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- March 27, 1995
- Vol. 43
- No. 12
TV's Fatal Attraction
A Surprise Meeting on Jenny Jones Ends in a Shocking Shotgun Murder
Jon Schmitz, too, was excited about the March 6 taping. A gregarious waiter at the Fox and Hounds restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Schmitz, 24, had been told by producers that he had a secret admirer who would step forward on the syndicated Jenny Jones Show. Although he had balked the first time a Jones staffer had called, coworkers persuaded Schmitz to take a chance: Last fall he had split with his fiancée (a woman whose name has been withheld by his family), and he was eager to start a new relationship. Before leaving for Chicago, he spent $300 on new clothes in hopes of impressing his admirer.
Their meeting was to be fateful, but not in the way either had hoped. By the time it was all over, Schmitz's life would be shattered, and Amedure's lost. Talk show hosts such as Jones would find themselves on trial, and media critics would take aim against producers who use shock tactics to create explosive encounters—and reduce human relationships to tabloid clichés.
Schmitz's dream began to deflate the moment he was ushered in front of a tittering audience that obviously knew something he didn't. Onstage in the studio in Chicago's NBC Tower was Donna Riley, 32, Schmitz's upstairs neighbor at the Manitou Lane Apartments in Oxford Township. Assuming Donna was the one who was smitten with him, Schmitz gave her a hug. Then, as the audience guffawed, Jones told Schmitz that the boyish-looking Amedure, who was seated next to Riley—and whom Schmitz barely knew—was the one nursing a crush. "You have to be flattered," Jones said. Although Schmitz would later tell police that he had felt "almost sick to his stomach," he reacted calmly. He said, "Yes, but I'm a heterosexual. I'm not interested." The audience roared and applauded.
Three days later, on the morning of March 9, Amedure lay dead in his kitchen, killed by two shotgun blasts to the chest. Fifteen minutes after the shots were fired, Schmitz dialed 911 and confessed. He told police that he felt "humiliated" by his Jenny Jones experience; as he explained it to the 911 operator, "He [Amedure] f——-me on national TV"
In the wake of the tragedy, observers were quick to blame The Jenny Jones Show. Calling the secret-admirer stunt an ambush, Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor Richard Thompson maintains the program's staff "displayed incredible insensitivity and irresponsibility." Says Thompson: "They seem to follow the rule that anything goes in the pursuit of ratings. As a result, one man is left dead, and another faces life in prison without parole."
Jones broke her silence to tell PEOPLE on March 15, "Getting the news was so shocking—I was devastated." But, she says, the tragedy "had nothing to do with the show. We have no responsibility whatsoever because [Schmitz] was not misled. All the guests knew that it could be a man or a woman—it's very clear [from phone logs and producer's notes] that he did know. This was not an ambush show."
Insisting that her producers had made the show's premise clear before Schmitz was booked, after he arrived in Chicago and before the taping itself, Jones says Schmitz had been asked how he would react if his admirer were a man. "This was all up front, and we have documentation," she says.
Jones (whose show is owned by Telepictures Productions, a division of Time Warner, which owns PEOPLE'S publisher, Time Inc.) admits that since the murder, "it has been very difficult going about our business with this horrible thing hanging over our head. I feel very badly for the victim's family and for Jon's family."
Amedure's relatives are understandably furious. Four days after the murder, his mother, Patricia Graves, said, "I'm very angry, and nobody from the show has called to express their sorrow." According to her lawyer, Sidney Frank, a civil suit "is definitely an option."
Media critics, too, are disturbed. In the past week writers, including The Washington Post's influential Tom Shales, have wondered whether the ratings scramble has spawned a ruthless frenzy among producers of shows like Jones's, and whether down-and-dirty "ambush" segments have any place on TV. (See sidebar, page 45.)
To others, though, pinning the blame on talk shows means missing the point. Jeffrey Montgomery, president of the Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based gay-activist group, criticizes prosecutor Thompson and others who seem to suggest "that to be a man and to be the object of another man's attraction is humiliating. My question is, 'Why is that humiliating?' "
The best person to answer that question, of course, would be Schmitz himself. An avid outdoorsman and nature lover, he was raised in Michigan as the fourth of five children; his father, Allyn, is a woodwork refinisher, and his mother, Connie, a homemaker. In high school, "all the girls had crushes on Jon," says a close friend who asks to remain anonymous. "But he always had one steady girlfriend." After graduating from Lake Orion High School in 1987, he settled nearby, took a succession of jobs waiting tables and moved in with the woman who would become his fiancée. Although they eventually broke off their engagement, agreeing that neither was ready for marriage, "they remained close," says the friend.
But several patrons of Pontiac's gay Club Flamingo, where Amedure worked until last fall, claim that Schmitz's life was not all that it seemed. "I do coat-check, and you just remember certain faces," says one regular. "Schmitz would come in by himself and just walk around the bar."
