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James Crocker: Woman Who Called 911 After Float Trip Shooting Says He Was "Very Calm"

james-crocker.jpg
James Crocker, 59.
On Saturday afternoon, Steelville resident Carol Smelser, 61, heard shots and screaming. With a home along the Meramec River where loud float trip groups frequently pass by, she didn't think much of it at first, she says.

"I thought maybe it was fireworks, but it sounded really close," she tells Daily RFT. "This one seemed different."

Soon, she heard a bang on her door, and when she responded, she didn't recognize the man standing there.

"'You need to call 911,'" he told her, she recalls. "'I just shot somebody down at the river.'"

See also:
- Cops: Homeowner Mad at Urinating Man on Float Trip Shoots, Kills Paul Dart
- Widow in Mourning After Meramec Shooting, Says "He Was My Rock"

"I thought he was kidding me," Smelser says. "I said, 'You're kidding me, right?' He said, 'No, I'm not. I need you to call 911.'"

Smelser called police. Meanwhile, down at the river, family and friends of 48-year-old Paul Dart Jr. were waiting for an ambulance. Dart had been shot in the head. He was pronounced dead by the Crawford County Coroner Paul Hutson a short while later.

loretta-dart-1.jpg
via KSDK
Loretta Dart.

The float-trip shooting on the Meramec River near Steelville got a lot of attention this week after a day on the water turned into an unimaginable nightmare for the grieving widow of Paul Dart.

The man who showed up at Smelser's door -- splattered with blood -- was James Crocker, a Steelville resident who had just turned 59 and is now facing charges of second-degree murder with bond set at $650,000. The tragic incident has sparked heated debates about property rights along the river as well as gun laws in the state.

According to police and testimony from Dart's family and friends on the float trip, the group had stopped near his property along the river for a break and got in a verbal confrontation with Crocker, who was armed and told them they were trespassing. Crocker was reportedly upset that one of the men was urinating. Dart allegedly tried to intervene and was shot in the head. Court records say that Crocker, after he was apprehended, told police, "It's my property, and I was going to protect it."

Smelser, who has lived in her property by the river for nineteen years, says that when Crocker showed up at her door, he did not appear crazed.

loretta-dart-paul-dart.jpg
via KSDK
Loretta and Paul Dart.

"He was really kind of calm and very polite to me," she says. "I was scared, but I thought, 'Well, he's being nice to me.'"

At first she didn't recognize him, but when she saw his car, she realized that he was a neighbor a few doors down.

Smelser says the 911 operator asked her to ask Crocker a series of questions.

"He answered everything asked of him," she says.

Name, address, location of the weapon (in his car) and more, she recalls. Smelser says she thinks he came to her house, because he was trying to escape the crowd from the float trip who were potentially chasing after him.

"He was very calm," she says. "I think he was in a state of shock."

Smelser's husband soon arrived, and eventually police showed up to their home and took Crocker into custody.

In the wake of the fatal shooting, officials have said that the property boundaries along the river are sometimes murky, since vegetation lines change with river levels.

Smelser, a local realtor who also runs a boutique shop, says that this is a terrible tragedy, but is not surprised that there are tensions around trespassing and property boundaries along the Meramec.

meramec-river-file.jpg
via Wikimedia Commons
Meramec River.

"I'm not advocating what he did, but I understand how it could have possibly escalated," she says.

She and her husband have access to the river from their property, but they don't use it, she explains, because people on float trips cause such problems for them.

"It's a sad story," she says, but adds, "We have had a lot of incidents...of all these rafters thinking that if they rent a canoe they have every right to destroy, tear up and get on your land and do whatever they want to.... We've had people...starting fires, shooting fireworks at our house...naked people, people with guns, people drunk and drugged up."

She continues, "We have little law enforcement."

Complaints to police about trespassers go nowhere, she says. (Daily RFT left a message with Crawford County Sheriff Randy Martin earlier this week and has not yet heard back.)

"We pay exorbitant taxes to have a recreational property that we cannot use," says Smelser, who says she plans on contacting her local lawmakers to see if they can help try and fix the problem.

Crocker, whom her husband knew better than she did, had spent a lot of money fixing up the road from his property to the river, she says. "He intended to fully use his property."

She says that Crocker had turned 59 and had recently invited a next-door neighbor of hers over for catfish.

Of the shooting, she says, "I wasn't there. I don't know what really happened. But it's very, very sad for both parties."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.


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49 comments
fred14nx05y
fred14nx05y

I would have shot and killed that dude, too.  You do not disrespect a man when he is pointing a gun at you.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have pulled guns on people trying to come up on my property there, too.  But they have sense enough to turn around and run off, so I have never had to shoot anyone like this guy did.  But I would shoot them, no doubt.

p_town10
p_town10

Navigable rivers, their beds, and banks to the ordinary high water line are owned by the state and trusted to the public. They are not private property. If what is written is right and this happened on a gravel bar, Mr. Crocker is nothing more than a cold blooded murderer. It's pretty much that simple.

