Be sure to read the below Write-Up, and then scroll down for his Obituary and info on the Sheriff's investigation into his murder.
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Attorney Rolland Comstock has a collection of
books that would astound nearly any avid reader.
- March, 2000 -
ROOM for one MORE
A passion for books has filled this man's home to capacity
Most people would be hard pressed to fill a library in their home. Not book collector Rolland Comstock. He needs two.
Once the walnut shelves of his old library were near bursting - as well as the third floor of the home where children's bedrooms used to be - Comstock began thinking that maybe he and his wife, Alberta, should add yet another library into their already imposing home on a hill just north of Springfield.
"The Library is 32 by 35 feet, with a gallery at the second level," says Comstock, 63. "It cost $200,000 to build and it probably devalued the house by $300,000. Who in the heck would want a room like this in their house?"
The library, added to the home in 1992, is a sight to behold. Book-laden shelves cover the walls from floor to ceiling. And among the many European-inspired antique tables and chairs, by the light of a chandelier, Comstock can read to his heart's content.
"Sometimes people ask 'how many of these books have you read?' and I tell them that I've read every one and I'm down to the Gs going around the second time," he says with great satisfaction.
In some circles Comstock is a bibliophile. Others would just call him a book fanatic. His collection is a subtle blend of contemporary American and British authors, ranging from older, famous writers to upstarts which Comstock "just has a hunch about."
Serious collectors tend to hedge about how many books are in their collection. Comstock is no exception. "A collection is more than books. In my library there are around 50,000 items, of which 90 percent are books."
The other items Comstock has include broadsides, or short passages from a book, framed photos, autographs and signed magazine articles.
A majority of those pieces are signed first editions of the author's work. And as you look down the shelves of his library, color-coded stickers on the acetate wrappers covering each volume tell of the book's status in Comstock's collection.
"Red stickers are for signed or inscribed books, blue are for unsigned U.S. editions and green are for unsigned English editions. My goal would be to have a sea of red stickers down the walls."
Try as he might, Comstock won't see many red stickers on the second floor of the library. Most of the authors upstairs are dead. The main floor is generally reserved for more active writers.
A tax and probate lawyer in Springfield, Comstock spends a week or two each month zig-zagging the United States to visit major independent book stores for book signings, readings and catching up on the latest literary gossip.
Book shops and collectors in Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., know of Comstock and his awe-inspiring collection. Sometimes the items he has even amaze the authors themselves.
"I've met Allen Ginsberg many times and I have more than 85 items he's signed," says Comstock. "Ginsberg could never understand how an uncorrected proof copy could get in the hands of a collector. I think sometimes the authors themselves would love to have what collectors bring to have them sign."
Books have always been a major part of Comstock's life. When he was 16 and a high school senior, the young entrepreneur rented the upstairs of a shoe store for $15 a month and opened his own second-hand bookstore. He kept the bookstore open while attending Drury College where he received a bachelor's degree in political science and French.
After teaching French for a year in neighboring Mountain Grove, Comstock was in a hurry to move on. He moved to Kansas City to pursue a master's degree in British history - but his father talked him into attending law school at the same time.
"After graduation, I was at a crossroads thinking 'What am I going to do now? Chase a Ph.D. in history or practice law?'" says Comstock. "I opted to practice law because of the money it would bring."
While money has been helpful in his quest for the written word, Comstock's real love is chasing down the elusive book or stumbling upon a great new author for his collection. On most days, Comstock would be hard pressed to name his favorite author.
"It depends on what day you ask me who my favorite author is," he says.
Of the thousands in his collection, one of the most valuable editions might be "Lucky Jim" by the now-deceased British writer Kingsley Amis, one of Comstock's favorites.
"It's extremely difficult to get ahold of a copy, much less a signed copy. Mine is worth about $2,000," says the collector. "Amis was the first writer I really began trying to get ahold of anything he wrote."
Other books, such as signed first editions of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller or "Tobacco Road" by Erskine Caldwell, are a tiny glimpse of the valued editions Comstock has in his care. And in many cases, he's got more than one copy.
"I simply think that if one copy is good, two is better," says Comstock. "I've spent many years and had a good time collecting them. But they need to be sold and dispersed throughout the land so others can have fun doing the same thing I've been doing."
Quite often college groups, libraries and clubs ask to see Comstock's collection, which he proudly displays and happily discusses. But if you ask him if he's got anymore room for books, he'll look around and answer in a hushed voice.
"I wouldn't want to say without checking to see if this room is bugged," Comstock says. "If my wife would hear me say that we're running very short on room, I think she'd murder me tonight!"
