It was a $5.35 order of McNuggets and fries that ultimately led to the death of Steve Stephens in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
Stephens was on the run since Easter Sunday when he shot and killed 74-year old Robert Godwin Snr, before uploading the horrific video to his Facebook profile. Stephens didn’t know Godwin, nor had they ever met before, the elderly father of nine was simply selected at random after Stephens had a row with his girlfriend.
He’d been on the run since the horrific attack in Ohio and police had warned that he could be in any of the four neighbouring states (Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan). Police received a first clue as to Stephens’ whereabouts on Monday when his phone pinged near the city of Erie, Pennsylvania.
This allowed them to narrow their search area and to circulate Stephens’ picture and personal information amongst local law enforcement officials. The horrific murder had also garnered huge media attention meaning Stephens’ face was well and truly out there. It was only a matter of time before someone recognised him.
That someone was a McDonald’s drive-thru cashier in Erie. They recognised Stephens pulling up in a white Ford Fusion, and served the alleged murderer as he ordered a box of 20 McNuggets, and a portion of large fries. The bill was $5.35.
The cashier at the ordering window immediately dialled 911 and alerted his branch manager. Stephens then pulled up to the second window (where you receive your order), where restaurant owner Thomas DuCharme Jr. stalled him by telling him there was a delay with the fries.
A clearly irate Stephens refused to wait and grabbed his McNuggets before speeding out of the parking lot, nearly knocking over Gail Wheeler, a retail operations manager from Erie, who had just been inside the McDonald’s.
“Two seconds later, I hear these sirens, and they suddenly come whipping past me,” Wheeler told the Associated Press. She jumped in her car and followed as several police cars chased Stephens’ Ford Fusion down the road.
Wheeler said the cars were doing about 50-miles per hour (mph) initially, but as the road narrowed from four lanes to two the speed dropped to around 20 mph, allowing one of the pursuing police cars to nudge Stephens’ bumper.
His car spun out several times and ended up parallel to the curb and about 20 metres in front of the patrol cars, which were now parked up. The offices had started to get out of their cars when “I heard a shot, it was loud and distinctive,” said Wheeler. Stephens had turned his gun on himself.
“The next thing I know, the officers are approaching the car. The first officer shook his head. He was closest to the car… the others officers lowered their guns.”
Following news of Stephens’ death, his ex-girlfriend (whom Stephens had claimed “was the reason this is happening to you” before executing 74-year old Godwin) met with two of Godwin’s nine children.
Joy Lane, Stephens’ ex, told CNN: “I feel bad. The last thing that he [Robert Godwin Snr] would have said was my name and he didn’t know me or why he was saying it. And that’s been difficult.”
Lane said that she had dated Stephens for a while and had talked about engagement, but they broke up and she urged him to seek help for a gambling addiction. He spoke of quitting his job and leaving the state before committing the atrocity on Easter Sunday.
“We’re grateful that this has ended.” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said to a press conference. “We would have preferred that it didn’t end this way because there are a lot of questions, I’m sure, that not only the family, but the city in general would have had for Steve.”
Godwin Snr will be laid to rest at small service on Saturday.