Few could have predicted the bizarre twists after a young boy stumbles upon a triple slaying
The town of Leader is an oasis on the vast prairie of southwest Saskatchewan. Its tree-lined streets and green boulevards make for an idyllic setting for the 1,000-plus residents who live in a region billed as one of the sunniest places in North America and located in the district of Happyland.
On Monday morning, Bill Clary, a custodian at the local school, rose to arrive for work early because he had to install a clock in the gymnasium before kids arrived for 9 a.m. classes. But as the 48-year-old pulled up in his van on the edge of the normally quiet town at 7:45 a.m., he was startled by what he saw.
Three RCMP vehicles had surrounded a small, green pickup truck in the school parking lot.
Two girls were face down on the pavement, another was being put inside a police cruiser. Small purple bath beads had spilled from the pick-up onto the asphalt.
Among the group was 23-year-old Jeremy Allan Steinke and his 12-year-old girlfriend, suspects in a triple slaying about 160 kilometres away in Medicine Hat. Their friends who were along for the ride thought they were on a camping trip.
The group offered no resistance and, from what Clary could see, were not wearing the heavy makeup, studded wristbands or black clothing typical of the goth subculture to which they belonged.
“They just looked like normal teenagers,” says Clary, who’d recently returned to his hometown from Vancouver.
“When I saw it, I thought it was maybe just a drug bust,” he says, adding he hadn’t yet heard of the horror down the highway in Alberta’s Gas City.
As Steinke was being arrested, he told one of the girls: “Tell my mom she can have my TV and that I love her.”
The arrests occurred less than 16 hours after a little boy went up to the door at 304 Cameron Rd. S.E. in Medicine Hat to call on his friend Jacob Richardson, 8, who said in his kindergarten yearbook that he liked to run fast and wanted to be a policeman, or a soldier.
His six-year-old playmate saw a body inside the house.
When police arrived at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, they found the bodies of Jacob and his parents, Marc and Debra Richardson, who had moved to Medicine Hat from Okotoks three years ago.
The Richardsons were the picture of middle-class suburbia in southern Alberta’s heartland.
Steinke, by contrast, had been into goth culture since his teens. Until three years ago, his young girlfriend had been an apparently average young girl.
In August, 2005, she joined a website and began posting profiles of herself. On one, she is seen holding a pistol. On another, under the heading, “The Storm of Sadness,” she professed a love for “sharp junk,” dark poetry, piercings, death metal music, bisexuality and wrote: “My heart and soul are filled with fear.”
Her middle-class existence has left many wondering how a 12-year-old can go from Norman Rockwell to Norman Bates, dating a troubled 23-year-old man who lived in a trailer park with his mom and once professed to be a werewolf.
He, too, posted a personal profile on the Internet, in which he apparently fantasized about killing: “Their throats I want to slit,” it said.
“Especially when I see that they are gone . . . Their blood should be payment!”
The girl was charged Monday along with Steinke with first-degree murder, indicating premeditation, in the three killings.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, she cannot be identified by name nor can anything be written that may tend to expose her identity, such as her online nickname, her school or the names of relatives and family.
Despite the disparity in their ages, friends say Steinke did not hold power or influence over the girl.
The pair met at an all-ages punk rock show in Medicine Hat and their relationship appears to have grown over the Internet.
The 12-year-old is not the first younger girl Steinke dated.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, bore him a child when she was 17 and he was 20. But she does not remember the relationship fondly and he’s never met his child. Steinke was abusive and dating him was a big mistake, she says.
“I know exactly how (the 12-year-old girl) feels. She’s probably regretting ever meeting him,” the woman says.
But Steinke, a diminutive young man who was picked on in school, could be charming, too, and was eager to please. Despite rarely being able to hold down a job, he always had $10 or $20 in his pocket, she adds.
“He’d buy gifts and spend every penny he has and try to get close to the parents,” she says. “He was fun. He always wanted to do what you wanted.”
But she also remembers his quick temper and odd behaviour.
“He’d sit up in the middle of the night and start talking to himself,” she says of Steinke, whom she dated for more than a year.