- By Heather Berry, Rural Missouri, March, 2000 -
Rolland Lee Comstock
(November 9, 1936 - July 3, 2007)
Rolland Lee Comstock, 70, Springfield passed away Tuesday, July 3, 2007 in his home.
An informal memorial gathering will be from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday July 11, 2007 in the Greene County Historical Courthouse Rotunda, 940 N. Boonville Ave. Online condolences can be made at www.hhlohmeyer.com.
July 4, 2007
Attorney found shot dead in home
Rolland Lee Comstock, an attorney known for his book collection, dies at 70.
By Amos Bridges
Greene County authorities are interviewing family members and associates of Springfield attorney Rolland Lee Comstock, found dead Tuesday morning in an apparent homicide.
Comstock, 70, a longtime tax and probate attorney and nationally recognized book collector, was found at his home north of Springfield with an apparent gunshot wound.
Chief Deputy Jim Arnott of the Greene County Sheriff's Department said detectives had developed no suspects or a possible motive for the slaying, which likely occurred late Monday or early Tuesday.
"We've got several people that we're wanting to interview that we haven't ... but no idea at this time on motive or anything like that," Arnott said Tuesday evening.
Arnott said someone who worked for Comstock -- it was unclear whether the person was a current or former employee -- found his body just before 10 a.m. after going to check on him at his expansive home at 5422 N. Farm Road 145.
The results of an autopsy conducted Tuesday afternoon should be available today, Arnott said, but he added that suicide had been ruled out.
Arnott said there were no signs of forced entry at the home, where Comstock lived alone on 12 1/2 acres near McDaniel Lake.
An iron gate guarded by Greene County deputies Tuesday barred access to the grounds, where hybrid wolves Comstock kept as pets roamed the lawn while investigators searched the house.
Arnott said most of the animals remained calm, but Animal Control was called when one became aggressive toward investigators.
Inside, the slain attorney's famed book collection appeared to be untouched, he said.
Although he earned his paycheck handling tax and probate cases in Springfield for more than 40 years, Comstock was nationally known for a home library that contained about 50,000 items, primarily modern first-edition British and American literature.
He housed his collection in a $200,000, two-story addition built in 1993. The home was appraised at about $850,000, according to Greene County Assessor's records.
"We couldn't find anything that appeared to be missing," Arnott said.
Comstock had been in poor health prior to his death, but those who knew him were shocked to find out he was the victim of foul play.
"I found out about this this morning ... I don't know what to think," said attorney James Owen, who worked for Comstock's firm for about 14 months before leaving in February. "It's beyond words for me."
Owen said Comstock often worked from home, but employees at his office checked on him regularly.
"We'd always get worried about him -- we wouldn't hear from him for half a day ...," he said. "He was a pretty old guy and had some health troubles."
Owen said he was unaware of anyone with a particular grudge against Comstock.
"You're in a profession where you have one side against another, and sometimes people get mad ... but that would really surprise me in this case," he said. "I don't think anything he was working on would drive somebody to this."
Comstock's ex-wife, Alberta, said she learned of his death when her daughter called her Tuesday morning, but initially assumed he had a heart attack.
"I wouldn't have minded if he died of a damn heart attack, because everyone expected that," she said when contacted Tuesday at her home in Fairland, Okla. "But not this."
The couple were married for about 38 years before divorcing in 2005 and remained locked in a dispute over $215,000 Rolland Comstock was to pay in a settlement agreement.
They had one son together and Rolland Comstock had adopted her four older children, she said. Rolland Comstock had another son from a previous marriage.
Arnott said detectives interviewed the couple's youngest son, Stephen Comstock, on Tuesday and were attempting to locate the other children.
Alberta Comstock said Tuesday afternoon she had not been contacted.
"I just got out of the hospital with a heart attack," she said. "I'm having pains in my heart again and I don't want to go back. The stress of this is about to get me.'"
A self-described book fanatic, Comstock had an epic collection that was notable for its focus on the complete works of individual authors.
"I feel closer to (an author) if I've got the first edition," Comstock told the News-Leader in a 1996 profile. "I want to get as close as possible to the writer so that he becomes a part of my biography. I've chosen him to be part of me."
Comstock's love of books developed early in life -- at age 16 he opened a used book store near Commercial Street, trading used novels for those he had yet to read.
The Central High School graduate ran the store through his college years at Drury University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science and French.
He taught high school in Mountain Grove for a year before studying for a master's of arts degree in British history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
He then attended law school before embarking on a career as an attorney, also serving one term in the Missouri legislature, from 1964-66.
In the early '90s, he famously represented Butch, an English bulldog apparently much-beloved by its late master, who left the dog a $98,500 inheritance.
