Murder in the Cathedral

Carol Bledsoe's alleged killer had a long criminal record and deep psychological problems. Church volunteers didn't know how big a threat he posed.

After she hung up the telephone, she stepped outside. No one was in the hallway, but evidence of what had happened covered the floor and walls. "I saw Carol's blood all over the place," Bocklage says.

A few seconds after the first noise in the hall, McGahey heard a second disturbance at the outer door of the main church office. When he got up, he saw Bledsoe walking down the hall to the senior pastor's office, just 30 feet away, apparently looking for help from Margaret Mantia, assistant to the Very Reverend Ronald Clingenpeel, dean of the cathedral. A volunteer in the office, Roland Klein, called 911 a second time.

"I heard hollering and got up," McGahey says. "She had turned her back and was headed toward Margaret's door. I didn't know yet what had happened, but I knew it was bad. I got in the hall and saw blood everywhere. I grabbed her by the shoulder as she got to Margaret's door. Margaret was buzzing the door to open it; I put my hips against it and pushed it open, then helped Carol into a chair. I just stayed with her. I knew almost immediately it couldn't be stopped. It was awful because there was so much blood coming out."

Carol Bledsoe, a secretary at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, was murdered in the hallway outside her office on December 19.
Carol Bledsoe, a secretary at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, was murdered in the hallway outside her office on December 19.
Michael Davis has been charged with first-degree murder in Bledsoe's death. Davis has a 20-year history of violent crime and mental illness.
Michael Davis has been charged with first-degree murder in Bledsoe's death. Davis has a 20-year history of violent crime and mental illness.

McGahey and Mantia stayed with Bledsoe for the next few minutes. Mantia had just walked back from the breakroom, where she was heating up her lunch. She had heard the disturbance in the hallway but had tried to ignore it. She also knew that Bledsoe would probably handle it.

"Something inside me said, 'Don't go out there, Carol,'" Mantia says. "When I came back, the noise in the hall wasn't there anymore. I figured whoever had been making it had left. By the time I walked in and sat down, Carol was at the door. She was trying to use her key to get in the door. She was bleeding. I figured that some goofball had smacked her in the head with something. There was blood all over. I knew she was injured, but it was much worse than I thought."

McGahey found the wound on Bledsoe's neck and put pressure on it, trying to stanch the flow of blood. Bledsoe tried to speak but couldn't. "I could immediately tell that this wasn't something she was going to get through easily, if at all," he says. "I started telling her how much everyone loved her, how much I loved her, because I wanted her to feel loved as she was going unconscious. Then I started praying: 'Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.' I started asking the Lord to take her into his arms. There was almost no pulse."

Police arrived first, then paramedics, who transported Bledsoe to St. Louis University Hospital. McGahey followed in his car. Doctors there told him as soon as he arrived that Bledsoe was dead.

"It was a nightmare here that day," says Burnham, who arrived at the church just a few minutes after Bledsoe was stabbed. "Within half an hour, or less, the media was here. For those of us inside, there was a terrible mess to be cleaned up, and people were trying to call her family and members of the church and staff who weren't here. This is really a family of people here in this congregation, and the incessant rapping on the door by reporters who wanted a statement is a sound that will always ring in my ears."

Within a few minutes of the attack, police arrested Davis near the church. According to court documents, Davis had a pocketknife with a three-inch blade, covered in blood; another homeless man had reported seeing a man he believed to be Davis run from the church after the unseen disturbance.

Church volunteers say they didn't know about Davis's criminal history, including his three sex-related convictions. Had they known, some say, they might have moved more quickly to hire security guards and adopt stricter rules.

"We try to be careful about sexual threats," McGahey said. "Had we known he might do that, it would have made a big difference. Carol herself would have been most indignant."

But knowing that Davis posed a threat wouldn't necessarily have meant closing the cathedral's doors to him.

"It would have been one more factor to consider," says Burnham. "We didn't see behavior like that here. The fact is, we see a lot of guys who are in and out of jail, mostly for misdemeanors, stuff related to homelessness -- various vagrancy statutes, urinating in alleys, public drinking.... A lot of the folks we see with mental-health issues run up against the law. A lot of doors close to a person with a criminal background."

Clingenpeel, the cathedral's dean, is even more adamant that the church continue serving society's "most vulnerable." He says there was no way for church staff to know of Davis' criminal record, and he bristles at the suggestion of background checks on the homeless. Clingenpeel insists the church can't be blamed for creating a safe harbor for someone as potentially dangerous as Michael Davis.

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