Rural Missouri murder-suicide leaves 8 dead, police say

A man who authorities say may have been unhinged by the death of his ailing mother killed seven people and then took his own life in a house-to-house shooting rampage that wiped out a swath of this tiny town in the Missouri Ozarks.

Thirty-six-year-old Joseph Jesse Aldridge, of Tyrone, Mo., identified as gunman

Police tape surrounds a home that was one of the crime scenes in a mass killing in Tyrone, Mo. Police said seven people were fatally shot, and the suspected gunman was found dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot. ( Jeff McNiell, Houston Herald)

A man who authorities say may have been unhinged by the death of his ailing mother killed seven people and then took his own life in a house-to-house shooting rampage that wiped out a swath of this tiny town in the Missouri Ozarks.

Joseph Jesse Aldridge, 36, carried out the killings with a .45-calibre handgun Thursday night or early Friday at four homes in Tyrone, the no-stoplight community of about 50 people where he lived with his mother, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

Joseph Aldridge was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound before dawn in a running pickup truck on the middle of a highway 24 or 32 kilometres away.

There's not even a stop sign there. We've never had anything of this magnitude before.- Tyrone County Clerk Don Troutman

The patrol said four of the dead — two couples — were cousins of Aldridge's, ranging in age from 47 to 52. The names of the rest of the dead — and an eighth victim who was wounded but expected to survive — were being withheld until relatives could be notified.

All the victims were adults and were gunned down within a few kilometres of one another.

Authorities said the motive was unclear and no suicide note was found. But as the investigation unfolded, they found Aldridge's 74-year-old mother, Alice L. Aldridge, dead, apparently of natural causes, on a couch at her home, officials said.

She had been under a doctor's care and appeared to have been dead at least 24 hours, Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Whittaker speculated that the son "came home and found her deceased and then for whatever reason went on a rampage and started killing people."

House-by-house search for bodies

Around town, Aldridge was described as a recluse, and it was unclear what, if anything, he did for a living.

The killings traumatized Tryone, a town about 64 kilometres from the Arkansas line where many residents are related to one another, Sheriff James Sigman said. He said the last homicide in the county was a year and a half ago.

Police tape surrounds one of five crime scenes near Tyrone, Mo., on Friday morning. A gunman killed seven people and wounded an eighth person in an overnight house-to-house rampage in the small town before apparently committing suicide, authorities said. (Jeff McNiell/Houston Herald/The Associated Press)
"Start locking your doors," the sheriff said. "The world's changing. You've got to be safe."

The sheriff's office learned of the attack when it got a call about 10:15 p.m. Thursday from a young woman who said she had fled to a neighbour's home after hearing gunshots in her house.

The neighbour, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the teenage girl was barefoot and clad only in a nightgown when she came running across a snow-covered field full of thickets that left her legs cut up.

"She was crying so hard, but I finally got out of her `My mom and dad have been shot,"' the neighbour said.

When officers arrived at the girl's home, they found two people dead. Authorities later found five more people dead and one wounded in three other homes. The wounded person was hospitalized in undisclosed condition.

Sheriff's officers did a house-by-house sweep to make sure there were no more bodies.

John W. Shriver, 72, of Tyrone, said he discovered the bodies of two of the victims after getting a call Thursday night from a screaming relative who had been wounded in a shooting that killed her husband. Shriver said he found a man and his wife unresponsive on their bedroom floor and alerted law enforcement.

Shriver said the couple's 13-year-old son slept through the killings and that he took the teen to his home after the bodies were found.

"Everybody is kind of just dazed I'd guess you'd say," said Shriver, adding the killer "didn't have much to do with people" and "kind of stayed to himself."

The patrol identified some of the dead as Garold Dee Aldridge, 52; his 47-year-old wife, Julie Ann Aldridge; Harold Wayne Aldridge, 50; and that man's wife, 48-year-old Janell Arlisa Aldridge.

'It's a shock'

Tyrone is in largely rural Texas County, where the scenic rivers and woods draw canoeists, trout fishermen and deer hunters. The area has seen an exodus of shoe and garment factories over the decades, along with a drop in dairy and poultry farms, County Clerk Don Troutman said.

Set along a narrow, two-lane highway in a remote, hilly stretch, Tyrone consists of a pocket of mobile homes and other small houses but little else, with no restaurants or shops. A couple of general stores are long gone, and the one-room schoolhouse has been converted into a community building, Troutman said.

"There's not even a stop sign there," said Troutman, who has been clerk for 36 years. He said of the bloodshed: "We've never had anything of this magnitude before. It's a shock."