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Weatherman Bob Richards’ Suicide 25 Years Ago Rocked St. Louis 

Bob Richards, center, was well known as the local co-host of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

CECIL CORBETT

Bob Richards, center, was well known as the local co-host of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

Karen Foss was a little surprised. She'd just finished her usual 10 p.m. newscast on KSDK when the station's chief meteorologist, Bob Richards, asked her to stop by the weather station.

"That was unusual," Foss recalls. "And I was already very, very concerned about his demeanor — just the vibe he was giving off. He was obviously very upset and angry. But I'd seen him upset before; I'd seen him angry before."

Richards had come to Foss in the past to discuss both personal and work issues, but they weren't exactly close. A group dinner once, perhaps, but they didn't socialize outside of work.

She went over to Richards' workstation to talk. "I know there've been lies about you before in the community," he said. "How did you deal with it?"

That set Foss back; it wasn't what she was expecting to hear from the curly-haired weatherman.

"Bob, if what they're saying is true — you know, you are so talented and so popular, I think you can get through this," she told him. "If this is true, you probably need to say 'I'm sorry' and make amends. I think people will just forgive you because they all love you. We all make mistakes.

"He just wasn't hearing it. He was just totally in denial," Foss adds.

"It's not true — this woman's a liar," Richards told her, and that was the end of the conversation. Foss got in her car and made the drive from Channel 5's studio in downtown St. Louis to her home in Clayton. She was on Lindell Boulevard when she realized her hands were shaking so badly she couldn't grasp the steering wheel.

She pulled over and collected herself.

"It had just been such a disturbing conversation," Foss recalls. "He didn't say anything about suicide. But he just was — I just felt like he was so out of touch with reality, that's what I'm trying to say. I couldn't handle it. I just stopped. Then went home, went to bed and early in the morning got this phone call. And then it all began to unravel."

Bob Richards — born Robert Lloyd Schwartz in Bloomfield, New Jersey, in 1956 — arrived in St. Louis in October 1983. He'd never even seen the town when he flew in to interview with KSDK. He was hired that day. "I was pleasantly surprised that it had electricity and flushing toilets," he joked later to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After graduating from Penn State, Richards worked as a meteorologist in Atlanta; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Columbia, South Carolina; and joined the Weather Channel in Atlanta.

He met his future wife, Kathy, when he moved to Stamford, Connecticut, to do weather for the Satellite News Channel; she worked in the same building. SNC was the fledgling CNN's first competitor: At one point, Richards was recording 21 forecasts a day to sate the 24-hour news cycle. Richards must have seen the writing on the wall, though — SNC folded after just sixteen months, two days after Richards was hired at KSDK to replace Dave Murray.

At the time, there were three news stations in St. Louis, and the majority of homes in town did not have cable or satellite television. The personalities of KSDK, KMOV (Channel 4) and KTVI (Channel 2) were written about often in who's-who columns in the Post-Dispatch and were treated like out-and-out celebrities.

"St. Louis was very late to adapt or embrace cable TV," says former KSDK cameraman Cecil Corbett. "You had three or four stations back then. You invite these people into your home, and there's a certain level of trust — so [viewers] do kind of establish a connection with them."

Before joining KSDK in 1979, Foss had worked at a station in Kansas City where there was not the same newscaster-as-celebrity culture.

"It was odd. I didn't feel it was that way in Kansas City," she says. "I felt very much like, 'OK, I'm going to work, do my job and go home,' just like the teacher, the bus driver, the checkout clerk, and in St. Louis there was a certain sense of celebrity attached, which kind of threw me for a loop. I was very surprised. And I think it was partially — not exactly created, but fanned by the gossip columns."

Former Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat columnist Jerry Berger was a big source of this, but both papers had local TV critics, which added to the high profile of on-air talent. Berger, who started his career in Hollywood, worked in public relations with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli and Cary Grant. He eventually came back to St. Louis and brought that movie biz sensibility with him, covering local characters' comings and goings, often with a salacious angle. (Berger pleaded guilty in 2013 to first-degree sexual misconduct).

It was KSDK general manager Bill Bolster's idea to pair Richards with the station's new sportscaster, Mike Bush.

