The Kansas City Star
December 5, 1998
Author: RICHARD ESPINOZA; The Kansas City Star
A federal judge had prepared for his and his wife’s deaths last weekend by leaving notes in their Mission house listing computer passwords and where to find important documents, officials said Friday. The evidence showed that U.S. District Judge Earl E. O’Connor and his wife, Jean A. O’Connor, may have both committed suicide. But investigators said they could not rule out a murder-suicide. They were certain only that no one else shot the couple.
The O’Connors were found Sunday morning in their bedrooms. Each died of a single gunshot wound to the chests. Earl O’Connor was lying in bed fully clothed and died instantly when the .38-caliber bullet pierced his heart, said Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison. Jean O’Connor, who was dressed in nightclothes, died of internal hemorrhaging on the floor beside the bed. The gun was on the bed between them.
One of two vehicles was left running in the O’Connors’ garage, and an open door let carbon monoxide into the house, although the gas never reached lethal levels, Morrison said. Investigators can tell that Jean O’Connor died after her husband because she had more carbon monoxide in her body, but that did not reveal who was shot first.
Investigators found no sign of struggle or forced entry, and nothing was missing from the house. That and the notes, which appeared to be in Earl O’Connor’s handwriting, helped investigators decide that no one other than the O’Connors was involved.
Earl O’Connor’s .38-caliber pistol had neither of the victims’ fingerprints or blood, and investigators found no gunshot residue on the couple’s hands. Still, Morrison and Johnson County Sheriff’s Capt. Vince Werkowitch were confident that the two were not shot by a third person.
“There was no biological evidence on that gun, which isn’t that uncommon,” Morrison said. “In fact, there are very few cases in our county in over 20 years where you find latent prints on guns. Guns are not very conducive to holding prints.”
“Most normal types of ammunition in handguns don’t produce that much bleeding. It’s not like you see in the movies,” Morrison said. Morrison also said investigators sometimes did not find gunshot residue in shooting investigations. Tests for gunshot residue are unreliable, Werkowitch said. Earl O’Connor had his gun for many years, investigators said.
After a courthouse shooting in Topeka about four years ago, the judge asked an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make sure that the gun worked properly. O’Connor went to his office Saturday and got his gun, Morrison said.
The O’Connors were unsure whether she could continue to be cared for at home, Morrison said. Earl O’Connor was depressed about his wife’s condition and started taking anti-depression medication a few days before he died, Morrison said.
“He had just stated they both had some problems related to his wife’s health,” Morrison said.
To reach Richard Espinoza, Johnson County police reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-7714 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org