spokesman Capt. Doug Shoemaker said. He said investigators found a note in Jackson’s apartment, where the 44-year-old lived alone, but he declined to detail what it said.
Schweich fatally shot himself at his home on Feb. 26, shortly after telling an Associated Press reporter he wanted to go public with allegations that the Missouri Republican Party chairman told people he was Jewish. Schweich, a Christian with Jewish ancestry, said he perceived the remarks to be part of an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against him ahead of his run for governor.
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Jackson, who was Schweich’s spokesman, was among the first to suggest that the GOP chairman, John Hancock, should resign. Hancock has denied making anti-Semitic remarks, but said he may have mistakenly told people last year that Schweich was Jewish. He remains chairman of the party, now roiled ahead of a 2016 election featuring races for U.S. Senate, governor and most of Missouri’s other statewide executive offices.
“We’re very aware of the political issues surrounding Mr. Schweich’s death. And then within a month we have the death of his spokesperson,” Shoemaker said Monday.
He said Jefferson City investigators have reached out to police in Clayton, the St. Louis suburb where Schweich lived, but that his department wouldn’t comment “or entertain questions that may link the deaths to a political issue, perceived or real.”
Jackson had worked in Missouri political and state government jobs for 15 years, including for former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt. Blunt issued a statement Monday saying he was saddened to learn of his friend’s death.
“Spence was a gifted communicator who dedicated his talents in public affairs to public service,” Blunt said. “Spence was hard-working, well-liked and quick-witted.”
Jackson began working for Blunt as he ran for secretary of state in 2000 and rose with him as Blunt later became governor. Jackson also served as a spokesman for the state Department of Economic Development and for Sarah Steelman’s unsuccessful 2008 gubernatorial bid. He joined Schweich’s staff at the auditor’s office in October 2011.
The Missouri House paused for a moment of silence Monday afternoon to remember Jackson.
State Auditor John Watson, who took over following Schweich’s death, said Jackson was a respected, long-time servant in state government. Gov. Jay Nixon’s spokesman, Scott Holste, issued a statement adding: “Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this difficult time.”
Springfield businessman Jeff Layman, a friend of Jackson’s since their days at Missouri State University, described him as “kind, caring and loyal” with a “huge smile, infectious laugh and larger than life personality.”
Jackson had taken a sick day from work Thursday – the one-month anniversary of Schweich’s death – and worked the first half of Friday, the auditor’s office said
Police said there was no physical evidence of a forced entry or struggle when they found Jackson dead in his bedroom around 7 p.m. Sunday. They went to check on him after his mother called police, expressing concern that she had been unable to reach him.
Shoemaker said Jackson may have shot himself Friday or Saturday, but more details may be known after an autopsy.
Shoemaker declined to discuss whether Jackson had any health issues.
Knowing someone who died by suicide is among factors that can increase vulnerability to suicide, though the biggest risks are serious mental illness, such as major depression, or substance abuse, said Michelle Cornette, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, a suicide prevention advocacy group.