Navy Vet Pleads Guilty to Sexually Assaulting 2 Women, Killing Another in Catholic Store

A Navy veteran and former pastor pleaded guilty Friday to a handful of charges related to his alleged sexual assault of two women and the murder of a third inside a Catholic supply store, the Associated Press reported. Thomas Bruce, 56, will receive a mandatory life sentence without parole in keeping with his guilty plea for first-degree murder, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Authorities accused Bruce of entering the store in Ballwin, Missouri, in 2018, armed with a handgun, and forcing the three women into the back room. There, he ordered them to remove their clothes and perform sexual acts on him, according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors said that two of the women complied, but 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt refused and Bruce shot her in the head, killing her, the AP reported. He forced the other women to continue performing sexual acts and then fled the scene. Two days would pass before Bruce was arrested, spurring some schools, churches and businesses to temporarily close.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Thomas Bruce Pleads Guilty
Thomas Bruce, a former pastor accused of sexually assaulting two women inside a suburban St. Louis Catholic supply store, then killing a third when she refused his sexual demands pleaded guilty October 22 to first-degree murder and other charges. Bruce appears in St. Louis County Circuit Court in Clayton, Missouri on January 23, 2019. Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

Bruce's plea came days before jury selection was to begin in a trial scheduled to start November 1 for the attacks on November 19, 2018.

The prosecutor at the time, Bob McCulloch, said he did not believe the store was targeted because of its religious affiliation but simply that Bruce "saw an opportunity—three women in the store alone."

St. Louis County's police chief at the time, Jon Belmar, said the crime "shocked the senses."

The current prosecutor, Wesley Bell, said in 2019 that he would not seek the death penalty but would work to ensure Bruce spends the rest of his days behind bars. Schmidt's husband, Greg, said through a family spokesman that he supported Bell's decision.

The Missouri secretary of state's office identified Bruce as the operator of a nonprofit church formed in 2003 that was dissolved in 2007. Pastor David Fitzgerald at Calvary Chapel in Maryland Heights told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Bruce was a pastor at Calvary Chapel of Cape Girardeau, in southeast Missouri, during that time.

Bruce's LinkedIn page said that he was also a Navy veteran.

Schmidt, of House Springs, was a married mother of three who worked as a secretarial assistant at a community college. She was active at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in High Ridge and friends have said she might have been at the store to buy supplies to make rosaries for parishioners.

Bruce faces separate charges of kidnapping, sexual abuse, burglary and harassment for a September 2018 attack on a 77-year-old woman at her home near Hillsboro, another eastern Missouri town not far from where Bruce lived in Imperial. A hearing in that case is scheduled for December.

Prosecutors allege that Bruce forced his way into the woman's home, grabbed her in a sexual manner and demanded that she perform a sex act. The suspect fled after the woman's phone rang and she said her husband was on his way home.

Police said the victim recognized Bruce from his photo after it appeared in news reports about his arrest in the store attack, leading to charges in January 2019.

Bruce Appears in Court
A Navy veteran and former pastor pleaded guilty Friday to a handful of charges related to his alleged sexual assault of two women and murder of a third inside a Catholic supply store. Thomas Bruce, right, confers with his public defender Brice Donnelly as he appears in St. Louis County Circuit Court January 23, 2019, in Clayton, Missouri. Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP