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.

Wednesday morning he awakened before the alarm went off at 5:30 and took the dogs for a walk. When he returned, Sheila was moaning more loudly. For a time he stood in the bedroom, listening to her. The next thing he remembered, he said, he had the shotgun in his hand, and Sheila wasn't moaning anymore.

 

Located along the Mississippi about 35 miles from Minneapolis, once-sleepy Elk River saw its population jump by half during the 1990s, from 11,000 to 16,500. Along with the arrival of Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, and a doubling in housing prices, crime became an inevitable part of the city's rapid growth. In 1990 Elk River was rocked by Jeffrey Sebeck's murder of his girlfriend's three-year-old child. The notorious killing of Linda Jensen in nearby Becker Township in 1992 recently reappeared in news headlines after DNA testing uncovered a suspect who will soon be tried in the Sherburne County courthouse--located just a mile from the center of Elk River. The city even had a drive-by shooting a few years back. When Sheila's murder was splashed across the front page of the local Star News, it gave residents another reason to ponder what the world was coming to.

The most supportive local haven for Roy Hagen following the shooting was Union Congregational. The week after Sheila was killed, the church held a memorial service that included bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" and a message from Hagen thanking them all for coming, expressing his regret, and asking their forgiveness. Pastor Trish Greeves was in an awkward position, to say the least. "Sure, there was a lot of confusion and mixed feelings among the people here after [the shooting]," says Greeves, a woman with a broad face, sparkling eyes, and a warm, soothing voice that suits her profession. "There was the issue of people feeling almost disloyal toward Sheila if we forgave Roy. Because Sheila was the outgoing, bouncy one and Roy was the quiet one, more supportive, enabling her to do what she did."

The ambivalence became more acute in late August of 1999, when a judge reduced Hagen's bail from $1 million to $100,000 and permitted him to leave home under certain circumstances--including church services--as long as he was accompanied by a family member. (He was also fitted with a monitoring device.) During Hagen's second Sunday back at Union, Greeves addressed the situation directly from the pulpit. "We are uneasy with unresolved questions...we feel love and concern for Roy one minute and suspicion and anger in the next....It is not being disloyal to Sheila to be supportive and caring and sympathetic to Roy's predicament. And it is not being disloyal to Roy to have doubts and anger." Ultimately Greeves urged her flock to "err on the side of mercy." Speaking directly to Hagen, who sat sobbing in one of the pews, she added, "Roy, this is exactly where you belong, and I'm glad you know it."

Despite residents' misgivings about what Hagen had done, his continued presence in the community and the media reports about the shooting led many to think of Sheila's death as a mercy killing. That perception was rebutted somewhat in mid-September 1999, when a grand jury indicted Hagen not only on the initial charge of intentional second-degree murder, but also for murder in the first degree.

One of the people who testified to the grand jury was Jane Kachenmeister, who had contacted police five days after the shooting with a very different perspective on the Hagens' relationship from the one Roy presented. Kachenmeister knew Sheila from church and from Bible-study class. She said the two gravitated toward one another because she too suffers from fibromyalgia, as well as an assortment of other maladies. Sheila was intrigued by Kachenmeister's use of Buddhist and Taoist healing techniques, often in place of traditional Western medications, and had borrowed some of her videotapes on the subject. According to Kachenmeister, Sheila said it was nice to have a "real person" to finally talk to. The last time the two were together, about a month before Sheila was killed, Sheila was very happy and moved so well that it was hard to keep up with her. "The idea that she was put out of her misery is not right," Kachenmeister told police.

Additionally, Kachenmeister's statement referred to strife in the Hagens' marriage. One day when the two women were eating lunch together, she asserted, Sheila had asked how she'd mustered the strength to get a divorce, saying she wished she too had the courage. She proceeded to tell Kachenmeister that she'd had an affair in Virginia, and that Hagen had never forgiven her for it; he'd become excessively "clingy and suffocating," demanding to know her whereabouts at all times. "She said everybody thought Elroy was just fabulous, [that] he doted on her and cared for her, and she said, 'Oh, he adores me,' and rolled her eyes," Kachenmeister related.

"I miss Sheila a great deal. I remember how she used to come over, how she called my 82-year-old father 'Poppy,'" Kachenmeister adds today. "If she had seen it coming, this wouldn't have happened. He would have been lying there instead of her, because she was a real fighter." She quit attending services at Union when they allowed Hagen to return, Kachenmeister asserts--"I wasn't going to share space with a murderer"--and has no plans to go back.

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