Love, Money, or Mercy

One thing is certain: Roy Hagen killed his wife with a single blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. After that, the story gets a whole lot murkier.

After he was handcuffed and read his Miranda rights, as he was being walked outside to the police cruiser, Hagen told Greeves and the officers, "I didn't do it because we had an argument. I did it because I love her."

 

It is not hard to understand how Elroy Luverne Hagen could have been swept away by Sheila Marion McPherson when he first saw her standing at a bus stop in Prestwick, Scotland, Sheila's hometown, in 1964. Born 12 days before Hagen in April 1933, Sheila bore such a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor that old friends remember the time she was mobbed by fans who mistook her for the actress. Those who saw her in public often remarked that she dressed in carefully coordinated outfits and would never be caught with a hair out of place.

Hagen was stationed in Prestwick as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, logging duty as a vehicle maintenance officer. Egged on by a friend who also knew Sheila, he impulsively called her one night. Almost immediately, he discovered that this fun-loving, vivacious woman with a thick Scottish brogue filled him with a joy he hadn't felt before.

Hagen had grown up in the farmlands around Kandiyohi County with what a court psychiatrist would later refer to politely as "much chaos in the household." His father died when Hagen was 15; his mother's subsequent remarriage, to an alcoholic, lasted two tumultuous years before he passed away. The family moved to nearby Willmar, where Hagen finished high school in 1951 and enlisted in the air force that same year. When he re-upped four years later for another hitch, he was newly married. In 1958, a year after his daughter Shanni was born, he was accepted into officer-candidate school; he was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1960.

When Hagen fell in love with Sheila, she was a divorced single mother of a ten-year-old son. His tour of duty in Scotland ended in July 1965, and he filed for divorce as soon as he returned to the States. He brought Sheila to Minnesota; they lived for a month with Hagen's younger brother DuWayne, then married in Iowa, at what Roy described as "a little brown church in the vale." Resuming the nomadic military life, over the next dozen years the newlyweds hopscotched from southern Illinois to Vietnam to Topeka, to Virginia, Germany, and England.

Their social life was no less hectic. "We were quite the gadabouts," Hagen recalled in his court testimony. And wherever they went, Sheila poured her vibrant charm into the local officers' wives' club, planning events and bolstering Hagen's career by networking with the other spouses. Hagen recalled the three years they spent in Kansas at Forbes Air Force Base with particular affection, claiming that when he'd propose a night on the town "at the drop of a hat," Sheila would be ready to go.

It was in Europe during the late 1970s, Hagen said, that he first noticed Sheila's energy beginning to flag. Having signed on to run the NCO (non-commissioned officers) wives' club in England, she was forced to cancel appointments because she didn't feel well. Sheila had suffered from a thyroid condition for as long as Hagen had known her, but this was different, a feeling of pain throughout her body that doctors couldn't diagnose, coupled with a growing lack of initiative. In Germany she began receiving cortisone shots to combat her suffering. When Hagen was transferred to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in 1982, Sheila didn't involve herself in the wives' club, or, increasingly, much of anything.

At Langley Hagen held an impressive title befitting a career officer: chief of airlift and mobility training for the tactical air command. But when he was passed over for promotion to colonel in 1986 because he was two years away from the military's mandatory retirement age of 55 for non-generals, he began considering other options. Out in Minnesota his brother DuWayne urged him to join him at Metro Fork Lift, the company he owned in Maple Grove: Roy would work as general manager for about $35,000 a year while DuWayne ran the sales floor. Sheila lobbied to stay in Virginia, where they had friends. Nevertheless, Hagen decided to leave the air force in '86 with a hefty pension and persuaded Sheila to relocate to the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.

 

Hagen's seven-year tenure at Metro Fork Lift was an acrimonious disaster for both him and his brother. In 1993 Roy quit; DuWayne sold the business a year later. In his statement to police hours after he shot Sheila, Roy said of his brother, "I haven't spoken to him for six years....He reneged on everything, on a salary...on everything." A police search of the Hagen home turned up an address book with DuWayne's name and phone number crossed out, in addition to Hagen's suicide "thank you" addressed to his brother.

The two have reconciled since the shooting. In court DuWayne testified that his brother's concern about Sheila's declining health had been a factor at work. "I tell everybody that Sheila was just treated with unconditional love," DuWayne said. "No matter what the situation, it was Sheila first. In fact, it affected his ability to work, in my opinion. But she would come driving up--say, he would see her in the window--and he would rush outside and open the door for her. It was Dolly this, Dolly that," DuWayne said, invoking his brother's pet name for Sheila. "'How is Sheila today?' 'She's hurting, she's hurting.' It affected everything Elroy did in his whole life. She came first always, always, and it affected his performance at work. It affected his whole life, obviously."

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