Diane and Thomas
The early years
The day of the shooting
Police swarm the Bruce home
Moment of reckoning
The discovery that confirmed the worst for Diane
Nothing's impossible for God
'God rescued me'
Diane Bruce erased Thomas from her life
Lives forever changed
To Diane Bruce, Thomas Bruce was a man who didn’t like to fish because he didn’t want to hurt a worm putting it on a hook.
He was a man she met in Bible study.
A man who had more patience with her mother than she did when dementia was taking over.
Note: This story contains descriptions of violent crime, including sexual violence.
A man she went with on missionary trips around the world.
A man she married 24 years ago.
That was before he forced his way into the home of a 77-year-old Jefferson County woman and sexually assaulted her.
And before Nov. 19, 2018 – the day he walked into a Catholic Supply store in west St. Louis County, killed a woman who refused to comply with his demands for sex acts and sexually assaulted two others while Jamie Schmidt lay dying next to them. Schmidt died in the attack.
And before Diane Bruce learned the man she planned to spend the rest of her life with was somebody else entirely.
“I don't know how to reconcile this,” she said. “I don't know how to make sense out of any of it.
“And I know the public, the victims, probably everybody would like for somebody to be able to give an explanation. And I would love to, but I don't have a clue. I'm at a total loss. I just can't, can't figure it out. I've spent three and a half years trying to figure out.”
Diane Bruce said the only thing that has helped her move on with her life is her faith – and she hopes to inspire others by sharing her story publicly.
“No matter how small your problems are, no matter how big they are, He cares about every one of them, and I just want to encourage other people that He has been there for me and He’ll be there for them too, if they just trust Him,” she said.
Diane and Thomas: The early years
Diane and Thomas Bruce met in a Bible study in California in the 1990s. He was divorced with no children. She had never been married. She was 42.
“I just thought he was a sweet, tender-hearted guy,” she said. “That's what drew me to him.”
Thomas Bruce became an ordained minister, and eventually, the couple moved to the Cape Girardeau area in 2002.
“He wanted to come here and start a church,” Diane Bruce said.
At the time, her mother had moved into an assisted living facility, and she was hesitant about moving so far away from her.
“He was often more patient with her than I was,” she recalled. “He put me to shame. He loved to tease her, but he was just really patient with her.”
She paused, recalling the moment.
“So it’s just impossible for me to wrap my mind around how this could be the same person,” she said. “It’s almost like there are two different beings inhabiting that body.”
The couple also enjoyed watching true crime documentaries together. One documentary mentions the wife of the BTK serial killer. It sticks with Diane Bruce.
“They said that the wife had no idea this had been going on throughout their entire marriage and I remember turning to him at that time and saying, ‘How could the wife not know?’” she recalled. “So when people questioned, ‘How could I not know?’ I understand what they're saying, because I said the same thing.
“It isn't that I was doubting her. I just thought, ‘Well, they must not have much of a relationship.’ I thought ours was more intimate than that, that we knew each other better.”
Overall, the marriage seemed normal, she said.
“It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, we definitely had our struggles, and he made me laugh a lot, he had a great sense of humor, but he also could just frustrate the life out of me,” she said.
Thomas Bruce was a Navy veteran. He worked odd jobs through the years, a chimney sweep, a school custodian, insurance salesman. He also battled depression and anxiety, Diane Bruce said.
“The last several years, he had been suffering more with anxiety and depression and was less social and just not as much fun,” she said.
A few days before the shooting, Diane Bruce said he came to visit her at the grocery store where she worked.
“I was just happy to see him up and out and dressed,” she recalled.
By November 2018, the couple had been living in a modest home in Jefferson County for a few months.
Diane Bruce said she was picking up as many overtime shifts as she could because her husband wasn’t leaving the house much.
“He was spinning,” she said. “He was kind of secluding himself. We were doing very little socially.”
November 2018: The day of the shooting
On Nov. 19, 2018, Diane Bruce texted her husband to tell him she was stuck in traffic.
“There’s a live shooter in West County,” he texted back.
“Honestly there are so many shootings anymore, I just thought, ‘Oh, another shooting,’” Diane Bruce recalled. “When I got home, he had dinner ready and we sat at the table across from each other and it was like nothing had happened at all. I mean, he did not seem upset, nervous or anything.”
That night, the couple watched TV together.
“He sat there and held my hands just so calm and, to later think about it, he was holding my hand with the same hand that had taken somebody's life just hours earlier,” she said. “It just doesn’t compute.”
The shooting at the Catholic Supply store led the evening news.
“There must be something more to this story,” Diane Bruce recalled telling her husband at the time. “Why would somebody just walk in and shoot somebody in the head and walk out that they didn't even know?”
He turned to her.
“Who knows in today's world?” he told her.
Three days later, Diane Bruce got up early for her shift at a grocery store.
“He was awake, lying in bed, watching the news, and I kissed him and the dogs goodbye,” Diane Bruce said.
