Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 7, 2011

Death of Bluefield youth remains mystery to police

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — At first, it was the case of a runaway boy. He was sighted in Bluefield and in neighboring McDowell County, but then the leads ran cold. Sightings were reported to the Bluefield Police Department, but there were no solid leads concerning his whereabouts. The case remained in limbo until a sad discovery sent it into a new direction.

Shawn Steptoe, 14, was reported missing May 17, 2004 by his father, Anthony Steptoe. He was living at 213 Union Street, and was last seen on May 17 between 5 and 6 p.m., said the investigator at the time, Lt. Tom Helton of the Bluefield Police Department. The teen left a note.

Authorities received tips about sightings of Steptoe in Mercer and McDowell counties, but the information did not lead to him. Then in early March 2005, an East Street resident found an unusual object. Days later, on March 12, 2005, two young boys walking down East Street kicked that object, but did not realize what it was until it rolled down the incline. The boys told their mother, who contacted police about what they had found.

It was a human skull. Police believe that a dog or some other animal brought the skull to East Street, said Detective C.S. Myers of the Bluefield Police Department. Dental records showed that it belonged to Steptoe.

“The skull was sent to the medical examiner, and he estimated that the time of death was either late summer or early fall of 2004. No cause of death has been determined as of yet. There was no evidence of any kind of injury to the skull, and the rest of the remains have yet to be found,” Myers said.

The skull was later sent to the Smithsonian Institution for more testing, but without any new results, he said.

After the skull was found, the police started seeking the rest of the skeleton; however, the area is not an easy one to search. All abandoned houses and other structures in the vicinity were checked without results.

“We’ve extensively searched the area where the skull was found. We’ve utilized four-wheelers, we’ve utilized the Army Reserve. People tried to do a walk-through search. We’ve used the FLIR system, which they can use to detect shallow graves, but with no luck,” Myers said. “At this time, we don’t have a cause of death, so we can’t rule it a homicide. Without the rest of the body, there’s no way to determine if there was foul play or not. We’ve done extensive interviews in McDowell County and here. He was a runaway and we had information that he was hanging around in McDowell County. We were down there checking with people, but there was nothing concrete we could nail down.”

Police have yet to call in any cadaver dogs, which can locate graves, because the area to be searched is so large, Myers said. It is a section of land with a radius of five miles in Bluefield which holds approximately 40 percent of the city.

“It wouldn’t help until we can narrow it down to a smaller area,” he said.

Anyone with information can report it anonymously by calling the Bluefield Police Department at 304-327-6101.