Carthage sheriff says double homicide shows 'hatred'

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 | 9:19 a.m. CDT; updated 10:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CARTHAGE — The weekend killings of a southwest Missouri couple in their rural Carthage home stunned their many friends, including a sheriff who said the manner of their deaths bore signs of "hatred."

Robert Sheldon, 70, and his wife, Ellen, 71, were reported dead by a son who went to their home Sunday morning when they failed to attend services at Carthage's Fairview Christian Church. The couple's dog was also killed.

The son told authorities he thought his mother had been shot.

But Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn — whose department Robert Sheldon had served for 25 years as a reserve officer — declined Monday to say how the couple was killed. Dunn said there was no known motive and no immediate suspects.

The Sheldons operated a gun and archery business known as the Old Cabin Shop on their property. The shop's building was used as the county's first courthouse in 1841.

"Bob was kind of a slow, easy-going guy," Dunn said. "Everybody liked him."

But at a news conference, Dunn said the crime scene included certain "elements" not usually present in local murders that he thought reflected a degree of "hatred" toward the victims. Dunn declined to elaborate on what he meant by that.

"It will all make sense to you later when you learn how these people died," Dunn said.

Another news conference was scheduled Tuesday morning at the Jasper County jail.

Dunn also declined Monday to say if either the home or the gun shop on the property showed signs of a break-in.

"The gun shop's got hundreds of weapons in there," Dunn said. "We don't know what may be missing at this time."

An avid outdoorsman well-known among hunters and fishermen, Robert Sheldon also had a deep interest in history.

Steve Weldon, Jasper county archivist, bought a black-powder gun from Robert Sheldon. He noted that Sheldon was involved in hunter-safety classes for many years.

"He was a great person, a wonderful guy," Weldon said. "He was a gun collector, but he enjoyed historic firearms. He wasn't a gun collector as much as he was a person who collected guns for historical purposes. He had a strong background in that.

"He had a real appreciation of history. That's why I liked him. We once did a re-enactment of the first county court in the old county court there."

The Sheldons' house is connected to the oldest surviving structure in Jasper County, the Hornback Cabin, which dates to before 1841. The first county court was staged in the cabin. The Old Cabin Shop, which Sheldon owned, is across a drive from the Hornback Cabin and the house.

Authorities said the Sheldons attended a church event Saturday evening.

They went home sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., and investigators think they were still alive and well at that time based on information that someone had talked to them by telephone after they got home, Dunn said.

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