DECATUR — A two-year investigation by Texas newspaper reporters into the whereabouts of a man who shot his parents and sister to death when he was 15 years old led them to a 61-year-old psychology professor who resides in Decatur.
James St. James, a member of the Millikin University faculty since 1986, changed his name from Jim Wolcott in 1976 after he served six years in a state mental hospital following the slayings in Georgetown, Texas.
In August 1967, when the horrific crimes shocked the small central Texas town of fewer than 5,000 people, the story made national news.
St. James, now an associate professor and head of Millikin’s psychology department, recently spoke with a reporter from the Georgetown Advocate who traveled to Decatur after discovering his identity.
During their meeting at a restaurant near the campus, St. James was informed that the writer knew about his past and was planning to write about it, according to a copyrighted story, which was published Saturday.
A spokesman for Millikin University, which has recently been informed of the facts about St. James’ story, issued a written statement in response to a question about whether his status will be affected.
“For 27 years, he taught a variety of courses at Millikin, served in various leadership roles and built a successful academic career, receiving academic awards, including the 1997 Teaching Excellence and Leadership Award,” the statement said. “Given the traumatic experiences of Dr. St. James’ childhood, his efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable.”
Although the statement places St. James in the past tense, it was not clear if he has ended his career at Millikin.
University officials declined to respond to other questions, including whether the university had prior knowledge of St. James’ involvement in the slayings and if he would have been hired had they known of his past.
St. James was invited to tell his side of the story Wednesday, but did not immediately respond.
The bodies of Dr. Gordon Wolcott and 17-year-old Libby Wolcott were found in their home on Aug. 5, 1967, along with his mother, Elizabeth, who was “barely alive,” according to the Georgetown Advocate article. Elizabeth Wolcott died a short time later.
Gordon Wolcott was serving as the head of the biology department at Southwestern University in Georgetown at the time of his death.
James Wolcott, who had gone to see a show in nearby Austin with Libby the night before, later admitted to police “that he decided to kill them a week prior and had made a plan the night before.”
Wolcott’s lawyer presented an insanity defense when the young man went on trial for the death of his father. Wolcott said he had known for some time he was mentally ill and claimed to have considered suicide. He said he had been sniffing glue for months prior to the crimes. Psychiatrists diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
Wolcott, then 16, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to Rusk State Hospital until “he became sane.” Six years later, a jury declared he was sane, and he was released.
That was the first case in Williamson County, Texas, in which a juvenile was tried for murder as an adult.
The 1967 indictments on murder charges for the deaths of Libby and Elizabeth Wolcott were dismissed by the county’s district attorney in 1974 because he believed there would be a similar outcome if Wolcott went to trial for those crimes. If he was found insane by a jury for shooting one victim, why wouldn’t another jury reach the same conclusion?
In December 1976, Wolcott legally changed his name to James St. James, the Advocate reporters recently discovered. That was the same year he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stephen F. Austin University. He subsequently earned a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While completing that degree, he was hired to work at Millikin.
Cathy Payne, the editor of the Georgetown Advocate, said it was a difficult decision to publish the facts about St. James, because undoubtedly he has had a lifetime of many accomplishments.
“That gave us pause before releasing the story,” said Payne, who also worked as an investigative reporter on the story. “However, as we got further into the case and each time we looked at the pictures of Gordon, Elizabeth and Libby, we felt like they needed someone to speak for them. Dr. St. James has had a lifetime to speak for himself, but who would speak for them if we remained silent?”