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Steffey

IN THE SHADOWS: Jo Ann Steffey was sure the man who lived down the street from her Tampa home looked just like the suspect wanted by the police. But she did not know whether to report her hunch until the night she looked through her kitchen window and saw the man standing near the end of her driveway, staring in her direction.


Chapter 3 Neighbors

One night, when he could take it no longer, Hal Rogers grabbed a spade and a shovel and drove to the cemetery.

He knew others would not understand. But he did not care.

He wanted to know if it was really Jo and the girls sleeping in the ground.

For months, Hal had been tormented with the notion that the three bodies flown up from Florida the previous summer were not his wife and daughters. After all, the bodies had been identified in Pinellas County, through dental records sent from Ohio, and had been shipped in sealed containers that had never been opened, not even at the funeral home in Van Wert County. There had been no chance for Hal or anyone else who knew Jo and Michelle and Christe to look at the bodies and say, yes, that is them.

The same questions kept running through Hal's mind. What if the authorities in Florida were wrong? What if there had been a terrible mistake, and the bodies were those of three other women, and his own family was alive somewhere?

"It's not them," he told his friends.

The idea plagued him. He could not even bring himself to buy headstones for the three graves. Months after the funeral, they were still distinguished only by copper markers embedded in the ground.

Finally Hal decided he had no choice but to dig them up. No matter how horrible it would be, he had to see for himself.

He drove to Zion Lutheran cemetery in his pickup truck, the spade and shovel in the back. He got out and stepped over the fence surrounding the tiny property and its rows of graves, some of them dating back as far as the 1830s. The place was empty and silent.

Hal found the markers for Jo and the girls and sat in the grass. He stayed there for what seemed like a long time, thinking and wondering and trying to find the strength to do what was in his heart.

Then it hit him. If he carried through on this, people would think he had snapped. He would probably be sent to an institution, taken away from his farm and his home and everything he had shared with Jo and the girls. Plus, the episode would be all over the news, a spectacular display of untrammeled grief, perfect for the front page.

"This is exactly what those bastards at the newspaper really want," Hal said to himself. "This would make a good story here."

He stood up, got his tools and walked back to the truck.

***

The man was out there.

It was about 10 o'clock on a Saturday evening. Jo Ann Steffey had just gone inside the kitchen of her Tampa home, where the composite drawing still hung on her refrigerator. She was convinced that the face in the drawing belonged to her neighbor two houses down on Dalton Avenue. She had been staring at the composite for weeks; cut out from the newspaper, it was starting to curl and yellow. Now she was debating whether to report her hunch to the police. Trying to decide, she had shown the composite to a friend.

"Look at it," she said. "Doesn't it look just like him?"

composite


THE FACE: This is the composite drawing, released in November 1989, of the man suspected of raping the Canadian tourist and murdering the Rogers women.


Her friend did not think so. At least, he didn't think the composite looked anything more like the neighbor than like 10,000 other people with blond hair. He told her she should be careful making such accusations; she could ruin an innocent man's life.

Her friend's warning held Steffey back. Besides, she wasn't eager to have her name dragged into something so frightening.

Then, that Saturday night, Steffey walked into her kitchen and looked out the window toward the street. Suddenly she caught her breath. There, standing in the grass near the edge of her driveway, was the very neighbor she suspected.

He was maybe 35 feet away. She could see him clearly, because there was a streetlight nearby, illuminating the scene. She could not tell what he was doing, but he was looking in her direction.

Steffey rushed to turn off the lights. She stepped back into the shadows and kept her eyes fixed on the man. He was still standing in the grass, gazing toward her house. For what seemed like a long time, the two of them stood there motionless. Finally the man turned and called out a name. A little, fuzzy, white dog answered the call, and then he and the dog walked away.

When the man was gone, Steffey sat down, terrified. That was it. She could not ignore her feelings about the neighbor any longer.

Neighbors continued  

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