Slain principal’s family recalls her as ‘beacon of light’

Slain principal’s family recalls her as ‘beacon of light’
By Kim Bell

ST. LOUIS — The man charged with stabbing his estranged wife to death in her North Side bungalow had left a rambling note behind that he wrote her on yellow paper. It ended with the threat: “Rest in hell, as I will.”

James Earl Pointer’s landlord found the note — now in the hands of investigators — on Friday, hours after police arrested Pointer for the murder of his wife, Marsha Gentry Pointer.

“She was a beacon of light, a candle this maniac snuffed out,” said Marsha Pointer’s brother, Robert L. Gentry.

Marsha Pointer, 57, was a retired high school principal and educator in Denver who had grown up in St. Louis’ Vaughn housing complex and known James Pointer since childhood. About two years ago, after living in Colorado, the couple returned to St. Louis and bought a house two doors away from her elderly mother in the 4400 block of Catherine Place.

She was tutoring children and running an online travel agency.

A few months ago, after 19 years of marriage, Marsha Pointer and her husband separated, at her insistence, relatives say. She was fed up, they say, with his verbal abuse. He’d berate her about her weight and say other demeaning things to her. One friend said Marsha Pointer complained about his drinking and failure to tend to his own diabetes.”I’m tired of being his nurse,” Marsha Pointer confided to her longtime friend, Susan Kidd, a former television news anchor in St. Louis.

About 6:30 a.m. Friday, James Pointer drove to his mother’s home in Jennings and used his cell phone to call Jennings police. He said he had stabbed his wife and was walking to the police station to turn himself in. When they picked him up a few minutes later, he had blood on his clothes, and his hands were cut up. Once in the custody of St. Louis homicide detectives, he made a videotaped statement, confessing to the crime, police allege in court papers.

James Pointer, 59, faces charges of first-degree murder, burglary and armed criminal action. At his initial court appearance Monday before Associate Circuit Judge Calea Stovall-Reid, Pointer was brought to court in handcuffs, chained to about 20 other defendants. Pointer is a slight man, standing barely 5-foot-6 and weighing about 130 pounds. Both of his hands were completely bandaged by white medical tape. He waved to his two grown children from his first marriage; Pointer and Marsha Pointer had no children together.

Pointer is being held without bond. His next court date is July 14.

Police allege that Pointer broke into a brick bungalow in the 4400 block of Catherine Place sometime on Thursday, when Marsha Pointer was away. Then, sometime late Thursday or early Friday, police allege, Pointer came up behind Marsha Pointer as she sat at her computer in the back room, just off the kitchen. Her two German shepherds, Ebony and Ivory, were in a pen in the backyard.

She was stabbed multiple times, including in the head and throat. Her body was found in the kitchen. Also in the kitchen were a mop and sink full of bloody water, signs that her killer had tried to clean up, relatives say.

The house is full of little touches that Marsha Pointer’s family says defined her. Her refrigerator door was covered by a collection of colorful magnets from the dozens of states she’d visited. Over the kitchen door is a plaque that reads, “Live, Laugh, Love.” Outside, the front yard is tidy, neatly manicured with a flower pot on the front stoop.

Marsha Pointer graduated from Albion College in Michigan in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. She then earned her master’s in recreation at Michigan State. She worked in the Denver public school system from 1979 to 2005, including the last five years as principal of Manual Leadership High School, which served several poor neighborhoods.

“The poorest, wildest, most neglected children were really the ones she’d reach,” says Kidd, the former St. Louis TV anchorwoman and Marsha Pointer’s college roommate at Albion. Kidd now lives in Washington DC. “She was a real success story.”

Kidd said Marsha Pointer “was very outgoing, very energetic and very much believed you didn’t have to accept things the way they were. You didn’t have to live in a neighborhood overrun with trash, or you didn’t have to accept a crappy school. She wanted to make things better.”

Marsha Pointer’s mother, Clarice Anita McClure, raised four children in the projects and let them all know the value of education, Kidd says. She used to take her children to Lambert airport to watch the planes take off. She’d ask them, “Where do you think that one is going?” to encourage them to think more broadly and beyond their own neighborhood. Three of her children went to college; her fourth got a good job at McDonnell Douglas, like his mother.

After retiring from teaching in 2005, Marsha Pointer and her husband returned to St. Louis so she could live closer to her mother, now 77. She bought the house two doors down and rehabbed it, adding all new fixtures inside and a 6-foot privacy fence in back. She wanted to be able to take her mother to doctor’s appointments, take her to lunch and to plays, said Marsha Pointer’s younger sister, Patricia Swindall of Dallas. Marsha Pointer was endlessly helping others, from tutoring children to driving her mother-in-law to dialysis, family members say.

“We’d say, ‘Girl, you gotta slow down,’,” Swindall says. “But she was on a mission to help who she could. We didn’t realize her days were numbered.”

James Pointer, known as “Peter,” had served more than 10 years in Missouri prison for assault and robbery convictions in the 1970s. He was a laborer in Colorado who had trouble finding steady work in Missouri with his felony conviction. Robert Gentry, Marsha Pointer’s brother, said he warned his sister about Pointer. Even though the husband hadn’t been physically abusive to Marsha Pointer, Gentry said he offered to help his sister get a restraining order.

“She’d say, ‘No brother. I can handle this,'” Robert Gentry said.

When he balked at moving out of their home, she found him an apartment on the city’s South Side. But he still showed up two to three times a week at the house on Catherine, cutting the grass or cleaning up after the two dogs they shared. Family knew it was his attempt to keep in contact. “He’d keep saying, ‘I’ve changed Marsha. I’ve changed,'” Swindall says. She tried to be a friend to him, but he was pushing for more, Swindall added.

“It’s just tragic. I didn’t see this coming,” Swindall says. “As long as we’ve all known each other, she always thought through it all that they could stay friends.”

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Austin A. Layne Mortuary, 7239 W. Florissant Avenue, St. Louis. The funeral will be at noon Saturday at Renaissance Chapel, 7203 W. Florissant Avenue, St. Louis.