Suspect in double-murder was caught weeks before at SIUE, trying to get into locked rooms

By Brian Brueggemann | Mar 20, 2019

Zachary Capers  

Just weeks before he allegedly stabbed a couple to death, Zachary Capers was caught wandering around Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, trying to get into locked rooms, according to campus police.

SIUE Police took the 23-year-old Capers into custody because he had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court for a vehicle-theft case out of Scott County. SIUE Police took Capers to the Madison County Jail, from which he was picked up by Scott County deputies the following day. He remained in custody in the Scott County case for about a week – until a plea bargain set him free.

SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said his officers were called to Peck Hall, which contains classrooms and faculty offices, at about 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 16, a Wednesday. The caller said someone suspicious was in Peck Hall.

“This subject was trying to get into secured rooms. He was going around, trying doors to see if he could get into rooms,” Schmoll said.

Lois and Michael Ladd  

An officer approached Capers and, after running his name through a police computer system, learned about the Scott County warrant.

“He said he was trying to use the wifi. He advised he was not looking for anything but internet service,” Schmoll said. “Obviously, you don’t need to get into a locked room to get wifi service. I suspect he was probably trying to steal something.”

In the Scott County case, Capers was charged in 2017 with possession of a stolen vehicle and residential burglary. As part of a plea deal, he was given 24 months of probation, and the burglary charge was dismissed. Capers was released from the Scott County Jail on the day of the plea deal, Jan. 24.

Scott County State’s Attorney Michael Hill said the plea agreement was typical for someone who had no prior felony convictions. Capers had some felony cases pending in Madison County at the time, but no convictions.

“When we reviewed the case, Mr. Capers at that time didn’t have any convictions,” Hill said in an interview Wednesday. “He had several charges for different crimes, but the law in Illinois favors probation for a first-time offender, especially for non-violent offenses. It seemed to be a fair offer, given the knowledge and information we had at the time.”

Hill said his office had no information to suggest that Capers was capable of doing what he’s accused of doing to the Edwardsville couple, Michael and Lois Ladd.

“The people of Scott County feel great sorrow, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of the victims,” Hill said. “It’s a senseless tragedy.”

Ironically, during the week that Capers was locked up for the Scott County case, a Madison County judge ordered the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of Capers because he failed to show up on Jan. 22 for his trial on Madison County felony charges of forgery and possessing a stolen vehicle. Those charges were filed in 2017, and Capers had been free on recognizance bonds, which are promises to appear in court later -- not requiring the posting of any cash for bail.

Scott County Sheriff Tom Eddinger said Madison County did not make his office aware of the new bail-jumping warrant. “I would think they would have notified us if they wanted him,” Eddinger said.

Eddinger said his inmates are housed in the Greene County Jail. He said jailers there typically make sure there are no outstanding warrants for inmates who are scheduled for release.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said the new Madison County warrant wasn’t issued and entered into the police computer database until Feb. 21. Gibbons said the roughly four-week period between the judge’s order and the actual issuing of the warrant was due to the normal clerical process.

Capers also has an unresolved misdemeanor assault charge in Madison County. It was filed in April 2018, and he was released on a recognizance bond. In that case, he was accused of chasing and yelling at someone in the Country Hearth Inn & Suites hotel in Edwardsville, placing the person “in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.”

Capers is charged with first-degree murder, accused of fatally stabbing the Ladds on Sunday at their home on the outskirts of Edwardsville. Lois Ladd, 68, was a chiropractor, and her husband, Michael Ladd, 79, was a contractor. Their bodies were discovered Monday morning, after Lois Ladd failed to report to work.

Investigators and prosecutors haven’t publicly offered a motive for the killings.

“I think the Major Case Squad is still trying to answer all of those questions,” Gibbons said Wednesday. “I don’t think, at this point, that there is clarity about every aspect of the case.”

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