My Conversation with Charles "Cookie" Thornton

I don't remember much about the conversation, but enough of it to know that this morning when I heard NPR report that a lone gunman had walked into a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri and killed five people and wounded two, the first thing that popped into my head was, “I wonder if it was that Cookie dude.” Turns out that it was, and that the grievance that Charles “Cookie” Thornton had with city officials in the St. Louis suburb had reached a tragic conclusion.

Thornton's name came up a few times in editorial meetings at the Riverfront Times, where until last year I was a staff writer and editor. He had an asphalt business that required that he own a truck too big to park at his house. Nonetheless, he parked it and his asphalt machinery there, and started getting tickets. He refused to move the gear, fought tooth-and-nail for his right to park it there, and ultimately accrued thousands of dollars in fines. I spoke with him on the phone – and he may have even come by the Riverfront Times' office at one point, but my memory is shoddy on that. Seeing photos of him online, I distinctly remember his face, which leads me to believe that he did. He called a few staff writers, pleading to each of us to write about his case. We bounced around the idea of writing a news story on his plight.

In my conversation with Thornton, he expressed frustration with his situation; it was his business, it was his house, and that was his stuff. It only made sense that he park it there. I recall him being calm but determined, almost as if he was arguing his case not to a reporter but to a judge. It seemed so obvious to him that he was the victim of a broken system, and that a miscarriage of justice was occurring. Ultimately, we decided not to do a story because, well, Thornton didn't have much of a case. He had too much equipment, and the zoning laws contained specific guidelines about what kinds of machinery and vehicles were and weren't allowed to be parked in residential areas. Unfortunately, he couldn't take no for an answer, and no matter how much he banged his head against the wall of the zoning code, he would get no justice.

You can read the Riverfront Times' coverage of Thornton's rampage here.


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