"Bill, for all his idiosyncrasies, really, on a gut level, understood television," Foss says. "And he saw the potential of pairing Mike and Bob in this way, and he made it happen. And it worked."

Bush joined KSDK in 1985. By the late '80s, Bush and Richards became known for a series of commercials that Bolster sent them to Hollywood to film. The ads are pure '80s cheese — you can find them on YouTube — and feature the duo in a variety of special-effects-aided situations. (Bush stopped responding to requests to be interviewed for this story.)

"The strategy is that both of them have strong personalities that mesh so well," KSDK director of creative services Richard G. Brase told the Post-Dispatch ahead of the debut, noting that the silly ads wouldn't damage their credibility the way they might Foss' and Dick Ford's, her on-air partner.

"In the spots, both television personalities do a spinoff of the Blues Brothers, called the 'Kews Brothers.' Brase said in excess of $100,000 was spent on production for the spots," Berger reported, next to a huge black-and-white photo of Bush and Richards in full Blues Brothers gear. The goofy spots were instantly a topic of conversation around town.

"What is KSDK doing spending $100,000 on a promo? Second, did they have to spend the money out of town?" wrote Post-Dispatch reader Walt Lockley of Bridgeton to TV critic Eric Mink. "Third, if they had to spend the money out of town, how come they got back such a hackneyed, over-produced and self-congratulatory piece of [garbage]? ... What makes me angriest is that KSDK pretends it is a serious news-gathering and news-reporting organization ... but when it comes to attracting an audience, they trot out these two cartoonish clods. It makes me sick to my stomach."

Dorothy Boyd of Collinsville, Illinois, disagreed.

"What's wrong with having some fun? God knows the news is terrible and sometimes those giving the news and we, the viewers, need a break. Bob Richards and Mike Bush are believable with the weather and sports. A little clowning around certainly doesn't hurt their reputations."

The dynamic duo eventually became best known for being the local hosts of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, back when Jerry Lewis was still the host. Other local personalities would answer the phones and take donations while Bush and Richards appealed to the viewers.

Two years in a row, WKBQ disc jockeys Steve and D.C. (a.k.a. Steve Shannon and Isaiah Wilhelm) answered phones and appeared on air alongside the KSDK weatherman and sportscaster.

"Steve and I answered phones and then Bob and Mike would come over and talk to us," Wilhelm recalls. "Off the air, we talked to them for a little bit, but that was the extent of how well we knew them.

"Mike was a little cold toward us because he was on a competing morning show at the time, but he was professional. Bob was the opposite. I think Bob was very outgoing and gregarious, and my impression of him was that he was the kind of guy that never met a stranger."

Corbett, who joined KSDK in 1984 as a cameraman, had a similar initial impression of Richards. They began working together on "Weather on the Road" TV spots on Fridays, where they'd visit an out-of-the-way small town and do the weather on location.

"I would go out in advance in the satellite truck, and then [Richards] would come out — these were the 'Mercedes '80s' — he would come out in the helicopter, and fly back and get ready for his ten o'clock show. We did that for a couple of summers, and got to be closer, because you're out in the field, and I'd always set up something zany for him to do."

The two became even closer after Richards took up aviation, a hobby he also shared with St. Louis radio host and personality Guy Phillips. Corbett remembers, in particular, an afternoon where he and Richards flew down to Sikeston and had lunch at Lambert's Café, and Corbett let Richards take the controls for a while during the flight.

Phillips and Richards met when the latter first joined Channel 5; he was also hired as the morning weather guy on Phillips' show on Y98.

Bob Richards' personality and sense of humor came out in the commercials he filmed for KSDK. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE
  • Bob Richards' personality and sense of humor came out in the commercials he filmed for KSDK.

"He was a funny guy, and that came out on TV, especially when Mike Bush was introduced," Phillips says. "[Richards] played accordion, nobody really knew that [at the time], so we started doing these things called 'The Weather Raps' — Bob would come up with these weather raps and he'd use his accordion. It was awfully funny."

