Suspect in Edwardsville double homicide has ‘mental-health issues,’ attorney says

Zachary Capers will plead “not guilty” to first-degree murder charges in the stabbing deaths of an Edwardsville couple last week, according to his attorney, Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski.

Capers’ arraignment and preliminary hearing are set for April 5 at the Edwardsville courthouse.

“Until I have a little more information, I don’t know how we’ll approach the defense,” Rekowski said Wednesday morning. “But I’ve had the opportunity to talk to (Capers) and some of his family members, and I do think there are some serious mental-health issues.”

Rekowski pointed to a long list of Collinsville and Edwardsville police reports involving troubling behavior by Capers, 23, of Collinsville, who officials think may have been living on the streets. Some incidents resulted in his arrest, with charges ranging from forgery to burglary to possession of a stolen vehicle.

Rekowski said he’s “frustrated” by the lack of treatment programs for people with mental illnesses.

“It is obviously a tragedy for the couple who lost their lives,” he said. “My God. But it is also a tragedy for Zach. He should have been living in a group home somewhere ... with people looking after him.”

Two Collinsville police reports refer to Capers as a possible “10-96,” which is code for “mental subject.” One involved an incident on Dec. 2, 2017, when his brother called with concerns about his well-being, as first reported in the Madison-St. Clair Record.

“(Capers) has been living with him and has not been acting right,” the police report states. “Wanting an officer to speak with him.”

The report indicates that Capers was taken voluntarily to Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City, which has a psychiatric inpatient unit.

Ladd obituary photo.jpg
Lois and Michael Ladd are shown in happier times in this photo, which is being used for their obituary. The Edwardsville couple were murdered last weekend. Provided

On March 18, Edwardsville police found the bodies of Lois Ladd, 68, a chiropractor, and her husband, Michael Ladd, 79, a general contractor, at their home in the 800 block of North Kansas Street. The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was called in to investigate.

Madison County Sheriff’s Department had arrested Capers March 17 on an outstanding warrant in an unrelated incident in Worden, and he was later linked to the murders.

On March 19, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons charged Capers with four counts of first-degree murder. Capers is being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.

Collinsville police dealt with Capers regularly

Collinsville Police Department has a long list of reports involving Capers.

“It does not appear that we have any arrest record on him,” said Lt. Brett Boerm, assistant Collinsville police chief. “Most of this appears to be suspicious-person types of calls.”

Department records include the following, in addition to the Dec. 2, 2017, incident involving Capers’ transport to Gateway:

  • On Nov. 28, 2017, officers responded to a report from a store manager in a strip mall on Beltline Road that Capers was “acting a little odd,” pacing back and forth and staring in the window. He was told to “move along.”
  • On Jan. 26, 2018, officers responded to a report of suspicious behavior by Capers around Bluff Road and Horseshoe Lake Road. He told police he was “walking around looking for jobs.”
  • On Feb. 1, 2018, officers responded to a report of unspecified disorderly conduct by a man believed to be Capers near Walmart, but he was gone when police arrived.
  • Later on Feb. 1, 2018, officers responded to a report of a man believed to be Capers on East Main Street, standing on a corner “acting strangely.”
  • On Feb. 9, 2018, officers responded to a report that Capers had spent more than 30 minutes in the bathroom at St. Louis Bread Co. and was “possibly schizo” and “talking to himself.” He was told not to return.
  • On Sept. 13, 2018, officers responded to a report from Verizon Wireless that Capers was “laying in the street, curled up.” They called for emergency medical assistance for a possible dislocated knee.
  • On Oct. 3, 2018, officers responded to a report from Ramon’s El Dorado restaurant that Capers was walking around the building “suspiciously” then came inside, attempted to pay his $14 bill with a credit card that was declined and never returned to settle up.
  • On Oct. 24, 2018, officers responded to a report from the Waffle House that Capers and another man had failed to pay their bill and were told to leave.
  • On Nov. 17, 2018, officers responded to two reports that Capers was “yelling at cars/cursing” and “stumbling into traffic,” forcing cars to swerve, on West Main Street near Sycamore. He told police he was “just singing and dancing” off the roadway.
  • On Dec. 2, 2018, officers responded to a report that Capers was sleeping in a McDonald’s booth on Beltline Road, and he was asked to leave.

Most recently, Collinsville police responded to a report on Feb. 14 that someone had illegally entered a vacant home for sale on Bellevue Drive. The owner’s granddaughter told of a missing window, torn screen and backpack with personal items and a piece of paper with Capers’ name on it. That case remains under investigation.

Ladd funeral was Tuesday at St. Boniface

The Ladds’ funeral was held Tuesday morning. Friends and family gathered at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Edwardsville, where the couple attended and where they were married nearly 43 years ago. Cars filled two church parking lots and lined nearby streets.

On Monday, hundreds of people packed St. Boniface for the Ladds’ visitation. Friends celebrated their lives later at Stagger Inn Again, a restaurant and bar that the couple frequented.

Capers formerly lived in Glen Carbon and attended Edwardsville High School. Fellow students in the Class of 2013 described him as quiet and something of a loner. His name, but not his photograph, appeared in the EHS yearbook his senior year, but apparently he didn’t graduate.

“Edwardsville High School did not issue a diploma to Zachary Capers,” District 7 Superintendent Lynda Andre stated in an email Wednesday.

Zach yearbook.jpg
Zachary Capers is shown in the Edwardsville High School yearbook in 2012, when he would have been a junior. He was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of a local couple. Provided

As an adult, Capers has had a string of problems with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, Edwardsville Police Department and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus police:

  • On Sept. 22, 2017, he was charged with two felony counts related to alleged possession of a stolen Ford truck.
  • On Oct. 27, 2017, he was charged with felony forgery for alleged possession of a fake $50 bill; misdemeanor theft for alleged possession of a stolen key to a vehicle; and misdemeanor obstruction of a peace officer for alleged concealment of his identity to hinder a criminal investigation.
  • On Nov. 20, 2017, he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass for allegedly going onto the property of D.Q. Grill & Chill in Edwardsville after being told such entry was forbidden.
  • On Nov. 27, 2017, he was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly yelling at and chasing a man inside Country Hearth Inn & Suites in Edwardsville.
  • On July 19, 2018, he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass for allegedly entering the basement common area of an apartment building at 518 Hillsboro Ave. after being told such entry was forbidden; and misdemeanor criminal trespass for allegedly doing the same thing three days prior.
  • On Jan. 16 of this year, he was arrested at SIUE on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in Scott County court on 2017 charges of possession of a stolen vehicle and residential burglary.
  • On March 17, he was charged with trespassing on a Madison County deputy sheriff’s property in Worden and obstructing a peace officer by allegedly fleeing to avoid arrest; and he received a ticket for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Rekowski estimates that a fourth of his clients in the public defender’s office have “diagnosable mental illnesses” under criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Rekowski said police officers generally try to deal with the mentally ill in humane ways, but as homeowners, businessman and other residents get more frustrated with their behavior, police feel obligated and pressured to make arrests, and people who need treatment get trapped in the legal system.

“(The lack of adequate programs) borders on criminal,” Rekowski said. “But these people have no voice. They have no lobby, and the budget-cutters. ... That’s the first place they look.”

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.