An Illinois university is standing behind an award-winning psychology professor, despite the new revelation he gunned down his parents and sister when he was a teenager, spent time in a mental institution and changed his name.
Dr. James St. James, chair of Millikin University’s Department of Behavioral Sciences, joined the school in 1986, some two decades after he confessed to killing his mother, father and older sister with a .22 long-barrel rifle in Texas in 1967. A jury found the then-16-year-old — born James Gordon Wolcott — not guilty by reason of insanity and he was released six years later after being treated for paranoid schizophrenia. Two years later, in an attempt to restart his life, Wolcott changed his name to James David St. James.
James’ violent past was unknown to university officials until an expose by a Texas newspaper — the Georgetown Advocate — that revealed his troubled history in a series of reports last month. And despite calls by Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., for James to either step down or be placed on administrative leave, university officials are backing the man who won its Teaching Excellence and Leadership Award in 1997.
“Millikin University has only recently been made aware of Dr. James St. James’ past,” the statement reads. “Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James’ efforts to build his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable. The university expects Dr. St. James to teach at Millikin this fall.”
A spokesman told FoxNews.com Thursday that the liberal arts university would not be commenting beyond its statement issued last week and declined to discuss calls by Illinois lawmakers for the professor to leave the classroom.
“In all matters, Millikin University remains committed to its mission of delivering on the promise of education by preparing students for professional success, democratic citizenship in a global environment, and a personal life of meaning and value,” the statement concludes.
St. James, 61, declined to comment when reached early Thursday by FoxNews.com at his Decatur home.
“Have a wonderful day,” he said before hanging up.
McElroy, who did not respond to several messages seeking comment, told the Chicago Sun-Times that it would be the “right thing” for St. James to step down now that his past has been revealed.
Davis, who is also an alumnus of the 2,300-student university, said he’d like to see university officials act before Millikin University’s image is further sullied.
“My issue is I don’t want to see my alma mater have its reputation damaged,” Davis told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m a parent of a 16-year-old daughter who’ll have to choose a school in a few years. If my daughter said she wanted to be a psych major at Millikin, I hate to say, I’d have some concern.”
Davis, who graduated from the school in 1992 but did not have St. James as a professor, said he’d also like to know why St. James’ past wasn’t uncovered three decades ago when he was initially hired.
“At a minimum, they should put him on administrative leave to get to the bottom of why this wasn’t disclosed,” Davis continued. “I frankly don’t know why this guy would want to stay, especially with all the media attention he’s going to attract … Why bring the institution down?”
St. James, according to the Georgetown Advocate, was a brilliant teenager “by all accounts,” an accomplished musician and voracious reader. His father, Dr. Gordon Wolcott, was the respected head of the biology department at nearby Southwestern University; while his mother, Elizabeth, was a “vivacious” woman originally from South Carolina. His 17-year-old sister, Libby, was also known for her musical talent and affection for literature.
“They were exceptional people living what seemed to be a typical suburban life,” the newspaper reported Monday.
Minutes after midnight on Aug. 4, 1967, James, in his own account to reporter Ann Marie Gardner, “sniffed some airplane glue ‘to give him a boost’” and then loaded a .22-caliber long-barrel rifle before walking into the living room and shooting his father twice in the chest. He then shot his sister in the chest and face before doing the same to his mother, who was awakened by the initial gunshots.
“He later admitted that he had decided to kill them a week prior and made a plan the night before,” the Georgetown Advocate reports.
The Wolcotts' relatives from South Carolina arrived in Texas shortly after the killings. His uncle, according to the newspaper, concisely summed up his version of what happened.
“Jim has always been on the brilliant side, and he has gone berserk,” his relative said.