The suspect accused of killing a 74-year-old man in Cleveland and then posting a video of the coldblooded slaying on Facebook shot and killed himself Tuesday in Pennsylvania as police were closing in, authorities said.
Steve W. Stephens, the subject of a rapidly expanding nationwide manhunt following the horrific slaying Sunday in Ohio, was spotted by Pennsylvania State Police troopers in Erie County on Tuesday morning, the agency announced.
“A traffic stop was attempted, there was a brief pursuit, at which time Stephens shot and killed himself,” Pennsylvania State Police Communications Director Ryan Tarkowski said.
Tarkowski said a coroner was en route to the scene of the shooting in Erie County, which is less than 100 miles from Cleveland.
“We have our closure,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference in Ohio.
Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams said police received a tip around 11 a.m. that Stephens’ Ford Fusion was in a McDonald’s parking lot in Erie County.
When officers confronted Stephens, he fled in his vehicle before later being stopped, the chief said, adding that “as the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life.”
Williams expressed regret that the three-day pursuit of Stephens “ended with suspect suicide,” noting that “we have so many questions.”
Investigators don’t know yet whether Stephens was being harbored by someone while he was missing; Williams noted that the area where Stephens was found is “remote” with “lots of places to hide.”
“We would like to have brought in Steven peacefully and really talk to him and find out why this happened,” Williams said.
The chief said the case started with one tragedy and ended with another. “A loss of life is a loss of life,” he said.
Authorities had issued a warrant for Stephens on a charge of aggravated murder and were offering up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest.
But the 37-year-old suspect, who was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted, spent parts of three days eluding local, state and federal law enforcement officers amid an intensifying manhunt.
FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Tuesday, hours before Stephens killed himself, that he could be anywhere.
“We’ve received numerous tips from all over, and we’re very appreciative, but none of them have turned out to be him,” Anderson told The Washington Post. “So you’re going to see law enforcement activity who knows where.”
At a Tuesday morning news conference in Cleveland, not long before the encounter in Pennsylvania, Williams said authorities had received nearly 400 tips from as far away as Texas. There had been rumored and reported sightings in Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, but none of those reports were publicly confirmed by the authorities.
Williams urged people who believed they had seen Stephens to call 911, but said those with information that may lead to an arrest should call the FBI tip line.
“I don’t think the investigation is stalled,” Williams said. “These things can take two days, they can take two weeks, they can take two years. It depends on the individual that’s out there, it depends on their mind-set and what they’re planning on doing, and, like I stated yesterday, it depends on if they’re getting assistance or not. When people go on the run like this, at some point in time, they need help.”
The police chief had told reporters Monday: “We’re still asking Steve to turn himself in, but if he doesn’t, we’ll find him. We’re not going to stop until he’s in custody.”
“If there’s somebody that’s helping Steve, or if you think you’re helping Steve, you’re really not,” he added. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble, along with him. The only way for you to help him is to give us the information to bring him in safely, peacefully.”
Then the police chief had addressed Stephens directly: “Steve, if you’re out there listening, call someone — whether it’s a friend or family member or pastor — give them a call; they’re waiting for you to call them.”
Authorities said Stephens pulled up in his Ford Fusion on a road in East Cleveland about 2 p.m. Sunday and then said in the Facebook-bound recording: “I found somebody I’m about to kill.”
“I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” Stephens said as he approached Robert Godwin Sr., who was reportedly collecting aluminum cans.
“Can you do me a favor?” Stephens said to Godwin before asking him to say the name “Joy Lane.”
“Joy Lane?” Godwin responded.
“Yeah,” Stephens replied. “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.”
The chilling video showed Stephens ask Godwin how old he was, raise a gun and pull the trigger. The camera spun around; when the picture came into focus, Godwin was on the ground.
Authorities said the men did not know each other.
In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people, police said, although they have not confirmed other victims.
In a second video, Stephens was seen on his cellphone, telling someone to go online to watch the footage.
“I can’t talk to you right now. I f——- up, man,” he said.
“I shamed myself,” he added in a video posted by Cleveland.com. “I snapped. Dog, I just snapped, dog. I just snapped. I just killed 13 motherf———, man. That’s what I did — I killed 13 people. And I’m about to keep killing until they catch me, f—- it … I’m working on 14 as we speak.”
Stephens said he was killing people because of Lane.
“She put me at my pushing point, man,” Stephens said in the video, laughing and calling it the “Easter Sunday Joy Lane massacre.”
CBS News reported that it communicated with Lane via text message.
“We had been in a relationship for several years,” she wrote, according to the network. “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.”
Williams, the police chief, said Lane is safe and has been cooperating with investigators.
“We’ve interviewed several people involved in this, and I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for what happened,” Williams told reporters Monday. “I don’t think there’s anything we can point to specifically to say that this is what sparked this. Only Steve knows that.”
Washington Post writers Travis M. Andrews and Fred Barbash contributed to this report.