She gathered her things and shouted “Love you” one more time before walking out the front door and into a whole new chapter of her life.
The arrest: Police swarm the Bruce home
As she pulled the door closed behind her and turned to go down the stairs, two sets of headlights came on at the same time at the end of her street. It was about 5 a.m. and still dark outside.
The cars sped toward her, swerved onto her front yard. The doors flung open. What seemed like an army of men wearing all black rushed toward her.
“I thought I was being kidnapped,” she said. “If you've ever had one of those dreams where you try to scream and wonder if you can, I found out I could. I screamed a lot.”
She hoped her husband could hear her.
“I thought he would hear me screaming and come to my rescue,” she said.
The men started trying to quiet her.
“Shhhh, police,” they said, moving away from the house while the others kicked in her front door.
“Once I knew it was the police, my terror went away, but I still had no idea what was going on,” she said. “I thought there must be a fugitive in the area.”
Instead, one of the officers told her, “Your husband has been identified in a very serious crime.”
She leaned against her car.
“You must have the wrong person,” she told them.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” the officer told her.
She sat inside a patrol car and watched police tow both of her cars away.
They asked her for permission to search her house.
“I was happy to do it because I figured they're going to find out they have the wrong person,” she recalled.
She texted her supervisor telling her she would be late for work.
“I figured as soon as they figure out they have the wrong person, I could be on my way to work,” she said.
Her mind raced with possibilities. She knew her husband was very public about his political opinions on social media.
“Somebody has gotten so angry about some of his opinions that he’s had, they’ve accused him of something,” she said. “And so I was still thinking, ‘It can’t be, it can’t be him.’”
For the next eight hours, Diane Bruce sat inside an interrogation room at St. Louis County police headquarters.
At times, she felt like they were accusing her of being involved.
Then, the questions took a turn.
“By the direction of the questions they were asking I said, ‘Was there something sexual related to that incident?’” she recalled. “Because I was unaware of it up to that point. It just, it added another dimension to it, but I just I didn't see how any of it could be him.”
When they left the room, Diane Bruce looked inward.
“I remember just silently crying out to God and saying, ‘I really need to hear from you now,’” she said. “And what came to mind immediately was, ‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
Later that day, the verse was repeated back to her.
She emailed her pastor’s wife, who responded by telling her the church dedicated its service to praying for the victims and the entire situation.
”And she says, ‘What keeps coming to my heart to say to you is, when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I,’” Diane Bruce recalled.
Moment of reckoning: The discovery that confirmed the worst for Diane
Police ultimately determined she did not know about her husband’s crimes.
She stayed with friends to avoid reporters or anyone else who might be lingering at her house.
The next morning, while her friend was making breakfast, his wife asked Diane if she could read something from her Bible.
“When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” her friend told her.
“Of course, the tears were streaming,” Diane Bruce said. “He had so tenderly let me know that He was there and He heard me and He was my shelter and that I could find refuge in the shelter of His wings.”
A few days later, she went home. Some of her belongings were still strewn about from the police search. She found a box her husband had brought in from his car before his arrest.
In it, was a receipt for two guns that cost nearly $1,000.
For Diane Bruce, it was a moment of truth.
“He had told me he had won them in a drawing,” she recalled. “I was working overtime to try to make ends meet, and here he had spent over $1,000 on these guns and I just I thought, ‘Who is this person?’”
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department detectives showed up at her door that week, too, telling her they believed her husband had forced his way into a 77-year-old woman’s home and sexually assaulted her weeks before the attack at Catholic Supply.
They asked for permission to search his car, which was at a repair shop at the time. He had driven a rental car during the Catholic Supply store shooting.
She didn’t hesitate to think her husband was guilty this time.
“It seemed pretty clear,” she said.
Not long after that, Diane Bruce said she was in a car with some of her husband’s family members when he called one of them.
They gave her the phone.
“I expected to hear something like, ‘I didn’t do this, you've got to get me a good lawyer,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Hi honey.’”
She didn’t say a word and handed the phone back.
“I just felt like I was so disoriented at that point, I just felt like an astronaut floating in space with the tether to the spacecraft severed,” she said.
On their 24th wedding anniversary, Dec. 10, 2019, a box arrived at her house. In it, was a watch with an inscription on the back which read: “To my wife, never forget that I love you. If I could give you one thing in life, I would give you the ability to see yourself through my eyes. Only then would you realize how special you are to me.”
“Pretty mind-blowing,” she said, laying it down on her table. “He must have ordered it before all of this happened.”
He sent her letters, filled with references to scriptures – mostly about how God was going to forgive him.
She ignored most of them, but finally answered one of them quoting a Scripture about examining oneself to make sure you aren’t just quoting Scriptures but actually living the faith through your actions.
She also wrote to him, asking that he sign documents to give her power of attorney so she could manage their finances. He refused.
Then, she filed for a divorce. He refused to grant one.