At the time he was profiled by the News-Leader, Comstock spent about 10 days each month traveling to cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco or Chicago to have authors sign his books.
Describing himself as a "completist ... doomed to madness," Comstock said he wanted "every single, solitary thing" ever written by his favorite authors.
"I'd like to go back even to grade school and get their work," he told the News-Leader.
Two Years Later: Sheriff says Comstock is not a Cold Case
By KSPR News
By Reporter: Emily Rittman, Photographer: Dallas Houtz
Story Created: Jul 6, 2009 at 8:06 PM CST
(Story Updated: Jul 6, 2009 at 11:15 PM CST )
A well-known Ozarks lawyer and avid book collector's death remains a mystery just like the page turners he collected. On July 3, 2007, Rolland Comstock was found dead. Investigators say he was shot four times in his Greene County home. For more than two years, members of the sheriff's department have said DNA results and new evidence are just around the corner, but 24 months later family and friends are no closer to closure.
The grass is high surrounding the home Rolland Comstock kept tidy before his death on Farm Road 145. The property is now part of a trust. A man many called one-of-a-kind no longer fills its shelves with books. "You never met anyone quite like him,” Friend and former colleague attorney James Owen says. “He had an encyclopedic memory; he could cite cases from decades ago."
Owen worked for Comstock one year before his death. The firm he works for represents Comstock’s adopted daughter Faith Stocker in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. "As much as I know, there's a process, as time goes by it challenges your belief in the system,” Owen says. “I'm a lawyer so I have to believe in the system that something is going to come of this."
In a rare move, a wrongful death suit preceded any arrests or criminal charges. In January of this year a judge denied a request to drop a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Comstock's adopted daughter against his ex-wife Alberta Comstock. On January 15, 2009, Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott told KSPR the office was seeking additional evidence the following week that he could not discuss. Nearly six months later there were no arrests or charges.
The last public move in the criminal case came in May of 2008. Search warrants revealed detectives took DNA samples from Alberta Comstock and estranged son Michael R. Comstock. Detectives say Alberta Comstock bought a gun one day before Comstock's death. In an interview on July 3, 2007, Alberta reportedly couldn’t find the handgun but did not report it missing to law enforcement. Detectives say Michael Comstock’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt at the scene. They say Michael stated he had not been at his father’s home for two to three years. During the investigation, detectives say Michael, after hearing that his father’s body was found, asked a friend to wash all of his clothing. Since the search warrants were released, no arrests or charges have been filed.
In April of 2009, Alberta Comstock’s attorneys in the civil lawsuit asked that photos from a previous civil dispute be preserved, hinting they could possibly point to an unknown motive. The judge ordered that photographs maintained by the law firm of Husch, Blackwell, Sanders, LLP not be disposed of if the photos related to any matter involving Rolland Comstock and Alberta Comstock. A federal judge had previously ruled the photos could be destroyed after one year unless notified by any governmental investigatory authority.
"I think about it on an almost daily basis," Owen says. As a friend, Owen says he thinks about the day his mentor's killer or killers will be caught. As a lawyer, he wouldn’t discuss details of the wrongful death suit. "We don't want to interfere with the criminal case." Owen and many others will wait for Comstock's final chapter to be written in court.
Arnott was out of town on Monday. He released a statement that the case is not a cold case. Arnott says it is actively being investigated by a detective assigned exclusively to the case. Arnott is expected to answer more specific questions when he returns.
Greene County sheriff: media altered Comstock murder probe
by Marie Saavedra, KY3 News
Story Published: Jul 9, 2009 at 5:24 PM CST
(Story Updated: Jul 9, 2009 at 5:32 PM CST )
SPRINGFIELD -- Make no mistake, says Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott: Rolland Comstock's murder case is not cold.
"It may seem it's stagnant, because it's taking a long time, but right now we're putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together," Arnott said in an interview on Thursday.
The puzzle should ultimately show who killed the well known attorney two years ago. It's one that the sheriff says can be solved with thorough investigation.
"I can't give you a specific update, that within 30 days we'll make an arrest or we'll present a charge, because it's just not that type of case," said Arnott.
One year ago, Comstock's friends say it sounded as if it was that type of case. Arnott, who was then chief deputy, told KY3 News that the case was lining up. So what changed?
"We had made some good progress at that point. There were some things that came out in the media a short time after that that hindered our progression," he said. "A lot of times you've just got to get a different game plan."
The case is now the only one in his department with an investigator dedicated solely to one case. The detective briefs Arnott twice a week.
"We did get a lot of evidence back from the lab, but we did send some new evidence and some evidence we had for re-analysis," said Arnott.
It's further proof that, in justice, patience can be a painful virtue, but it's one the sheriff says his office will follow through.