After going up in the air with Corbett and Phillips, Richards quickly earned his private pilot's license, and he and Corbett started working together on their instruments certification, a process which requires a lot of trust between a pilot and his safety pilot. Corbett didn't have his own plane, but Richards, with his 1980s on-air salary, bought a cherry red Piper Cherokee 180, which sped up his certification process. Richards was even the first pilot to take off at Spirit of St. Louis Airport after it reopened in October 1993 following the big flood.

"I think there was an element of trust [between us], but you can't get in too much trouble at the Crawford County Fair — there'd be a tractor pull or a cow-milking contest, stuff like that," Corbett says of their time traveling around for Channel 5. "That was Bob's nature — he knew he had to keep ahead of the competition, and he was zany. He was fun. He loved meeting people. He'd descend out of the sky in this helicopter, and everybody would line up to say hi and take pictures. It was all quite cool, back when stations spent money on things like that."

Longtime friend Karlee Stratton first met Richards on the set of a public service announcement in the late '80s, where she was an extra. They sparked up a conversation between takes.

"He was just funny; he was always making a joke," she says. "He was a very personable guy, but the main thing that you could really tell about him was that he had very low self-esteem. He was always kinda chucking himself. I don't find it surprising. I think that a lot of people who are insecure overcompensate by doing something great, but it doesn't fix what is wrong."

Stratton says Richards tried to ask her out at first, but she could clearly see he was wearing a wedding ring. Instead, they became close friends over the next seven or so years.

"By all accounts he was happy," Phillips says. "He had a young child, lived out in Grover, had a nice little house out there. His career was kicking into high gear, he was popular on the No. 1 TV station, he was popular on the No. 1 radio station — he had a lot going for him."

Foss, Corbett, Phillips and Stratton all agree that they didn't see Richards as any kind of ladies' man at the time — sure, he was famous, but women weren't particularly taken in by him.

In April 1989, the Post-Dispatch's At Home section did a feature on Richards' new home in Grover (which has since been incorporated into Wildwood) with the headline, "Bob Richards Separates Business, Personal Life." The story detailed the couple's new build, filled with antiques and country-style decor and life with their two-year-old daughter, Tricia.

"I don't like to live a celebrity lifestyle," Richards told reporter Carolyn Olson. "Karen Foss is into that, and I'm not. I'm more of a homebody ... I like to maintain a sense of separation as far as my TV job and my personal life."

At the time, no one — not Richards' friends or his colleagues — knew how truly he meant those words.

Goofy commercials, like this one with Mike Bush, endeared Bob Richards to viewers. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE
  • Goofy commercials, like this one with Mike Bush, endeared Bob Richards to viewers.

On the morning of March 20, 1994, the producer of the Steve and D.C. show got a phone call from a 34-year-old Farmington, Missouri, woman named Donna L. Henry. She wanted to go on the air and talk about her relationship with Bob Richards. The DJs were in the middle of a segment, so Henry would have to wait.

Two days earlier, a short Associated Press story ran in 100 papers and on fourteen news stations describing a protective order granted to Henry by Judge James E. Pennoyer against Richards. The Missouri adult abuse law had expanded only the previous year to include stalking and harassment; Henry played the judge voicemails, showed him more than a dozen letters from Richards and claimed he had repeatedly flown over her home in Farmington in his private plane.

"He was trying to turn the tables and say I was calling him," the Post-Dispatch reported her as saying at the time. "He gets real angry when it doesn't go his way ... Every time I think it's over, something else happens."

Judge Pennoyer granted a temporary order of protection. "It seemed like the guy didn't want to give her up," Pennoyer said at the time.

Henry claimed that she had been in a relationship with Richards beginning shortly after they met in 1992, when he spoke at the nursing home where she worked. She later said she broke up with him for the first time in July 1993; they got back together in November when, Henry stated, Richards assured her he was getting a divorce. Presumably, Henry realized that was not the case, and they broke up again in January 1994.

Joseph Layden, managing editor at the Daily Journal in Park Hills near Farmington pitched the story to the AP in St. Louis on March 17. In the meantime, the Post-Dispatch received an anonymous letter that caused them to start digging into Richards; the AP story broke while P-D editors were discussing internally whether or not to run a story.

