As the manhunt for suspected killer Steve Stephens has nationwide, a picture of him has emerged which paints him as an exasperated person with heavy financial burdens, a gambling addiction and relationship problems that drove him to snap, resulting in a heinous killing that he posted to Facebook.
A $50,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to his capture, said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams.
Stephens, 37, who reportedly worked with youth at a suburban Cleveland social services agency, recorded himself driving along a street on the east side of Cleveland on Sunday looking for a random person to kill over his frustrations. He came across Robert Godwin Sr., 74, who was picking up aluminum cans as he walked from an Easter Sunday dinner with some of his children. “Can you do me a favor,” Stephens said. “Can you say ‘Joy Lane’?” Goodwin looked confused in the video and held a plastic bag up saying he did not know any such person while Stephens pointed a gun at him. “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.” He then pulled the trigger, killing him.
The disturbing video had been posted on Facebook for a few hours before it was taken down and Stephens’ account deactivated. But he also posted another video in which he was speaking on a cellphone to an unknown person complaining about his life. “I’m at the point where I snapped,” he said in the phone conversation. “Every time I try to talk to y’all [expletive], man, y’all always [expletive] blow me off…I got a lot of built in anger and frustration, man.” It is unclear if the person he was speaking with knew of the shooting.
Stephens’ problems stretch back to at least 2012 when he was sued in a municipal court over unpaid credit card debt, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which led to his wages later being garnisheed. He filed for bankruptcy in January 2015, declaring $35,000 in debts. He emerged from bankruptcy in August 2015. Last year the managers of an apartment in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, began eviction proceedings against him. They dropped the eviction claim, but sued him for $1,800 in back rent. In January of this year, he was evicted over failure to pay his rent.
In a different Facebook post, Stephens said he gambled away his money at a Cleveland casino. “I lost everything I ever had due to gambling,” he said on the post. “The past year’s been really [expletive] up for me.” He complained that his relationship with the woman he referred to had fallen apart, and that it “started making me gamble. I lost everything. I lost everything I have. I don’t have [expletive]. I’m out of options.”
The girlfriend, Joy Lane, sent CBS News a text on Monday, confirming they had been romantically involved. “We had been in a relationship for several years,” she wrote. “I am sorry that all of this has happened. My heart & prayers goes out to the family members of the victim(s). Steve really is a nice guy… he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children. This is a very difficult time for me and my family Please respect our privacy at this time.”
She has been in police protective custody and authorities say she is being “fully cooperative.”
Stephens visited his mother on Saturday and said her “If you see me again, it’ll be a miracle,” she told CNN. Later when she called him, he told her he was shooting people because he was “mad with his girlfriend,” but the conversation was cut off as her phone died.
Police have issued an aggravated murder warrant for Stephens and are warning residents of Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan as well as Ohio to be on alert. A signal from Stephens phone was picked up at a tower in Erie, Pennsylvania, but no signs of him have turned up there.
Supposed sightings of him in Philadelphia and Virginia turned out to be false.