Although Schmitz has repeatedly asserted that he is heterosexual, his neighbor Donna Riley decided to set him up with Amedure (who reportedly never met him at the Flamingo). A flirtatious sort with a cadre of loyal friends, Amedure was known for helping neighbors with leaky porches and broken hearts. "He was always the first one there when people were down," says Carrie Ryan, 24. "The bottom line is that Scott wanted to be loved by everybody."
Yet Amedure, it seems, had his own troubles. The youngest of six children of Patricia, a factory worker who is now retired, and her then husband, Frank, a retired truck driver, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Air Force at 17. After a four-year hitch, he returned to Michigan and worked at various jobs. Coping with a series of broken relationships and an addiction to cocaine, Amedure twice entered drug-rehab programs.
Amedure was taken with Schmitz from the moment they met last month outside the Manitou Lane Apartments. As Amedure explained during the Jenny Jones taping, Schmitz was under Riley's car doing repairs when Amedure "saw him from the waist down." After Schmitz emerged, Amedure said he thought he was "cute," according to Vicki Shifferly, an Ohio beauty-parlor owner in the Jones audience. Riley, said Shifferly, told the audience that "nobody knew whether Jon was gay, but she was trying to get them together. When she had Jon for dinner, she asked Scott to drop by."
It was Riley who accompanied Amedure on the March 5 flight to Chicago for the Jenny Jones episode billed as "Secret Crushes on People of the Same Sex." Schmitz, who arrived on another flight, told police that a show staffer had assured him that his admirer was a woman. "He was so excited when he phoned back home," says a friend. "He was jumping up and down on his hotel bed."
Although he reacted coolly to Amedure's revelation the next day, audience members say that Schmitz was clearly embarrassed. Says Shifferly: "He was totally shocked." Adds Oakland County sheriff's department detective Craig Stout, who questioned Schmitz after the murder: "He said he was upset, but he convinced himself to be a gentleman." On the flight home with Riley and Amedure that evening, Schmitz reportedly confided to a stranger, "I've had a rather bizarreday." Describing the Jones episode, he said he was worried about how his family would react. "If I think about it for a while," The Detroit News quoted him as saying, "I could get mad."
Still, Schmitz volunteered to drive Riley and Amedure home. Before they left Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Monday evening, Amedure, apparently as a prank, snatched a flashing construction light and stashed it in Schmitz's 1981 Ford station wagon. At about 10 p.m. the three hit a Lake Orion bar called Brewski's, where, according to waitress Jennifer Marcus, Schmitz was "friendly and considerate, as always." By Schmitz's account, all three went on to Riley's apartment, and he left alone around 2 a.m.
Although Amedure's mother has claimed that Schmitz later slept with her son, Schmitz has said that he didn't see Amedure again until the day of the murder. After spending Wednesday night with a platonic friend, a woman
who said later that he was still upset about the Jones show, Schmitz arrived at his apartment at 10 a.m. to find the purloined construction light in front of his door, along with an unsigned, handwritten note that he took as a come-on from Amedure.
Perhaps feeling he had been pushed too far, Schmitz apparently snapped. Half an hour after finding the note, he drove to Tom's Hardware in Oxford, where he bought five rounds of buckshot. At Gary's Guns, in a strip mall nearby, he paid $249 for a 12-gauge shotgun. "He was very calm," reports co-owner Nancy Morgan. "He said he and his dad were going hunting."
Just before 11 a.m., Schmitz pulled into Bluebird Lane, down the street from the mobile home that Amedure shared with Gary Brady, his roommate. With Brady standing by, Schmitz calmly asked about the note—which Amedure denied writing—and then said he had to go outside and turn off his engine.
When Schmitz returned to the trailer, he was carrying the shotgun. Amedure reportedly grabbed a wicker chair and tried to protect himself, but Schmitz shot his victim in the chest, then fired again as he fell.
Arraigned on March 10, when he pleaded not guilty, Schmitz is being held in isolation and faces another court appearance on April 4. Still in shock, he "hasn't quite grasped the seriousness of this," according to his lawyer Fred Gibson, who is expected to enlist a psychiatrist to examine his client.
For their part, Amedure's friends are still reeling. Four days after the murder, Riley told PEOPLE she was devastated. "I lost my best friend," she said.
Only Amedure's neighbor Gayle Clinton—a self-described "talk show freak"—can see a silver lining. "Scott had a troubled life," she says, "and all I can think now is that he's got to be happy. He's probably looking down and saying, 'I knew I'd make it on TV.' "
FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Oxford Township., SHAWN L. RAMIREZ in Orion Township and LUCHINA FISHER, GIOVANNA BREU and BRYAN ALEXANDER in Chicago
- Fannie Weinstein,
- Shawn L. Ramirez,
- Luchina Fisher,
- Giovanna Breu,
- Bryan Alexander.
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