Key West bar shooter serving life sentence speaks to Court TV

Posted at 4:03 PM, September 28, 2022 and last updated 4:03 PM, September 28, 2022

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, Florida, killing one person and injuring four others.

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

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 anchor Ted Rowlands went inside the prison to meet Wallace face-to-face.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 8, 1997, the Spring Break season had started winding down in Key West. Up and down Duval Street, the bars were still busy, but managers had already begun cutting their seasonal staff since college students were busy finishing the semester.

Wallace was one of the part-time bouncers working at Rum Runners, and knew his job would be ending soon. Wallace was not working that night, but he was at the bar, drinking and talking with the other patrons.

At one point, Wallace got into an argument with a co-worker because he believed his shot of Jägermeister was watered down. He was asked to leave, and he took a taxi back to his apartment. Wallace changed out of his shorts and t-shirt and put on a black suit and shoes that he had bought the year before but had never worn. Wallace also grabbed the Glock semi-automatic handgun he had bought at the same time and went back to Rum Runners.

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 was starting to get busy. One of the shooting survivors told Court TV,  he was happy to see the crowd because he hoped Rum Runners would have a good night. Instead, it was a horrific evening that many would never forget.

Jeffrey Wade Wallace is arrested April 8, 1997 in a deadly shooting at Rum Runners bar in Key West, Florida. (Court TV)

Wallace, then-36, walked inside and opened fire, killing one of his managers and injuring four other people. Police said Wallace fired dozens of rounds of clip-loaded ammunition stuffed in the front pockets of his pants 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 interrogation, he confessed, telling the investigator that it was all premeditated and that he had been planning it for a year. He repeatedly told the officer that the people at Rum Runners were “evil.”

HOW DID JEFF WALLACE BECOME A MASS SHOOTER?

Wallace was a divorced father of two. Born and raised in Tennessee, he was a gifted artist who had his work displayed while in high school. He earned his undergrad in psychology and was working on his Master’s Degree when his life began unraveling. 

In the early 1990s, his marriage fell apart. He drifted from job to job and was hospitalized for mental health issues. He first worked at Rum Runners during Spring Break in 1994. It was after that job ended that he began telling his family wild stories about the Boston mafia running the bar and that managers were involved in drug smuggling, prostitution, and devil-worshiping: none of which was true. He was hospitalized a second time, but by the spring of 1997, he was released and returned to Rum Runners.

According to Wallace’s police interview, he had more than 100 rounds on him when he was arrested, and Wallace freely admits he was planning to kill as many people as he could.

“It’s premeditated. It’s premeditated, dude.  I went home…took a taxi home to change my clothes. And got the gun. I came back.  It’s premeditated,” Wallace says in his police interview.

Key West Bar Shooting

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

Only one person was killed, 32-year-old bar manager Michael Sumner, who was engaged to be married later that year. Four others were injured, two of them seriously.  

Prosecutors sought the death penalty in their case against Wallace. 

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

He took the stand in his own defense and told the jury he was scared for his life and believed the people at the bar were trying to get him to take his own life. Prosecutors argued Wallace was faking mental illness and he was able to do so because of his education and experience working at psychiatric institutions.

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

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

The case of Florida v. Jeffrey Wallace is featured in the upcoming Court TV documentary Rampage Killers, airing Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022 at 9p.m. EST. What motivates a rampage killer? Court TV sits down with psychologists, investigators, survivors, and conducts a prison interview with convicted mass shooter, Jeffrey Wade Wallace, to find out. Five years after the Las Vegas shooting massacre, this provocative Court TV documentary explores why our understanding the psyche of a rampage killer is vital in preventing the next mass murder.

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