“I probably only know 10 per cent of him. He can change in a blink of an eye.”
Since their break-up, the woman has watched his girlfriends “getting younger and younger.”
Still, when it emerged that he’d started dating a 12-year-old girl, some of Steinke’s friends warned him not to get involved.
“I told him that, ‘You’re 23-years-old, you’re a grown man. You’re dating a kid,” says Daniel Clark, 22, an acquaintance.
“He stopped for a minute and looked at me. And I said, ‘Well, that’s just my opinion, Jeremy, but you should be having a job . . . you should not be living with your mother. You know, doing something with your life, not hanging around little high school kids.”
Regardless of his age, Steinke lived with his mom much of his adult life, despite her own series of setbacks, including a terminal lung disease. Most recently, they lived in a trailer park near a graveyard and the municipal airport. Their lifestyle was unexceptional, according to one neighbour.
“He was a good guy,” says Stephen Oldford, 21. “He was a good, young fella.”
But a family friend, who asked not to be named, hinted at a troubled side. She said Steinke would start fights he couldn’t finish, often with older boys.
“He was likable kid,” adds the woman. “But he can be manipulative.”
In recent weeks, however, Steinke’s eccentric behaviour seemed to spiral.
His friend Jordan Attfield, 17, says he lived with Steinke for about three months but moved out after his buddy became increasingly agitated after breaking up with another girlfriend.
“And it started going downhill from there,” he says. “He would sit there and stare at nothing.”
Steinke then met the pretty 12-year-old girl at a punk show and the relationship seemingly blossomed. He often spoke of his love for the Grade 7 student with friends, insisting to some she was 14.
The infatuation seemed to know no limits. Friends say last Saturday his behaviour grew more erratic.
He made three phone calls to the home where his former roommate Attfield was living, looking for help to “scare” Marc Richardson.
“That morning he told me, ‘We’re doing it today.’ I was like, ‘What? You’re doing what?’ And he’s, like, ‘We’re going to kill (them),'” Attfield recalls.
But Attfield says he didn’t take his friend seriously.
Across town, meanwhile, there was no hint of trouble at the Richardson home.
Marc’s new, white truck shimmered in the driveway outside their two-storey, suburban house. It was a picture-perfect evening for a family barbecue.
Jacob’s friend from next door joined them for dinner that night, after Jacob had slept over at his little buddy’s home on Friday.
At about 8 p.m., Steinke arrived at Attfield’s residence to pick him up, but he wouldn’t go, wanting no part of any trouble.
Steinke slammed the door and left.
Clark, a friend who’d known Steinke for about five weeks, said he called the 23-year-old at around 10:45 p.m. to ask what he was up to.
“He said, ‘I’m watching a movie, I’ll have to call you back when I’m done,'” recounts Clark.
But he never did.
On Sunday, about 1:30 p.m., the nightmare scene at the Richardson home was unearthed.
Steinke and the girl left town with three friends, eventually taking the pock-marked road into Leader, no more than an hour away from the home of Steinke’s estranged father in Saskatchewan.
Crime scene investigators, dressed in white with hoods and foot coverings, descended upon the Richardsons’ property.
A crowd watched Monday as they began removing the bodies, wrapped in purple coverings, from the house at 4:38 p.m.
As time passed, a shrine of sorts began to appear on a corner of the home’s lawn as tribute to the family, growing nearly every day.
Throughout the week, relatives, friends and the people of Medicine Hat struggled to make sense of it all.
The connection between Steinke, a young man with no job living with his mother, and a junior high girl remains baffling to those outside the couple’s social circle.
A family friend says his interest in underaged girls was inappropriate.
“Mentally, I think he was so young,” the friend says.
His preference for teenaged friends paints a Svengali-like picture of Steinke only made clearer by the girls’ devotion to him.
When the accused killers appeared in court Tuesday afternoon in Medicine Hat, a number of Steinke’s young female friends filled the seats.
“I would have started crying if he’d looked at me,” says Meghan, who has only seen her friend in court since the Friday before the murders.
“He gave me a hug and said ‘See you later,'” she remembers.
“I’m going to hold him to the ‘see-you-later’ part.”