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Family of suspect in Tiller death had noticed a change in behavior

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, June 2, 2009, at 12:53 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 1, 2011, at 1:22 p.m.

Lindsey Roeder thought it was unusual that her ex-husband wanted to hang out with their grown son Friday evening.

Scott P. Roeder, 51, had always been adamant about his Old Testament beliefs and observed the Sabbath from Friday night through Saturday. Nothing could get in the way of that. Not soccer games when his son was younger. Nothing.

But last Friday was different. He wanted to take his 22-year-old son to see Star Trek, then to dinner. It was like Roeder, who family said adopted extremist anti-government and anti-abortion views in the early 1990s, didn't want the evening to end, Lindsey Roeder said Monday.

"In hindsight, my son said, 'He was saying goodbye to me.' "

Scott Roeder is now in a Wichita jail cell and today could be charged with first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault in the Sunday morning shooting death of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.

Tiller's attorney, Dan Monnat, said Tiller -- who received regular death threats -- often worried about what would happen to his patients if he was killed. Tiller, who was shot twice in 1993, often wore a bullet-proof vest and was escorted by security.

Monnat said he didn't know what protection Tiller had Sunday morning.

"Whatever the safety precautions, they most regrettably weren't enough," he said.

As part of the inquiry into Tiller's killing, investigators have searched two homes where Roeder has lived, one in Merriam and one in Kansas City.

Wichita police continued to investigate Monday but provided no new details.

What did emerge is a clearer picture of Roeder, who family said could be a kind man but had a history of mental health problems.

Lindsey Roeder noticed a change in Scott between 1991 and 1994, when the couple separated. In that time, she said, he'd started having trouble paying the bills and functioning with daily life.

"One day someone told him that paying income taxes isn't constitutional," Lindsey Roeder recalled. "And he realized if he stopped paying his taxes he could pay all of his bills. From there things just started like a snowball. He became very obsessive."

Roeder moved out of the home in 1994, she said, after he got involved with the Freemen movement, an anti-government group.

His views against abortion got stronger over the years.

"He thought the doctors were murderers," Lindsey said.

She said she and her son have always disagreed with his beliefs. But "he was not a mean, violent person," she said. "That's why I don't understand how you can be against killing a baby, an unborn child, and turn around and believe it's justifiable homicide."

The couple divorced in 1996, after Roeder was arrested in Topeka when Shawnee County sheriff's deputies stopped him for not having a proper license plate.

After the divorce, Roeder saw his son during supervised visits. For the past four years the father and son have seen each other periodically.

"Usually when he's with him, (Scott Roeder) talks about his beliefs, my son tunes it out," Lindsey said. "He doesn't believe in any of that, he believes it's over the edge."

Roeder's beliefs also came up in another custody battle in Pennsylvania. In 2003, Roeder sued for visitation of a girl born the previous year that he said he fathered.

The child's mother and her current husband told the court they felt Roeder would not be a good influence on the girl.

A court ruling filed in 2005 said Roeder was earlier diagnosed with schizophrenia "for which he takes no medication, which may pose a clear and present danger to the female minor child."

The child's mother also brought up Roeder's affiliations:"... Past conduct and association with anti-government organizations is ongoing and poses a risk to her daughter," the records said.

The child's mother and her husband -- who has raised the girl as his own since her birth --"feared that (Roeder) would kidnap and hide their daughter since he threatened to do so with his son."

Lindsey Roeder said she has spoken with the woman in Pennsylvania, but her son and his half-sister have not met.

Her focus is now on her son, helping him get through everything that's happened since Sunday morning.

"It's been an absolutely devastating 24 hours," Lindsey Roeder said late Monday afternoon. "I haven't slept. My son can't sleep.... I can't imagine, if it's been like this for us, what it's been like for the Tiller family."

Contributing: Dan Margolies of The Star

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