'Death-Obsessed' Student Implicated in Five Suicides Aug 5, 2019 3:16:37 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Aug 5, 2019 3:16:37 GMT -5
‘Death-Obsessed’ Student Implicated in Five Suicides
On August 7, 2016, Alexander David Mullins, 21, of Kansas City, hanged himself in the Alpha Kappa Lambda (AKL) Fraternity House (above) at Truman State University (TSU) in Kirksville, Missouri. Three weeks later, Jacob “Jake” A. Hughes, 19, who hailed from Eureka, did the same. Eight months after that, on April 6, 2017, Joshua Michael Thomas, 18, of St. Louis, became the third young man to end his life by hanging in the same fraternity house.
While it isn’t all that unusual for a college student to take his or her own life and there are haunting tales of suicides in dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses throughout the country, three suicides by hanging in the same house in less than a year is decidedly strange.
It gets weirder. A fourth man, 21-year-old Alex James Michael Vogt, a friend of the three other victims, committed suicide in his apartment on West McPherson Street on January 27, 2017. Vogt was attending Moberly Community College and though he wasn’t a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda, the mother of one of the other victims described him as almost an “honorary member of the fraternity.”
So what did Mullins, Hughes, Thomas and Vogt all have in common other than their associations with each other? They were all close to Brandon Grossheim, and according to a lawsuit filed by the parents of Mullins and Thomas, Grossheim is to blame for all four deaths. The suit, filed July 30 in the Circuit Court of Adair County, Missouri, alleges Grossheim had a “known fascination with death” and gave friends “advice on how to commit suicide.” Additionally, the complaint links him to the suicide of a fifth student, a young woman whose death is still under investigation. The five deaths occurred during the 2016-17 academic year.
Grossheim, who was the AKL house manager, found all four of the male victims. Mullins was discovered in his room at the fraternity house, and Thomas was found in a storage closet along with a scrap of paper containing Grossheim’s name and contact information.
Fraternity members allegedly asked Grossheim to “watch” Hughes the night before his death because he seemed to be contemplating suicide. Though he also died by hanging, when police arrived, the young man had blood on his face, chest and forearm, as well as a head injury his AKL brothers hadn’t seen earlier in the night. Later, it was determined there was money missing from the victim’s room and other occupants of the house noticed Grossheim seemed to be flush with cash. Not only that, he was wearing Hughes’s clothing and not long thereafter, he started dating the dead man’s girlfriend.
According to Nicole Gorovsky, the attorney representing some of the parents of the deceased students, Grossheim “participated, aided and abetted these people in committing suicide.” He was friendly with all five students, had keys and access to the rooms of the four male victims, and was the last person to see or talk to each prior to death. (Additionally, Grossheim allegedly told people he also was the last person to see the female victim alive.)
During the investigations of the five deaths, two senior AKL brothers revealed to authorities that Grossheim “considered himself a superhero,” dubbing himself the “peacemaker.” They also admitted they had problems with him and that he acted “strangely” at times.
When questioned by police, Grossheim claimed he “counseled people and gave advice and step-by-step directions to people on how to ‘deal with depression and do their own freewill.’” In the lawsuit, it is alleged that among the directions Grossheim provided his friends was “advice on how to commit suicide.” Furthermore, when investigators conducted a computer voice stress analysis – a polygraph-type test – on Grossheim, “it showed some deceptions,” Gorovsky added.
Grossheim was also questioned about the young woman found dead “under suspicious circumstances” and according to the complaint, a polygraph examination “detected deception in his statements to police about her death.”
When Grossheim left the AKL House shortly after Jake Hughes’s death, he moved into the apartment across the hall from Alex Vogt. Grossheim secured a position as manager, which came with a master key to all doors in the building, giving him access to all apartments, including Vogt’s.
The lawsuit concedes all four of the male victims had struggled with depression and displayed prior suicidal ideation and that the mental health issues plaguing the young men were “common knowledge” among fraternity members, including Grossheim (above). It is specifically charged in the complaint that the university and others were aware Mullins and Thomas (both of whom had told fellow AKL members they had stopped taking their prescribed medications), in particular, were “very vulnerable,” yet allowed “a suspicious fraternity brother [Grossheim] to be alone with and have unfettered access” to them. “This tragedy was preventable,” Gorvosky declared. “This situation had been swept under the rug.”
When the suicides occurred, news reports indicated Kirksville police were stumped because there was an obvious connection among the victims, but no real explanation for their deaths. The investigation was reopened in June 2017, at which time Police Chief Jim Hughes said, “In over 39 years in this business, all of which have been in college towns by choice, this series of events is very unusual and concerning at any number of levels.”
According to Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE, a suicide prevention organization, “Any time you take someone really vulnerable and really at risk and they are connected to someone and that person starts to lead them down the wrong path, their vulnerability and risk goes up, particularly if that person presents themselves as a ‘helper’ or ‘healer’ or something similar.”
Warren Wills, general counsel for Truman State, said that following the deaths, the university “provided counseling for members of the fraternity. And there has been a group formed to provide ongoing support for the fraternity to help them get their house in order, and that is ongoing,” he continued. “Young people who are college age are very susceptible to this type of difficulties.” However, he admitted the number of deaths within months involving the same fraternity “is certainly an unusual situation.” Nonetheless, he explained that because the fraternity house is not on campus and is owned by Alpha Kappa Lambda, the university has no jurisdiction except to decide whether the fraternity can remain a recognized student organization, which it has done.
According to Gorovsky, Melissa Bottorff-Arey, mother of Alex Mullins, and Suzanne and Michael Thomas, parents of Joshua Thomas, hired an attorney because they were confused about what happened and wanted to know why. In a statement, Mrs. Bottorff-Arey said her son “was funny, caring and smart. He went to Truman to build his future. Instead his life ended. When Alex died, our hearts and our world split wide open; at college, in a ‘brotherhood,’ you think your kids are safe and cared for. There were too many similarities, one person in common and so many questions,” she explained. “It’s time for answers. He [Grossheim] needs to pay for what he’s done.”
The parents are seeking monetary compensation to be determined by a jury. But according to Gorovsky, if there is a settlement, the parents would want the university to pursue faculty and staff “training so that they can recognize dangerous behavior so no other students are hurt.”
In response to the lawsuit, TSU officials issued the following statement: “We strongly disagree with the allegations as stated in the lawsuit and will defend the suit vigorously. As the litigation proceeds, it will become clear that the university is not responsible for the deaths of these students.”
Truman State, founded in 1867, has less than 7,000 students and is considered Missouri’s most academically-selective university.
The Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Lambda was founded at Truman State in 1953 and lists 20 current members. On its website, the fraternity indicates it prides itself “on emphasizing Judeo-Christian Principles, Leadership, Scholarship, Loyalty and Self-Support.”
Brandon Grossheim left TSU short of graduation, but wasn’t expelled. He is currently living in Alton, Illinois.
Sources: Mará Rose Williams, The Kansas City Star, August 1, 2019; Roche Madden, KTVI, August 1, 2019; Nassim Benchaabane, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 1, 2019; Ashley Jost, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 1, 2017; Shawn Cohen and Laura Italiano, The New York Post, February 3, 2017; Tom Johnson, KTTN, August 31, 2016; and Davis-Playle-Hudson-Rimer Funeral Home.