The AP blurb, buried on the bottom-right corner of page nineteen under the headline "Court Order Against TV Weatherman," included a comment from Richards. He "denied dating Henry. He said he met her while making a personal appearance in the Farmington area about two years ago and that she had been 'a friend for a while.' Richards said Henry had got angry because he 'had not taken her up on her advances.'"

"'I'm a nice guy, and people that know me personally and professionally know that I desire no ill will on anyone,' Richards said. He added that he is 'very happily married.'"

Stratton got a call from Richards when the news blurb hit. She remembers wondering why he didn't just agree to stay away from Henry — who cares?

"Take your ball and go home," she says. "That's the exact words I told him. 'She wants to file a restraining order? Take your ball and go home. Say, 'Fine."' What are you fighting it for?"

Henry was not having it.

"If I remember correctly, she was really more disturbed by the airplane deal than anything, than even the phone calls and the frequency of the phone calls," Wilhelm says. "And I'm telling you, on that first day, obviously we talked about it, but we didn't do a tenth of the stuff that I heard later that other morning shows did. KMOX, their morning show — they were playing airplane sound effects and making fun of it. Frank O. Pinion was doing all these bits with it, and JC Corcoran, they were all talking about it quite a bit. We really had just mentioned it a couple of times but didn't make that big of a deal out of it. We did read the quote on the air that he said, 'Donna Henry is lying. She's just a crazy fan.' We did read that. And I think that's what upset her."

Steve and D.C. had only been reinstated earlier that year after being fired for using racial slurs. Critics would later accuse them of being the ones who played airplane and accordion noises on air and talking about the scandal incessantly, but Wilhelm insists that's not how it went.

"Through the years, a lot of people have gotten that wrong, and they say — I know that Corcoran, for years, has told people that we hunted her down, and that's not true," he says. "She called us and told our producer who answered the phones at the time that she wanted to defend herself and set the record straight due to him saying that she was a crazy fan."

Once Steve and D.C. were done with their segment, they put Henry on the air a little after 7 a.m. She made a case that Wilhelm admits he had not even considered at the time: Farmington is a small town, and she was now a business owner. It wasn't even that she was upset about the relationship, she told them, but rather that she had a reputation to protect in Farmington.

Henry said, both that morning and later, that she had been the one to break off the relationship.

"My name is plastered everywhere," the Post-Dispatch quoted her as saying on air. "He has almost weaseled out of it."

She made reference to the voicemails he'd left her a few times, and then told Steve and D.C. that, as a matter of fact, she'd play them right now.

"Steve and I [were], I remember, both looking at each other like, 'Whoa, wait a minute, that's more than we bargained for,'" Wilhelm says. "We were thinking, 'Is that legal? Is that gonna be an issue?'"

Henry was put on hold while Steve and D.C. conferred with their producer. They got ahold of the station's general manager and confirmed that it was OK for Henry to play the voicemails. (Missouri is a one-party consent state with regard to recordings.)

"I think we only allowed two messages, but they were so obviously him that we really didn't need any more, you know?" Wilhelm says. "It was scary sounding, it really was. It was him — you know his voice from being on TV for so many years, so instantly you kinda got chills when you heard it start, because it's like, 'Oh my gosh, that is Bob Richards.'"

All told, Wilhelm estimates Henry was on the air for no more than 30 minutes between the two segments. At first, Steve and D.C. didn't think it was going to be a huge deal. Around lunchtime, though, they started hearing rumblings.

"We'd met at a couple of appearances," Phillips says of Steve and D.C. "I know they were competitors. I understood what they were doing in the market. They were very talented guys. What they did, they did very well."

Richards called Phillips that morning, "frantic."

"He said that this was going to ruin his life," Phillips remembers. "And I said, 'Bob, there are politicians, preachers and people in high places that have had worse transgressions. Just let it work itself out.'"

Stratton received a similar call from Richards. "He was in a desperate panic at that time," she says. "Total embarrassment. Horrified, humiliated, the whole bit. I'm not saying that he wasn't responsible for his own behavior, [but] it was pretty terrifying for him."