Kathy Smith
Kathy Smith

This same man told my nephew and a few of his friends who stopped there to get off of his property on memorial day weekend - this man needs to rot in prison. Low life piece of shit.

Elizabeth Jaggie
Elizabeth Jaggie

You don't shoot someone just because they are standing on your property...period! I hope they throw the book at this weirdo.

Margaret Keller
Margaret Keller

So in other words, you know nothing about the laws in Missouri involving self defense. Pro Tip: If you leave and go to your car to get your gun and come back, it's no longer self defense.

Margaret Keller
Margaret Keller

There were a couple arguing that he had the right. I am sure they will show up here eventually.

Daniel Knoll
Daniel Knoll

of course, he clearly just came back from a day at the spa and had a makeover... chapter #493433 this year, on the story of crazies with guns..

Karen Copeland
Karen Copeland

what debate? I didn't hear a soul say anything except they thought Crocker was a maniac

Amy Menefee
Amy Menefee

I just can't believe this happened. Why did it, James?

Jeff Willett
Jeff Willett

Sociopaths appear calm when committing the most violent crimes.

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

since the guy put his hands on the property owner id say he is innocent and captain save a drunk pisser is shot in the face dead

Wayne Cardosi
Wayne Cardosi

I wonder if he shot at the animals that pissed on his property?

Loren Lofosho McHenry
Loren Lofosho McHenry

From what I understand the man who was killed was unarmed and trying to mediate the situation. He wasn't even the one who was urinating on the river bank. I don't really think it has anything to do with property rights. The man is a murderer.

Derek Walker
Derek Walker

Like the real Hatfield and McCoy. Let's go back to the 1800's. It will stop all this BS.

Becky Jennings
Becky Jennings

Wanna be an asshole to someone peeing on your property? Fine. Be an asshole. But spray him with the hose. Hope this man rots in prison.

Margaret Keller
Margaret Keller

The last time I went on a float (which was 5/6 years ago) the float company specifically were promoting the gravel bars as good spots to picnic because they were considered public lands. We were in a raft and some of our party took canoes and they emphasized this because they said the raft is sometimes faster depending on the rowers in the canoe- and that we should wait on the gravel bars. They were careful to tell us not to go past the spray painted purple dots because that was private property. People have been floating on this river for decades. If you buy land along it, you know this. It's like buying a house next to six flags and shooting someone because the summer traffic is bad.

Respect_the_river
Respect_the_river

People commenting on this so far seem to be part of the complete problem. If Mr. Crocker came to your neighborhood and was trespassing and urinating on your property, how would you react? I am sure that if you confronted him and he started getting aggressive towards you, you would take matters into your own hands. To say that the only victim is Mr Dart is an outrage. It is tragic that this man had to loose his life before attention is brought to the problem. If you pay for a float trip down any river, then stay in the river. NOT on private property. If you are unsure, have respect for the land owner when asked to leave the property. Again, you would not feel the same if someone came onto your property and treated it they way most of the floaters treat the land surrounding the river ways. It is not just a problem on the Meramec. I do hope that this will bring more water patrol officers to the areas and start addressing the real problems. 

Seriously people, Show the landowners the same RESPECT that you would want for the property that you live on! It may be the country, but someone has paid for that land just the same as you paid for yours. 

Respect_the_river
Respect_the_river

Obviously the people that are making comments on the selfishness and the stupidity of this act are part of the problem that the land owners face on a weekly basis every summer. We have property that has frontage along the same river and do not feel safe using it due to the activities that take place there. If a land owner from the river front came to your neighborhood and acted the way that most of you act when you come to ours, you would respond in the same manner as Mr Crocker. It is a tragic thing that has happened, but maybe it will open the eyes of some of the people that think since they rented a float trip, that it entitles them to trespass at free will and trash those areas as they please. Wake up! You would not want people to come to your property in the cities and urinate on your lawn would you? Or how about cutting your trees and starting fires? Or how about throwing trash on your lawn? Blocking roadways? Getting drunk/drugged up on your property? (how about liabilities there?) Have a little respect for the communities that you are coming to. We live here! And yes the properties that surround the river are owned by us. You paid for a Float trip, Stay in the river not the property that surrounds it! 

My heart goes out to both families that are involved. It was a tragic loss and a life decision that was made. 

dalediversity
dalediversity topcommenter

Was this hoosier on hoosier violence? 

Steve Hatfalvi
Steve Hatfalvi

"Deliverance" how can someone be so selfish and stupid?

