The hunt for the claw-hammer killer
…he led cops on a chase from the US to the Soesdyke/Linden backlands
By Michael Jordan
It was pitch-black, cold and raining heavily when the men entered the track off the Soesdyke/Linden highway. The rain-soaked group included armed police ranks, led by homicide boss, Michael Marks, and an informant who had promised to lead them to a dangerous fugitive who always seemed to be one step ahead of the lawmen.
They hoped that the rainfall would muffle the sound of their approach, and that this time around, they would get the man some US reporters had dubbed the claw-hammer killer.
They could just as well have called him the Halloween murderer.
The story began on October 30, 1990, in Saginaw County, in the state of Michigan. Bertha Aldridge, 18, and George Bowles, 23, were in the Perry Drug Store, where they worked, when a man with a claw-hammer attacked them. The hammer-wielding attacker struck Aldridge and Bowles repeatedly in their heads.
Harold Epting, a 61-year-old employee, reportedly heard a woman’s screams and on investigating, saw his two mortally wounded colleagues on the floor. The man with the hammer then attacked Epting, but although injured, Epting managed to escape.
The intruder allegedly then removed US$40 from the cash register and fled the scene.
A post mortem would show that Bertha Aldridge had sustained 19 ‘bashing-in blows’ which punctured her skull. Her colleague, George Bowles, was struck six times. He also suffered a broken jaw and died of cardiac arrest caused by brain damage.
Epting and another eyewitness identified the killer as 30-year-old Steven King.
King, a Guyanese by birth, was also a former US paratrooper, who was employed as a cashier and stock worker at the same drug store where the killings had occurred.
But King was nowhere to be found. Police in the US received information which suggested that the suspect had fled to his homeland. They contacted their counterparts in Guyana.
The local cops got word that Steven King was hiding out at relatives in Grove, East Bank Demerara.
The detectives staked out two houses in the community. They learned that the fugitive had indeed been around, but, apparently tipped off, had fled. But just as the trail appeared to be getting cold, they learned from an informant that King was hiding out in the vast backlands off the Soesdyke/Linden Highway.
According to the informant, some of the suspect’s relatives were supplying him with meals. Police had another stroke of luck when they arrested a male cousin of King’s. The man confessed that King had a hideout in a densely-forested area off the highway. He finally agreed to take the hunting party there. However, he warned that the ex-soldier they were tracking had an uncanny ability to detect the slightest of sound in the jungle.
At nightfall, in almost total darkness, the informant led detective Michael Marks and his team down a meandering trail, in which an occasional snake was picked out by flashlight. Finally, they came upon a small clearing in which a cot had been set up. A man was lying on the cot. He appeared to be fast asleep.
While one man guarded the reluctant informant, four other ranks pounced upon the sleeping man, who awoke with a scream. The captive was Steven King. A search of the camp revealed several months’ supply of canned food.
During the ensuing months, King waged a battle in the High Court to avoid extradition. But in April 1992, handcuffed and flanked by armed policemen, Steven King was taken aboard a US-bound flight to face trial for murder and robbery.
During the trial, 61-year-old survivor Harold Epting testified that King was the individual who had attacked him. Denying this, King said that he saw Epting between two men in ski-masks. He alleged that one of the men struck Epting with a tyre iron, while the other, who had a claw-hammer, kicked the elderly man as he lay on the floor. The accused also claimed that the hammer was knocked from the man’s hand as he fled with his accomplice. King claimed that Epting’s spectacles had fallen off, and that he handed the man his glasses and Epting then left the store.
According to the accused, he then went to the storeroom and saw the bodies of Aldridge and Bowles. King claimed that he didn’t go to the police because he knew that no one would believe him.
The accused also denied telling investigators ‘I killed two people in 20 seconds and I can kick your (expletive) too.’ According to King, what he had in fact said was: ‘How can you say that I killed two people in 20 seconds?’
King’s attorney also suggested that the investigators had framed his client.
Testifying at his trial, King’s girlfriend described him as a hard worker who squirreled away his money. She denied trying to assist in his escape.
On January 3, 1993, Steven King was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
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