“He didn’t believe our differences were irreconcilable,” she said.
That meant she would have to face him in a trial. She was ready.
“The Bible says that when you're married, you become one flesh and I just didn't want to be one flesh with someone who could have taken somebody else's life,” she said. “I wanted to be surgically removed.”
The divorce was finalized in November 2020.
Guilty plea: Nothing's impossible for God
For much of the past three years, Diane Bruce has lived on her own with her trusty sidekick, a Basset hound Corgie mix named Sammy.
She’s gone home to California and met up with old friends who knew Thomas Bruce as she once knew him, who are equally stunned by his actions.
People shared stories with her about how much he helped them through whatever struggles they had by ministering to them or helping them in any way he could.
“It just doesn’t compute,” she said.
The thought of a murder trial always loomed in her mind. She received subpoenas from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
She said she and many others prayed that Thomas Bruce would plead guilty and spare everyone from a trial. It didn’t look likely.
His attorneys filed motions to have evidence thrown out. All systems seemed ready to go, even up until the night before the trial was to get underway.
Diane Bruce talked about it with her pastor.
“I think we agreed about him being very stubborn and then as I turned to walk out, I said, ‘But nothing's impossible for God,’” she recalled. “And the next day, I got a call from the prosecutor's office saying that he wanted to change his plea to guilty.”
The plea hearing lasted almost two hours, as the judge simultaneously sentenced Thomas Bruce to life in prison and the victims and their families read statements.
Below is the 5 On Your Side report from Oct. 23, 2021, when Bruce pleaded guilty.
One of the victims said she was upset that Thomas Bruce pleaded guilty, calling him, “a coward.” The victims also shared graphic details of the assault, wanting to show the judge how cold, calculated and callous he was and asking to judge to show him no mercy.
Diane Bruce sat in the back row of the courtroom and also listened as the children and husband of Jamie Schmidt spoke about the grief they have experienced since Thomas Bruce shot and killed her.
“My heart had been just hurting for them the whole time,” Diane Bruce said. “And it was actually heartening to hear them testify because they were just amazing.
“The courage and the strength they had to tell their story and to speak directly to him was amazing.”
She wrote letters to both of the surviving victims after the hearing.
“I told them that I think if we hadn't been so busy dabbing all of our tears, we probably would have given you a standing ovation,” she said.
'God rescued me': Diane Bruce erased Thomas from her life
A few days after the hearing, another letter from Thomas Bruce arrived at home.
He wrote it the night before he entered his guilty plea, explaining to his ex-wife he pleaded guilty because, “He felt like he wasn’t going to get a fair trial.”
“He also said he didn’t remember the incident,” Diane Bruce said.
It’s a claim she finds hard to believe because he remembered to throw away the coat he was wearing during the attack days after it happened.
Police found the jacket in the garbage can outside the couple’s house even though the trash had been picked up on the day after the shooting.
It was just another calculating detail that made Diane Bruce doubt everything her husband had ever said to her – and wonder whether this was the first time he ever hurt anyone.
“I know that they were looking at him in connection with a number of other crimes,” Diane Bruce said. “It sounds so weird to say that it wouldn't surprise me.
“I mean, it would, and it wouldn't. But after knowing now what he was capable of doing, I think anything's possible. It would be like another wrecking ball hitting me if I found out there were more, but I think it's very possible given the boldness with which he did these things.”
Diane Bruce now looks back on the scariest day of her life from a different perspective. Had the detectives not been able to identify her ex-husband as quickly as they did, she said she could still be living with him. And, he could have taken her life, or taken her hostage when police moved in to arrest him.
“There's a very real sense that God rescued me, and if He rescued me, He's got plans for me, so it's just day-by-day, being open to whatever He has for me,” she said.
She still wants answers and compares her struggle to make sense of it all to untangling a necklace.
“It seems like when you try to untangle it, it gets more tangled,” she said. “And I felt like He said, just lay it down. It's not yours to untangle.”
She also believes God wants her to share a message.
“No matter how small your problems are, no matter how big they are, He cares about every one of them,” she said. “And I just want to encourage other people that He's been there for me and He'll be there for them too, if they just trust Him.”
Any trace of her life with Thomas Bruce is gone from her home.
When she dug out pictures of her former life and showed them to the I-Team for this story, she talked about her ex-husband in the past tense, like he was dead. To her, he is.
The tender-hearted man, too afraid to hurt a worm while fishing, who had the patience of a saint with her aging mother, went on missionary trips around the world with her, is gone.
And, she fears, he never existed in the first place.
The victims: Lives forever changed
Jamie Schmidt, 53, was the mother of three and married to her high school sweetheart. She was shopping at the Catholic Supply store when she was killed by Thomas Bruce.
Two other women were attacked by Thomas Bruce at the Catholic Supply Store.
Bruce is also linked to the attack on a woman in Jefferson County.
5 On Your Side does not name the victims of sexual violence.