Thee Lovingcup
Thee Lovingcup

They need to start an organization that works w/ float equipment renters, property owners and the State of Missouri. If there was public land for people to stop at and camp ect, maybe the nuisance problems could be alleviated to some degree. Mr. Crocker decided to take a different route, and hopefully he will go to prison, his land turned into a park to memorialize the victim, Paul Dart Jr.

fred14nx05y
fred14nx05y

You can complain about it as much as you want or say how crazy I am.  But at the end of the day, so what?  I am still the man with a gun in my hand pointed at you.  It is what it is.  So if you do not want to get shot dead, or your wife / kids / friends shot dead, do NOT disrespect me or my property.  I will kill you.

willtcrane
willtcrane

@p_town10   non navigable, he owns to the thread of the river, the people were trespassing 

willtcrane
willtcrane

elizabeth jaggie,  they were trespassing urinating and threatening with rocks, plus he was a little out numbered.

willtcrane
willtcrane

wayne, post your address here. 

so every one can come to your property and drink, shit and urinate in your yard.

willtcrane
willtcrane

lot of people owned there land before !, commercial tubbing began !

jbcoltan
jbcoltan

I have been floating the Meramec for years looking for arrowheads picking up trash and I have even been known to have a good time floating with my family. This isolated event is beginning to reveal some underlying problems that have been ignored for awhile. Property owners should not be allowed to own a river. Floaters should not be allowed to tear up property and trash the river. Enforcement controlled. More laws made infringing on someones right to do something. Gun control. How bout some good good ole human decency. Do you property owners want to make it where no one can go to the river unless you approve. Wait we can't ignore the fact that property owners also use the river as there private dumping ground too. Hence tractors tires, cars and everything else I dig out of your banks. Floaters you want to be harassed by conservation sea

Respect_the_river
Respect_the_river

@Peg Keller Really? That last comment is not even close to what happened. He didn't shoot him because he was causing traffic to be bad. It would be like someone coming onto your property from six flags and urinating on your lawn. And then starting a confrontation with you. Would you be OK with that? 

YourNotaGenius
YourNotaGenius

@Respect_the_river 

Only problem is no trespassing took place and the urinating part is the story of a murder.

I live on the one of the busiest waterways in the country. Not a single no trespassing sign or need for a gun. Get over your white trash self.

jbcoltan
jbcoltan

Your outlandish story is BS. I float and for every group of drunk people on the river there is another group of people who are trying to stay cool and spend quality time with family. Cut your nose off to spite your face dear. Stop embellishing your ideas about what goes on in the river. Most of the wild ones are teens and young adults I'm sure all you land owners were on your best behavior in those days of your youth too

dbobbitt1
dbobbitt1

@dalediversity 

With the terms you use to refer to the rural area people it suggest to me that you are placing yourself on a level you feel is above the rural residents.  You are part of the problem because you have no respect for other tax-payers.  Just stay in the city.


dbobbitt1
dbobbitt1

@Thee Lovingcup 

I think first of all the canoe rentals should make all renters of their equipment aware of the rights of property owners along the way and to not encourage gravel bar stop overs and to ask for respect for  the local residents.  That being said I would suggest that the canoe rentals should be required to have desinated rest areas and restrooms along the way.  They should pay the property owners along the way for the use of that area as it keeps them from having the use of the river on busy float days. Then the canoes rentals should be responsible for cleanup of these areas. I am not a river property owner but I know of the many problems that take place along these areas. I think these problems need to be addressed.

shivadancer
shivadancer

@fred14nx05y You're a damn moron. And if you keep pointing that gun, somebody is going to feed it to you.

But somehow I doubt you've ever actually done so- because you're not dead. But I'm disrespecting you- so point that gun at me. Moron.

smdrpepper
smdrpepper

@fred14nx05y You are the exact kind of guy who should not have any weapons at all because your are LOOKING to use them.

jbcoltan
jbcoltan

Searched to swim. Time for compassion not regulation. Trash in the river pick it up. Paying to much tax to share your land with the public talk to your representative. Land owners do you want to make it where no one can go to the water unless you say. Don't be down at the water with a pistol yelling at drunk people unless your looking for trouble. Floaters get involved with cleaning up the river. Walk away, show some respect. I got a feeling if we leave it to the authorities no one will like it. Water is for every one. Rude or not. You don't go shooting people in traffic even though they can be jerks too. Roads are like waterways we all pay tax. Water is life. Let's not take life over water. I have expirienced so many great natural wonders on Missouri waterways, I sure hope my children will be able to as well.

jbcoltan
jbcoltan

I live in Franklin county. Its not just city people its everyone. And people in the city pay taxes buddy.

jbcoltan
jbcoltan

You should not be able to own in the flood line. Should be a joint clean up effort float companies and land owners since it all of our trash just like its Our river. Apparently the idea of sharing is lost on some people. Money is not problem. Imaginary ownership of nature is. Great business opportunity. I'd shut the float companies down completely. I never use them. Help people pass the buck and makes it to easy for too many people to access the water at once with no responsibility. I promise buying your own boats. Shuttling your whole family and keeping everything together leaves less time for drinking and more time for the important things

dbobbitt1
dbobbitt1

For your information I have never lived in a trailer and I have always worked for everything I have but I do respect the people who do live in trailers. There again I suppose you are referring to some folks as trailer trash. Unlike you I have respect for  folks who deserve it no matter where they live. This will be my last reply to you because I do not have time for stupid. 

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