Six months before St. Louis artist and music legend Bob Reuter fell to his death down an elevator shaft, state inspectors closed and padlocked the 95-year-old, poorly-functioning elevator in the condemned building.
A Sunday report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found a Missouri inspector closed and locked the downtown elevator in the condemned building on February 8, making it illegal to operate without permission from the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
Just weeks later, the elevator was up and running -- though not very well. Ellie Shepley told the Post-Dispatch she was trapped in the elevator in March until friends used a crowbar to pry her out.
In August, Reuter was moving into the building at 1129 St. Charles Street when he fell 18 feet down the shaft to his death. He'd stepped through the open elevator doors in a dark hallway before he realized the elevator car wasn't there.
"Something incredibly fucked up has happened, and nobody is claiming responsibility," says Chris Baricevic, the executor of Reuter's estate and close friend and bandmate before his death. "I was just afraid that everything was going to slip through the cracks. I at least hope this [report] puts some pressure on the city to complete their own investigation."
The second through eighth floors were under a city condemnation order, according to the Post-Dispatch, and an expert told owners in January the elevator was too dangerous to operate. The car gate, emergency communication system and several safety features were all missing. In order for the derelict elevator to continue functioning after February, someone had to remove a padlock and replace fuses.
"That death was so preventable," says Cathy Strobel, who owned the building with her husband, to the Post-Dispatch.
See also: Remembering Bob Reuter: St. Louis Speaks
Baricevic is determined to seek justice against those who allowed tenants like Reuter to use the unsafe, off-limits elevator, but Missouri's wrongful death statute makes it difficult to take his case to court. Only children, parents, siblings or nieces and nephews can file wrongful death claims in Missouri without special permission from the court.
Just across the river in Illinois, Baricevic says his case would be "open and shut," but since he's not blood-related to Reuter, his options in Missouri are limited.
"Missouri said I can't do anything about this," he says. "We're looking into doing whatever we can do because we feel we are Bob's family, whether or not the law says we are."
Baricevic has two years to file a suit.
For now, Baricevic is working to preserve Reuter's legacy as a musician, writer, poet and photographer whose work profoundly impacted the St. Louis arts scene.
Baricevic's label, Big Muddy Records, is releasing a DVD of the Reuter's memorial concert shot by St. Louis filmmaker Bill Streeter, a Dinosaurs LP and a new Alley Ghost album featuring new versions of Reuter's old demos and never-recorded songs he'd scribbled in notebooks.
"Obviously there are no new songs to be written, but there are songs that can be released. He had so many projects," says Baricevic.
The money goes toward the Cowboy Angel foundation, established in Reuter's memory to provide artists with practical skills, including career counseling and housing assistance.
"Bob [Reuter] said he wanted his art to contribute towards helping disadvantaged artists," says Baricevic. "Those are his words, so I'm leaving that as the loose goal."