"Initially our reaction was — 'Sorry?'" Wilhelm says. "I really felt like she deserved to be able to tell her side of the story. Because people tend to believe the celebrity — maybe they're telling the truth, maybe she is a little nutty. And I just remember feeling like OK, I understand that you're angry, but you're probably more angry that you're caught than anything else. And at that time, we didn't know that he had several mistresses going on. We just knew about her. But I felt like he was just angry that he got caught. Now, that was about lunchtime. Later in the day we started hearing other things."

Corbett remembers seeing Richards sitting on the curb behind Channel 5, where the news vans were, smoking cigarettes, even though Corbett didn't know him to be a smoker.

"But clearly there was a lot of turmoil in his life, in his soul, that was going on," Corbett says. "I sat down next to him to talk and offered to listen. 'What's going on? Do you wanna talk?' And he's like, 'No, it'll be cool, it'll be cool.' It was a side of Bob I'd never seen before."

The day before Henry's interview, Richards had spoken to then-KSDK general manager John Kuenke about suicidal thoughts. Kuenke offered to give him time off, which Richards repeatedly refused. He refused for the final time on the afternoon of March 22.

Richards did his regular newscasts at 5 and 6 p.m. that day.

Around 9:45 p.m., as he was preparing the evening's final newscast, Richards telephoned Phillips and asked him if he would call his wife, Kathy. She had taken their daughter, Tricia, to Chicago and wouldn't speak to him. He gave the number to Phillips, who spoke to Kathy for five or ten minutes. She mostly listened, Phillips recalls, but wasn't argumentative. He told her the same things he had told Richards: Just give it time. It'll work out.

Richards went on at 10 p.m. as usual and called Phillips after the first weather cut-in. Phillips confirmed that he'd talked to Kathy and told Richards what he'd said, adding that she didn't react with much emotion.

"He said something to me that, I don't wanna say it haunts me, but it did for a while," Phillips says. "He said, 'Thank you. You've taken a great weight off of my shoulders.' And I thought that just meant I put him at ease. [Then] I watched him do the last part of the weather. He seemed a little distant when he was doing it, but maybe that was just because I was too close to it — I read more into it than what it was."

After his final 10 p.m. show, Richards called Stratton and said he needed cigarettes — he did indeed smoke Winstons — and coffee. Stratton offered to pick him up and take him to the convenience store across from KSDK's building.

"No, no, no, no — please don't make me go in there," he pleaded.

"OK," she said, and grabbed a cup of coffee and a pack of his cigarettes before picking him up at the station. They drove around for a while, eventually winding up on the old brick street under the Arch, just feet from the Mississippi River. Richards was in the fetal position in Stratton's passenger seat.

"What are you so afraid of?" she finally asked him. He'd been notified that a story was coming out the next day in USA Today and was worried that his parents would read it. Stratton suggested going home to New Jersey for a while, so he could be there when they read it. He listened but it didn't seem like he thought that would help.

"I wasn't quite sure what he really wanted," she says. "He was not himself at this point. He's talking to me but he's ... I was so used to him being bubbly."

KSDK has always maintained that the station did not and never intended to terminate Richards over the situation, but Stratton says she got an anonymous call that said station management had fired Richards that night. Allegedly memos saying as much were placed in everyone's mailboxes at KSDK that evening. If that was true, by the next morning, they had been removed.

"And I would say that's what happened because he was just shaken to the core at that point," she says.

Stratton drove Richards back to the station, and they talked a little bit more. He got out of the car and she drove home. Stratton was so worried about him that she paged him a little later, and he called back.

"Where are you right now?" he asked.

"I'm in bed."

"Good — you just go to sleep and I'll call you tomorrow," he said. Stratton was working early the next morning, so she offered to call him around lunchtime.

"He knew that if I was up watching TV, I'd see it in no time," she says.

After she dropped him off, Richards drove the 35 or 40 minutes to Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, where his red Piper Cherokee 180 was housed. Though the airfield closed at midnight, Richards took his Piper up at 12:15 a.m. He climbed 400 feet in the air before changing course at around 100 mph.

Jim Killeen, who worked near the runway, saw the whole thing.

"It almost sounded like in a movie when it starts winding up," he told the Post-Dispatch a few days later. "He definitely had the power in. He was gaining speed and flew it right into the runway, almost perpendicular to the ground.

