Detective recalls working Russell Bucklew case ahead of execution

Updated: Oct. 1, 2019 at 3:35 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY, Mo. (KFVS) - A 911 call came in on March 21, 1996 calling authorities to a mobile home on Pyrite Lane in rural Cape Girardeau County. At the time, Lieutenant Eric Friedrich was a young detective relatively new to the Cape Girardeau – Bollinger County Major Case Squad.

“I think this was the first homicide that I’d physically been a part of out in the county,” Friedrich said.

Lt. Friedrich said Michael Sanders’ homicide case stands out in his memory for more reasons than that alone.

“I’ve worked a number of homicides over the years, and this is one that I can think there were small children around,” said Lt. Friedrich.

Lt. Friedrich wasn’t the first detective on scene that night. He said when he arrived other officers had already removed the children from the trailer.

“There was a child in the house old enough and had a good recollection of what had transpired in the trailer,” Lt. Friedrich said.

The child’s statements and evidence collected at the scene painted a violent picture. Twenty-seven-year-old Sanders was dead. He’d been shot multiple times. Shell casings littered the floor of the home, and the children had been left alone in a crime scene.

Sander’s girlfriend, and mother to two of the children, Stephanie Pruitt, had been kidnapped. The witness who called 911 to report shots fired told dispatchers a man had been shot four times and the shooter had “a woman tied up and gone with her.”

The description given by neighbors and a previous domestic violence report filed by Pruitt in the city of Cape Girardeau led investigators to believe the likely suspect was Pruitt’s ex-boyfriend, then 28-year-old Russell Bucklew.

“We later found out that after he shot and killed Michael Sanders, he had taken her out west of Jackson and sexually assaulted her,” said Lt. Friedrich.

Four and a half hours after Sander’s was killed, Bucklew was involved in a police pursuit and shootout in the St. Louis area. Police shot Bucklew. Bucklew shot Pruitt. Both survived.

Lt. Friedrich did not want to make the evidentiary photos taken of Pruitt recovering in a hospital bed public, but he showed them to Heartland News. The photos show a blonde Pruitt staring bewildered out of eyes blackened and swollen. A blood-soaked bandage is wrapped tightly around her upper thigh – marking the place where Bucklew’s bullet hit.

Bucklew was caught, but his desire to harm Pruitt didn’t wane. Lt. Friedrich said when Bucklew broke out of the county jail, he went straight back to find her.

“It’s kind of a rarity for someone to go back like that,” said Lt. Friedrich. “Usually the first instinct is to get away from the area as quickly as possible. You know – to avoid prosecution. He went right back to finish what he started… He’s just an evil individual. In my personal opinion he wanted to finish it. It was one of those ‘well if I can’t have you nobody will.'”

As a fugitive on the run, Bucklew went to the home of Pruitt’s stepfather and attacked him. Friedrich said he struck the man in the head with a hammer. He was injured but survived the attack.

Eventually, Bucklew was captured and taken back into custody. That’s where he’s remained for 23 years, awaiting execution – a fate Lt. Friedrich said is long overdue.

“If you go back and you think about what he did – comes into a trailer guns a blazing and you know four little kids are in there. He doesn’t know where his bullets are gonna land. You know?” Lt. Friedrich said. “I will agree with what Morley Swingle said – that he was a homicidal Energizer Bunny.”

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