The city of Cleveland has many desirable features. But these tend to be overshadowed by the many macabre criminal stories that have become associated with it that have garnered national and international attention. There were the so-called headless torso serial killings involving at least twelve victims back in the 1930s. Elliot Ness, who later became famous as an FBI investigator was police chief at the time. Then there was the Sam Sheppard case in 1954 that was reportedly the basis of the hit TV series and film The Fugitive.
And then more recently we had the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer cannibalism case, Ariel Castro who kidnapped and kept three young women in a home in a densely populated area for a decade, and the case of Anthony Sowell who murdered and buried as many as eleven women in his house and back yard.
And then this past weekend we had the bizarre case of Steve Stephens, who on Sunday posted on Facebook a video of him randomly selecting an elderly man walking along the street and telling him that he was going to shoot him and then doing so.
Stephens selected his victim seemingly at random as the retired foundry worker looked for scrap aluminum cans along East 93rd Street in the city’s Glenville neighborhood, filmed the shooting and posted it on Facebook, police said.
In the video, Stephens approached Godwin and made him say the name of his own estranged girlfriend. The demand puzzled Godwin, who was shot at almost point-blank range with a pistol.
Stephens reportedly killed himself at around 11:00 am today following a brief pursuit by police after being spotted in a McDonald’s parking lot in Erie, PA. Given that he did not seem to have planned his escape in any great detail, I was surprised that he was able elude detection and capture for nearly 48 hours, even though he and the car he was driving were identified almost immediately.
This case is another example of the dangerous combination that exists when people who are frustrated and depressed and seek to lash out at the world have easy access to guns.
Stephens was described by others who knew him as a funny and quiet man. He had no criminal history outside of a handful of traffic infractions.
However, his financial troubles are far more serious.
Court records show Stephens declared bankruptcy in 2015 and has faced lawsuits from several creditors seeking to collect payments on credit card debt and rent. In January, he was evicted from his Euclid apartment.
Stephens also detailed his affinity for gambling in one of his multiple Facebook posts, stating that gambling had caused him to “lose everything” and left him “out of options.”
“The past year’s been really [expletive] up for me,” Stephens said in a video, shortly before police said he killed Godwin. “You know, being with [his estranged girlfriend] drove me crazy, started making me gamble. I lost everything. I lost everything I have. I don’t have [expletive]. I’m out of options.”
Stephens spent at least part of his childhood living at a house on East 85th Street in Cleveland. Neighbors who knew him then said Stephens did not make much of an impression, other than when he would walk outside with a large pet snake wrapped around his neck.
“As he got older, he got a little more weird, just his mannerisms and the way he carried himself,” neighbor Tony Henderson said.
The bizarre nature of this story garnered international attention and there are going to be plenty of debates about why people use social media to not just vent their frustrations to the world but to also broadcast their intentions about causing harm to others and then also the act of doing so, and whether the existence of this outlet actually encourages such actions.