ST. LOUIS – Robert Booker Jones’ death became a punch line.

He was the 71-year-old man fatally shot by his wife in St. Louis early this month because, police said, he brought her a warm Stag beer.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s original article was brief, just 103 words, and ran deep inside the newspaper on Dec. 4. It could have gone unnoticed. But under the headline “Warm beer led to killing, police say,” the story was not only bizarre, it also mentioned a beer not well-regarded for its taste.

The story flashed across the world, picked up by thousands of radio, TV and Internet outlets. “Hot Lead for Warm Beer” was a typical twist. Comedian Jay Leno referred to the shooting in a “Tonight” show monologue. His punch line? Most women would love to find a man who would get off the couch to get them a beer.

Last week, Robert Jones was laid to rest.

Dozens of people gathered at Reliable Funeral Home in St. Louis. And to them, the story of what led to the shooting is really about a generous man’s unfailing allegiance to his wife as her mental health declined.

“He was her lifeline,” said a niece, LaTanya Blevins, 30. “I know the only way she did this was if she were out of her mind.”

Robert Jones was still tall and sturdy. His wife, Corine, 66, was tiny. They had been married about 25 years, since shortly after Robert’s first wife died. They kept a gun in their house because Jones worried about his wife’s safety when he wasn’t home.

And Robert Jones was always going.

“He was energized,” his grand-niece Brianna Taylor, 10, said.

“He was like the Energizer Bunny,” added his sister Erma Jean Hemphill.

Jones was known for offering rides in his brown 1992 Cadillac, the one with the beige top. People knew they could ring him up and he’d give them a lift, tell them a few jokes, make them smile.

The journey was the point. His neighbor Edward Pruitt, who at 72 is going blind, recalled joining Jones on trips to the store for Pruitt’s cigars. Jones smoked cigarettes, and the two men would dally. “We’d sit in the car and just smoke and tell jokes, laughing,” Pruitt said. “After a while, we’d look at each other and say, “We’d better get on home.”‘

Back at home, Corine Jones showed increasing signs of mental problems over the last three years, several family members said. They noticed little changes – memory lapses and mood changes that seemed to wax and wane. One time she seemed to forget who her husband was.

On Dec. 3, Robert and Corine Jones were alone in their one-story house. They were among the thousands who lost power in an ice storm. Several family members and friends called over the weekend to make sure they were OK. And they were. They told the callers that they were sitting in their kitchen near a gas stove to keep warm. That night, they planned to go to the house of his daughter Linda Jones to watch the late NFL game. But they never arrived.

According to police, Corine Jones said she shot her husband because he tried to give her a warm can of Stag beer. She is charged with first-degree murder. On the day of her husband’s funeral, she was in custody undergoing a mental evaluation.

“If it wasn’t for her mental situation, we wouldn’t be here,” said one of the couple’s nephews, Willard Bransford, 24.

The funeral featured no harsh words about Corine Jones. Brianna, the Joneses’ grand-niece, seemed to capture the spirit of the service when she stood before the crowd of more than 60 people and said simply, “God bless you, Uncle R.B. I miss you.”

In a pew off to one side, Joel Manesberg choked back tears.

He had known Robert Jones since 1981, when Manesberg returned from college to work for his grandfather Hyman Adelstein, soon taking over for him. Robert Jones had worked for Adelstein since the 1950s, helping in the family business extending credit through corner department stores.

Jones watched over Adelstein, then Manesberg. Somewhere along their long drives through the city, they developed a deep friendship.

Manesberg, 49, eventually moved on to create a software company and a real estate development company. He kept Jones busy. And he kept him close. Together they went to Rams games and to Powell Symphony Hall to catch concerts. Robert Jones was a fixture at the Manesberg home in Olivette. And Robert Jones, who loved boxing and could recite fights from the 1930s, turned Manesberg’s wife, Susan, into an unlikely fan of the sweet science. They would order pay-per-view fights to watch together.

Joel Manesberg and Robert Jones always ended their phone conversations the same way. They always told each other “I love you.” And that’s how they ended their last talk the weekend Robert Jones died.

Since Jones’ death, Manesberg sometimes imagines writing a letter to Leno. He’d start by saying he’s a fan of the comedian, has watched him perform in St. Louis, and knows Leno meant no disrespect.

But he wants Leno to know a little bit about Robert Booker Jones, beyond how he died. He wants to talk about how this man lived. He wants everyone to know that this man was no punch line.

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