In the Portland State faculty directory, Richard Hunter and Astrid Schlaps are still listed as members of the School of Social Work, though they passed away at the beginning of September.
In the Portland State faculty directory, Richard Hunter and Astrid Schlaps are still listed as members of the School of Social Work, though they passed away at the beginning of September. Last week, police determined that their deaths were consequent of a murder-suicide motivated by financial troubles.
Schlaps was found on the couch at the couple’s Manzanita home with a $5 bill in her hand; Hunter was in a stairwell above the basement, a few feet away from a .357 revolver. Friends of Hunter and Schlaps in Manzanita and at PSU are grieving the unexpected loss of two known anti-gun pacifists who were looking forward to a long, active retirement. “It was like nothing I’d seen before,” said Officer Sean Ahlers of the Manzanita Police Department.
Police found the bodies on Sept. 10, when they responded to a request for a welfare check. Three days later, the case was nearly closed unsolved, but an article in The Oregonian and the insistence of the couple’s friends in Manzanita pushed investigators to continue working.
The police concluded that a foreclosure on the couple’s home in Portland and six months of past dues on their Manzanita home pushed Hunter to shoot Schlaps before taking his own life.
While speculation still swirls around the circumstances of the couple’s death—sources close to the couple don’t believe it’s possible that Hunter even owned a gun—the memory of Hunter and Schlaps is honored in Manzanita and Portland.
Schlaps was a long-time student and instructor at PSU. Originally from Germany, she received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from PSU in 1986 and won the Lauretta Kramer Scholarship when she entered PSU’s Graduate School of Social Work in 1988. In 1990, she was named the most outstanding direct human services graduate.
She began teaching at the School of Social Work in 1993, and within six years she became a full-time faculty member. She retired from teaching in 2007, but she continued to maintain the private practice that she’d developed over the years, working with adults, children and families affected by abuse and trauma. She was 55 when she died.
“I kept all her handouts,” said Caroline Bleckmann, a social worker who graduated from PSU in 2001 and took a class taught by Schlaps.
“She was very approachable and down to earth. One thing that sticks out for me is that she would give you a page of feedback with every paper she graded,” Bleckmann said.
Schlaps met Hunter at PSU, where he was an assistant professor. Like Schlaps, Hunter’s PSU career was long-term. In 1978 he earned his MSW degree at PSU, and in 1987 he implemented a training program at PSU for professionals working with families. He finished his Ph.D. in 1997, and he was a key player in the founding of the Child Welfare Partnership. Three years ago, he married Schlaps in Manzanita.
Hunter was 56 years old and the director of the Child Welfare Education Program when he died. Scott Sage, a social worker who took graduate classes from Hunter, remembers Hunter’s passionate views about social change and institutional change.
“He talked a lot about non-violence…he talked about slowly tweaking the system in a non-radical way, not going out and burning buildings,” Sage said.
Members of the small community of Manzanita were stunned by the Hunter-Schlaps case.
Gary Anderson, a clerk at Manzanita Fresh Foods, said, “I didn’t see this coming at all…I think somebody murdered them, personally.”
Fresh Foods is down the road from the Hunter-Schlaps residence on Manzanita Avenue, and the couple would stop at the store once or twice a day, according to Anderson.
“We talked a lot about Laughing Horse Books,” Anderson said, referring to a bookstore in Portland featuring left-wing political titles. “I just drove by their house…they’re cleaning it out. It was totally bizarre. I didn’t even take Richard for a gun enthusiast.”
Nathan Crook, the produce manager at Fresh Foods, said that Hunter was “the nicest guy [he’d] ever met.” However, Crook noticed that Richard began to withdraw two or three months before his death.
“I knew something was going on…I just didn’t know what,” Crook said.
Crook was frustrated by the work of the police on the case. Both he and his boss told police in multiple interviews that the last time they saw Schlaps was on Friday, Sept. 8. However, the final police report stated that the murder-suicide took place on Aug. 31 or Sept. 1.
Aside from being affiliated with PSU, Schlaps and Hunter were also known for their work at Ffotograffi, the art business that the couple operated in Manzanita. Bonnie Speer, the owner of the Art Happens gallery, last saw Hunter and Schlaps on Aug. 26, when she and her husband had dinner with them. Speer was particularly close to Schlaps.
“She walked into my shop six years ago, and we’ve been best friends ever since…she was wonderful, she was quirky, she was moody at times,” Speer said. “She could take a picture of weeds and turn it into a work of art.”
Though Speer was aware that the two were prolific at PSU, the couple led a quiet life in Manzanita.
“They were academics, but they didn’t exude that here,” Speer said.
Speer was shocked when news of the couple’s death hit Manzanita, and she still isn’t satisfied with the police report.
“They were the most gentle souls I ever met,” Speer said.
Speer said that Hunter’s background working with law enforcement to lead suspected child molesters to admissions of guilt might have put him in the path of unsavory characters.
“They called him ‘the confessor,'” Speer said. “We’re left with this murder-suicide story. I don’t believe it.”
Faculty at the School of Social Work miss the couple’s presence on campus.
“They were both wonderful professors…students went out of their way to take classes from [them],” said Katharine Cahn, executive director of the Child Welfare Partnership. “I say, ‘Let’s focus on the positive impact they had on our community. Let the police deal with the mystery.'”
Melanie Sage, a student who finished her dissertation in social work last June under the direction of Hunter, created an “In Memorium” blog which attracts about 100 visitors a day. It can be found at www.richard-astrid.blogspot.com.
At PSU, students and faculty are responding to the tragedy with a memorial service, planned for Oct. 31. ?