Medicine Hat, Alta. ó Just two days before they were slain in their own home, Marc and Debra Richardson took their two children for a motorcycle ride on an unseasonably warm April day.
It was typical for the close-knit family of four, who had moved to this small Alberta city in part so Mrs. Richardson could leave her job and spend more time with her children.
Now, three members of that family — Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, and their grade-school-aged son — are dead, killed in their tidy four-level house some time before Sunday afternoon, police say. The elder child, a girl, is not dead.
Police say two people were arrested without incident yesterday morning in Leader, Sask., 160 kilometres northeast of Medicine Hat, itself about 290 kilometres southeast of Calgary.
Jeremy Allan Steinke, 23, of Medicine Hat is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Also charged with three counts of first-degree murder is a 12-year-old girl from Medicine Hat, who cannot be identified under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Police have yet to say how the three family members were killed, to confirm their names or to describe the relationship between Mr. Steinke and the girl. “All we know is that they possibly were acquaintances [since they] were picked up together,” said Sergeant David Townsend of the Medicine Hat Police Service.
The two accused had a bail hearing in Swift Current, Sask., and are still under arrest; they were to arrive in Medicine Hat some time last night.
The triple homicides are the first killings this year for this city of 56,000, which had seen only two murders in the previous half-decade, although there was a triple homicide in 2001, also within a single family. But Sgt. Townsend said the deaths are a sobering moment for Medicine Hat. “It is a devastating crime,” he said. “For people to say it doesn’t happen here — it does.”
Police are still searching for a grey 1987 Dodge Dakota truck, with the licence plate UCG 406, that could be linked to the crime.
A body was seen in the house shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday by a boy who lives next door, according to neighbours gathered around the crime scene yesterday; police said only that they received a call at 1:34 p.m. saying a body had been seen. A man, a woman and a pre-teen boy believed to be family members were found inside, they said.
The three bodies were removed from the house late yesterday afternoon, covered in velvet shrouds, while white-suited forensic investigators continue to scrutinize the house. A white pick-up sits in the driveway, the driver-side window smashed in.
Just what happened in the early hours of Sunday is still a mystery to the neighbourhood, even to next-door neighbour Phyllis Gehring, who was awakened in the dead of the night by a massive, muffled thump and the barking of her alarmed puppy. “It almost sounded like someone hit the side of the house,” said the 67-year-old woman, who now is wondering whether she heard a gunshot.
Mrs. Gehring, like other residents of the Ross Glen neighbourhood, insisted that there was nothing in the Richardsons’ public behaviour that showed any stress, much less distress. Far from it, she says. The son was a baseball enthusiast, constantly playing catch in his backyard with his friend who lived next door — and continually losing the ball over Mrs. Gehring’s fence.
But the pair would always ask for its return nicely, she said. “They always said thank you.”
The boy had recently broken a window in the family home and Mrs. Gehring recounted how Mr. Richardson had told her about this — and how his youngest child would learn responsibility for his actions by doing work to pay for the cost of the repairs.
The Richardsons had lived in the house less than three years, moving there in August, 2003. Donald Page, who sold them the home, described a picturesque family, complete with a dog. “The kids were excited because they had a big tree,” he said, grinning for only a moment.
Mr. Richardson seemed an ideal neighbour, helping with garden work in his elderly neighbours’ backyard. And Mrs. Richardson was devoted to her children, overjoyed that Alberta’s low cost of living allowed her to quit work to stay at home, Mrs. Gehring said.
“They loved Medicine Hat because everything was cheap and she could become a stay-at-home mom.”