Criminal Justice

Student loan debt may have played role in lawyer's suspected slaying of mom, authorities say

Authorities in Florida say student loan debt may have played a role in motivating what they suspect was a lawyer’s slaying of his own mother, before he committed suicide earlier this year.

John Conrad Wagner, 32, who had been working as a temporary attorney reviewing documents in Philadelphia, was found dead in his Center City apartment in January, as authorities were investigating him in the death of his mother, Carolyn, 64. Her body was discovered Dec. 30, after she was shot to death in bed in her Ocala, Fla., home, reports the Philadelphia Daily News in a lengthy article.

Her son, who had been the last person to see her alive while visiting during the holiday season, reportedly told police in Florida that he had never owned a gun. However, when he returned to Philadelphia he reported to authorities there that his home had been burglarized and a 9 mm Ruger handgun had been stolen, the newspaper recounts. Shell casings found at the scene of Carolyn Wagner’s slaying were consistent with a Ruger, police said.

John Wagner also was the last person to see his father, Roger Wagner, alive in September 2011, before the 59-year-old fell to his death during a father-son hiking trip in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. His death was ruled accidental, and the son said his dad slipped and fell while taking photos.

A search by the Marion County, Fla., sheriff’s department of Wagner’s apartment in Philadelphia after his mother’s death determined that he had done Internet research on his computer concerning guns, ballistics and forensics, as well as a search for “who did the shooting,” Marion County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Sandlin told the Daily News. He said it would have been only a matter of time until Wagner, who had stopped cooperating by the end of January, was arrested in his mother’s slaying.

Much of what happened isn’t certain, and “we’ll never know his motive,” said Sandlin. “What is our opinion? Financial. He had a lot of student loans that were outstanding.”

Carolyn Wagner, however, had no life insurance, although her son would have inherited her bank account funds and other assets.

Patsy Batsch, who was Carolyn Wagner’s best friend, saw John Wagner during his final visit to his mother and subsequently, when he attended her funeral. No one wanted to believe the son was responsible for his mom’s death, Batsch tells the Daily News, “but everything pointed in that direction.”

She said John Wagner, a Villanova University law graduate, wanted to get married, but felt he couldn’t focus on doing so because he had a lot of student debt and hadn’t been able to find a good job.

A friend of Roger Wagner who was interviewed by authorities after Carolyn Wagner’s death said the father had confided both that his son was heavily in debt and that the parents could no longer help their son financially because Roger Wagner’s business was struggling.

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