Cleveland’s dubious claims to fame

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.


  1. says

    I’m sure we can look forward to lots of penetrating deep thoughts from the media about the media’s involvement in crimes that play to the media. They’re really good at thinking and talking about that kind of thing.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Elliot Ness, who later became famous as an FBI investigator …


    Ness started out his law enforcement career in the Treasury Department, then moved to the Justice Dept -- not the FBI, but a now-defunct ad-hoc agency called the Bureau of Prohibition.

    The BoP sent him to Chicago, where he became famous, then (after Prohibition was Repealed) to Cincinnati, where he pursued moonshiners in three states (still for the Justice Dept). In 1935,

    Ness landed a new job in December of 1935 as the investigator in charge of the Treasury Department’s Alcoholic Tax Unit in northern Ohio. … Fifteen officials were brought to trial including a deputy inspector, two captains, two lieutenants and a sergeant. Two hundred police officers were forced to turn in their resignations.

    Eventually (a cynic would have to say “inevitably”, but there’s nobody like that around here, is there?), his reputation picked up some tarnish:

    … Ness’s character was questioned after he assembled a team of policemen who used their clubs on strikers, creating chaos and injuries resulting in over 100 hospitalized strikers. … The Torso Murder, in which a serial killer dismembered his victims and threatened the city of Cleveland from 1935 to 1938, caused citizens to become outraged. With the pressure increasing, Ness decided to conduct a raid in an area where homeless people gathered and where the criminal was suspected of living. Finding no evidence there, Ness ordered all of those gathered there arrested and their places of settlement burned. … Ironically, his reputation was severely damaged when news of a car accident due to intoxication was released.

    There goes Gloria Monday!

  3. hyphenman says


    If Steven Stephens had not posted the murder of Godwin—along with what now looks like the false claim of other murders—to Facebook, we would most likely have never heard a peep out of the local press or the Cleveland Police Department as the death of Godwin was written off to just another Black-On-Black crime.

    I would challenge anyone to recite the list of murders in Cleveland so far in 2017, none of which received the attention of Godwin’s.

    Facebook is making lots of noise, but nothing will change there as Zuckerberg (and others) tap dance until the next attention grabbing squirrel!-moment comes along.

    Stephens just taught the next generation of celebrity-seeking killers how to grab air time.


  4. quotetheunquote says

    Comments sections, comments sections, *groan* when will I ever learn to ignore them? (that’s rhetoric, ‘k?)

    Over on _______news, comments on this story were about half expressing some version of “what a bad man Zuckerburg is for making money off this.” Some even went so far as to say that FB is responsible for the shooting; to which I say, FU buddy, I have no fondness for Facebook, but saying this is just denying that killers have agency.

    Meanwhile, there are one or two posts about gun manufacturers being responsible for, and profiting from, human death.

    For the gun makers to deny their culpability is a bit like cigarette manufacturers saying “we just make them, it’s not like we’re going into people’s homes and forcing them to actually light the damned things!”


    P.S. What the hell is it with Cleveland?

    I grew up, and now work, in a medium-sized city in Canada. As of the end of March, there had been 3 homicides this year. That’s in a city of over 500,000 people -- Cleveland is significantly smaller, and had 30 in the same period; WTF?

    (As the Guess Who sang it, “Guns,guns, guns…”)

  5. hotshoe_ says

    Cheryl Wheeler wrote a song about that, in 1998 after a school shooting, seems just as pertinent today:

    Complete lyrics are:

    Maybe it’s the movies, maybe it’s the books
    Maybe it’s the bullets, maybe it’s the real crooks
    Maybe it’s the drugs, maybe it’s the parents
    Maybe it’s the colors everybody’s wearin
    Maybe it’s the President, maybe it’s the last one
    Maybe it’s the one before that, what he done
    Maybe it’s the high schools, maybe it’s the teachers
    Maybe it’s the tattooed children in the bleachers
    Maybe it’s the Bible, maybe it’s the lack
    Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the crack
    Maybe it’s the hairdos, maybe it’s the TV
    Maybe it’s the cigarettes, maybe it’s the family
    Maybe it’s the fast food, maybe it’s the news
    Maybe it’s divorce, maybe it’s abuse
    Maybe it’s the lawyers, maybe it’s the prisons
    Maybe it’s the Senators, maybe it’s the system
    Maybe it’s the fathers, maybe it’s the sons
    Maybe it’s the sisters, maybe it’s the moms
    Maybe it’s the radio, maybe it’s road rage
    Maybe El Nino, or UV rays
    Maybe it’s the army, maybe it’s the liquor
    Maybe it’s the papers, maybe the militia
    Maybe it’s the athletes, maybe it’s the ads
    Maybe it’s the sports fans, maybe it’s a fad
    Maybe it’s the magazines, maybe it’s the internet
    Maybe it’s the lottery, maybe it’s the immigrants
    Maybe it’s taxes, big business
    Maybe it’s the KKK and the skinheads
    Maybe it’s the communists, maybe it’s the Catholics
    Maybe it’s the hippies, maybe it’s the addicts
    Maybe it’s the art, maybe it’s the sex
    Maybe it’s the homeless, maybe it’s the banks
    Maybe it’s the clearcut, maybe it’s the ozone
    Maybe it’s the chemicals, maybe it’s the car phones
    Maybe it’s the fertilizer, maybe it’s the nose rings
    Maybe it’s the end, but I know one thing.
    If it were up to me, I’d take away the guns.

    Of course, that doesn’t explain why Cleveland in particular …

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