"It hit in a big cloud of debris and dust. Within a couple seconds it engulfed in flames. I could just tell from impact no one made it."

Clips of Richards doing the weather remain online 25 years after his shocking death. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE
  • Clips of Richards doing the weather remain online 25 years after his shocking death.

When Steve and D.C. reported for work on March 23, 1994, at around 4:45 a.m., one of their producers was waiting for them at the door. This was highly unusual.

"He just said, 'Guys, there's some really bad news.'" Wilhelm remembers. "And that guy — he would play pranks on us a lot. So we really didn't know if we could take it seriously at first, you know? I said to him, 'You're joking. Come on, that's not funny.' And then I could see that he wasn't laughing and was like, 'No, Bob Richards, around midnight, took his plane out, nosedived it straight into the tarmac and he's dead.' And I mean, I was just absolutely stunned."

Corbett got a call from his sister in the middle of the night; she left a message, because she knew the two often flew together, and her first thought was that Corbett was in the cockpit with Richards, and that there had been some terrible malfunction.

"Then the [KSDK] assignment editor called very early, and I think he even offered to let me stay home that day," Corbett says. "I said 'Nope, nope — gotta soldier on.' You know, it's news. It's your job."

Foss awoke to a call around the same time from her former colleague Julius Hunter. Larry Connors, a longtime KMOV anchor, was also a private pilot, so he had connections at Spirit of St. Louis who tipped him off to what had happened. Connors called Hunter, and Hunter called Foss. Foss, in turn, called Dick Ford.

"But Bob's body had not been identified. We knew it was his plane. And we — as we would for anybody — we did not report his name [at first], and it wasn't a cover up or anything like that," Foss says. "It was because his body had not been identified and his family had not been notified. Other stations were not so careful with that information. And that was hurtful, but you know, you go on."

Stratton reported to work as usual at the health care facility in Granite City, Illinois, where she was employed at the time. When she arrived, her coworkers immediately told her to go home; her roommate would be waiting for her there.

Confused, she drove back to her apartment, where her roommate was standing in the living room, watching TV with her hands over her mouth. Stratton turned around and saw the report of Richards' presumed death and sat down in disbelief.

Phillips got a call from his boss around 2:45 a.m. The guy was a prankster, so Phillips' first reaction was, "Fuck you!" Unfortunately, it wasn't a terrible joke. Phillips was on vacation at the time, but he came in and they discussed what they knew on the show that morning, though they couldn't even say Richards had died yet on air.

At first, while the Federal Aviation Administration was investigating the crash and before the medical examiner's report was released, some hoped that it had been a terrible accident — not a suicide.

"I knew exactly what had happened," Corbett says. "We sat out there and talked on the curb, and when his wife found out [about Henry] she moved out and went up to Chicago, and he flew up there in his plane and talked several times about how easy it would be to fix things by just planting it in a cornfield and having it be done. So I knew that seed was in his brain."

KSDK general manager and vice president John Kuenke also said later that Richards had spoken to him several times of thoughts of suicide in his final days but maintained that he didn't want to take time off, that being on the air would be "therapeutic" for him.

"If you said to me, 'If you don't take that phone call or do that interview with Donna Henry, he doesn't kill himself,' well then of course we wouldn't do the interview, but you don't get that kind of hindsight," Wilhelm says. "But as we know, in life, things do get better. People love a second chance. I think Bob would've absolutely had no problem continuing his career even if [Channel] 5 had fired him, just by simply saying, publicly, 'Hey, I obviously made some mistakes and I'm a man that is flawed.' I think everybody would have been fine with that and would've given him a second chance. I just never believed in a million years that he would do something like that. If I could change it, I would."

In the ensuing days, there was even more of a media frenzy.

"There were two shows that came out to interview me and set up cameras," Phillips says, "and all they wanted was dirt, and I couldn't give it to them."

After Richards' death, as many as 23 women claimed they had a relationship with him; Henry had actually heard from and met with a few of them after she called into the Steve and D.C. show.

"Steve and D.C. had a golden nugget for the kind of show that they did," Phillips says. "It's easy to blame them. I believed at the time that they were at fault for Bob's death, but I don't believe that now."

