Key West bar shooter serving life sentence speaks to Court TV

By Emily Kean

KEY WEST, Fla. (Court TV) — It’s been more than two decades since a bouncer opened fire on a busy nightclub in Key West, Fla., killing one person and injuring four others.

FILE – This undated photo provided by the FDOC shows Jeffrey Wallace. (NDOC)

Jeffrey Wade Wallace, now 61, is serving a life sentence for his crimes.

To get his version of the events that took place the night of the shooting, Court TV presenter Ted Rowlands went inside the prison to meet Wallace face to face.

By the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 8, 1997, the spring break season had begun to wind down in Key West. Up and down Duval Street, the bars were still busy, but managers had already begun to cut seasonal staff as students were busy finishing up the semester.

Wallace was one of the part-time bouncers working at Rum Runners and knew his job would end soon. Wallace wasn’t working that night, but he was at the bar, drinking and chatting with the other patrons.

At one point, Wallace got into an argument with a colleague because he thought his Jägermeister shot was watered down. He was asked to leave and he took a taxi home. Wallace took off his shorts and t-shirt and put on a black suit and shoes he had bought the previous year but never worn. Wallace also grabbed the semi-automatic Glock handgun he had purchased at the same time and returned to Rum Runners.

On the night of the shooting, there were about 75 people inside the Hideaway bar at Rum Runners. Just after midnight the band was playing and the bar started to get busy. One of the survivors of the shooting said Court Television, he was happy to see the crowd as he hoped the Rum Runners would have a good night. Instead, it was a horrible evening that many will never forget.

Jeffrey Wade Wallace was arrested on April 8, 1997 in a fatal shooting at the Rum Runners bar in Key West, Florida. (Short TV)

Wallace, then 36, went inside and opened fire, killing one of his managers and wounding four others. Police said Wallace fired dozens of loaded rounds of ammunition from his front trouser pockets and a leather pouch attached to his belt.

He was tackled by an off-duty bouncer, arrested and charged with first degree murder.

During his police questioning, he confessed, telling the investigator that everything was premeditated and that he had planned it for a year. He repeatedly told the officer that the Rum Runners people were “mean”.

HOW DID JEFF WALLACE BECOME A MASS SHOOTER?

Wallace was a divorced father of two children. Born and raised in Tennessee, he was a gifted artist whose works were exhibited in high school. He got his bachelor’s degree in psychology and was working on his master’s when his life started to unravel.

In the early 1990s, her marriage fell apart. He drifted from job to job and was hospitalized with mental health issues. He first worked at Rum Runners during spring break in 1994. It was after that job ended that he started telling his family crazy stories about the Boston mob who ran the bar and that the managers were involved in drug trafficking, prostitution and devil worship: none of which was true. He was hospitalized a second time, but in the spring of 1997 he was released and returned to Rum Runners.

According to Wallace’s police interview, he had over 100 bullets on him when he was arrested, and Wallace freely admits that he planned to kill as many people as possible.

“It’s premeditated. It’s premeditated, man. I went home… I took a taxi to change. And got the gun. I returned. It’s premeditated,” Wallace said in his interview with police.

Filming in a Key West bar

Defendant Jeffrey Wallace testifies in his own defense on September 21, 1998. (Court TV)

Only one person was killed, bar manager Michael Sumner, 32, who was engaged later that year. Four other people were injured, two of them seriously.

Prosecutors have sought the death penalty in their case against Wallace.

His defense team argued that he was legally insane and that the shooting was the culmination of years of paranoid delusions.

He took the bar in his own defense and told the jury he was afraid for his life and believed the people at the bar were trying to make him commit suicide. Prosecutors argued that Wallace was faking mental illness and was able to do so due to his upbringing and experience working in mental institutions.

The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Twenty-five years after the shooting, Wallace now acknowledges that there was never a plot against him. He expressed his gratitude to the bouncer who tackled him and stopped him from killing other patrons.

Florida v. Jeffrey Wallace is featured in the upcoming Court TV documentary Rampage killers, airing Sunday, October 2, 2022 at 9 p.m. IS. What motivates a hitman? Court TV sits down with psychologists, investigators, survivors and conducts an in-prison interview with convicted mass shooter Jeffrey Wade Wallace to find out. Five years after the Las Vegas shootings, this provocative Court TV documentary explores why our understanding of a rampaging killer’s psyche is vital to preventing the next mass murder.

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