WICHITA | Scott Roeder harbored a burning, “eye-for-an-eye” anger toward abortion doctors. He once subscribed to a magazine suggesting “justifiable homicide” against them, and apparently likened George Tiller to the Nazi death-camp doctor Josef Mengele.
Roeder, 51, was in jail today on suspicion of murder, accused of shooting Tiller to death on Sunday as the doctor served as an usher at his Lutheran church in Wichita.
Police said it appears the gunman acted alone, and some anti-abortion groups moved quickly to distance themselves from the killing. Outside Tiller’s clinic, the Kansas Coalition for Life placed signs saying members had prayed for Tiller’s change of heart, “not his murder.”
Roeder’s ex-wife said his extreme anti-government beliefs contributed to the breakup of their marriage more than a decade ago. And Roeder’s brother said he suffered from mental illness at various times in his life.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“However, none of us ever saw Scott as a person capable of or willing to take another person’s life. Our deepest regrets, prayers and sympathy go out to the Tiller family during this terrible time,” his brother, David, said in a statement to The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Roeder’s family life began unraveling more than a decade ago when he got involved with anti-government groups, and then became “very religious in an Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye way,” his former wife, Lindsey Roeder, told The Associated Press.
“The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew. He became very anti-abortion,” said Lindsey Roeder, who was married to Scott Roeder for 10 years but “strongly disagrees with his beliefs.”
“That’s all he cared about is anti-abortion. The church is this. God is this.’ Yadda yadda,” she said.
Lindsey Roeder said that the early years of the marriage were good and that Scott Roeder worked in an envelope factory. But she said he moved out of their home after he became involved with the Freemen movement, an anti-government group that discouraged the paying of taxes. The Roeders have one son, now 22.
“When he moved out in 1994, I thought he was over the edge with that stuff,” his ex-wife said. “He started falling apart. I had to protect myself and my son.”
In 1996, Roeder (pronounced ROW-der) was arrested in Topeka after being stopped by sheriff’s deputies because his car lacked a valid license plate. Instead, it bore a tag declaring him a “sovereign” and immune from state law. In the trunk, deputies found materials that could be assembled into a bomb.
He was convicted and sentenced to two years on probation and ordered to stop associating with violent anti-government groups. But the Kansas Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 1997, ruling that authorities seized evidence against Roeder during an illegal search of his car.
The appeals court ruling appeared to energize him, Lindsey Roeder said.
“When they let him out because of the illegal search that made him even more self-righteous. He would say, See, I’m right, and you’re wrong,’” she said.
Some anti-abortion activists said they were familiar with Roeder. Regina Dinwiddie, a protester in the Kansas City area, said she had picketed a Planned Parenthood clinic with Roeder. She said she was “glad” about Tiller’s death.
“I wouldn’t cry for him no more than I would if somebody dropped a rat and killed it,” she said.
It was not immediately clear Monday whether Roeder had a lawyer.
Someone using the name Scott Roeder posted comments about Tiller on anti-abortion Web sites, including one that referred to the doctor as the “concentration camp Mengele of our day” — a reference to the Nazi doctor who performed ghastly medical experiments on Jews and others at Auschwitz. The posting said Tiller “needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”
In another posting, on an Operation Rescue Web site, Roeder suggested a visit to Tiller’s church.
“Sometime soon, would it be feasible to organize as many people as possible to attend Tillers church (inside, not just outside) to have much more of a presence and possibly ask questions of the Pastor, Deacons, Elders and members while there?” he wrote. “Doesn’t seem like it would hurt anything but bring more attention to Tiller.”
Operation Rescue condemned Tiller’s killing as vigilantism and “a cowardly act,” and the group’s president, Troy Newman, said Roeder “has never been a member, contributor or volunteer.”
Dave Leach, publisher of the magazine Prayer and Action News, said he met Roeder about 15 years ago. A decade ago, Roeder subscribed to the quarterly magazine, which is published in Iowa and has said “justifiable homicide” against abortion providers can be supported, Leach said.
“Scott is not my hero in that sense; he has not inspired me to shoot an abortionist,” Leach said in an e-mail. “But definitely, he will be the hero to thousands of babies who will not be slain because Scott sacrificed everything for them.”