For Karen Foss, reporting on the death of a colleague was hard enough, let alone under such circumstances.

"It isn't the first time that I've had — I or others — have had to report on the death of a colleague or coworker or someone that we knew personally," Foss says. "But it was particularly painful under these circumstances. And I felt very bad for this woman. I could understand why she'd gone public. He had trashed her and said she was a lunatic and obsessed fan and that didn't seem to be the truth. Or the whole truth, certainly.

"I have never looked back at those tapes and I'm sure we looked very dashed. It's always with you. That was a major trauma, and it's not something you just put away."

The world has changed greatly since Richards' death 25 years ago. In 1994, there was a lot of hesitation to cover the scandal before and after his passing, as media was more reluctant to report on the private lives of public figures in general. In the March 30, 1994, edition of the Riverfront Times, then-publisher Ray Hartmann shared his unvarnished thoughts on Richards and the onslaught of press surrounding his affair and suicide.

"The apparent suicide last week of KSDK-TV weathercaster Bob Richards — following five days of embarrassing public coverage of his personal life — is ultimately the responsibility of no one other than Richards himself. But one inescapable fact remains, regardless of how desperately members of the media would like to escape it. Bob Richards' personal life — or more precisely, the personal life of Robert Schwartz (his real name) — was not legitimate news. This is, of course, hotly disputed by many, if not most journalists. The conventional non-wisdom of the media, as well as other devotees of sleaze, is that loss of privacy and personal dignity 'goes with the territory' for celebrities and others in the public eye. This is, we are told, 'the price one pays' for the fame and fortune of celebrity. What garbage. Maybe it sounds like an antiquated thought, but judging what is news (and what is not) is supposed to be a complex and delicate business."

In the column, Hartmann argues that Richards wasn't tasked with the same "grave responsibility" of public figures such as "the president or the governor or the mayor or the chief of police," and as such, didn't deserve to have his personal life scrutinized by the press. "No one is using any standards," Hartmann wrote. "And no one seems to care that every time you take a piece out of Bob Richards, you take a bigger piece out of Robert Schwartz."

Over the past two-plus decades, this deferential approach and tone to covering people in the public eye and community has started to evaporate. It's hard to imagine journalists having these same conflicted feelings today, especially given the evidence against Richards supplied by Henry.

At first blush, the story of Bob Richards seems fairly black and white: a perfect-seeming family man leading a secret and scandalous double life. Journalists and people in the community argued that the order of protection against Richards wasn't news and should never have been reported in the first place. Fingers were pointed. Perhaps if a similar situation happened today, we would believe the woman immediately. In the past few years, previously untouchable media figures like Matt Lauer, Bill O'Reilly and Tavis Smiley have been forced out of high-profile positions in broadcast journalism due to affairs and allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power. Considering the stalking and harassment charges leveled against Richards — to say nothing of the 23 alleged consensual affairs — it's hard to imagine this scandal not costing him his job today.

As often happens in life, though, the more you learn about Richards, the hazier it becomes. Almost everyone interviewed for this story referred to Richards as "complex" or "complicated," and wrestling with demons, although they all acknowledge that he was far from blameless in this situation.

"I think he was two people," Phillips says. "He was the person I knew on television and radio, and he was Robert Schwartz, who probably had more strength than Bob Richards. I think it was Bob Richards that killed Bob Schwartz. I know that sounds a little movie-esque, but that's my own assessment."

Corbett hopes that people remember Richards as more than the guy who closed down the Spirit of St. Louis Airport for half a day.

"I was always taught if you can get past thoughts of suicide and get on the other side, once you get past that, the bottom part of the pit of the valley, that you can rise above it," Corbett says. "He spent more time in that deep valley than any of us thought."

Corbett is still in contact with Kathy, who has since remarried; their daughter, Tricia, now has a family of her own. Kathy, through Corbett, declined to be interviewed for this story.

"You asked me if I thought things would be different [today]. I don't know," he says. "It was very public and very ugly. The wound has grown over and there's not a scab there. Just know that his wife has emerged stronger and her daughter has prospered and is doing well. So if anything good came out of this, it's that."

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April 1, 2020

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