FAMILY THAT FLED WITH SON RAN INTO A NEW NIGHTMARE
By Sarah Nordgren, Associated Press Writer
Leave a comment
On St. Patrick’s Day, Roger and Gayle Pfiel relaxed at a party – a respite from their waking nightmare, the murder accusation against their youngest son that had hung over their family for more than a year.
They returned home to find a cataclysm.Six squad cars and two ambulances lined the pothole-scarred rural road that separated their large and isolated Tudor home from a fallow cornfield.
Inside, their elder son lay dead, beaten with a baseball bat, his throat slashed with a meat cleaver. A young family member, the one whose hysterical telephone call had summoned help, had been raped.
For a family that already had too much grief to bear, there was one more terrible blow in store.
Police told them it was not an intruder who was responsible for the violence, but Steven – the baby-faced, 18-year-old son who had been charged with killing a young girl 20 months before.
The son for whom they posted a $100,000 bond and moved the family to the rural home when the taunts and glares of neighbors became too much. The son who, days later, penned a note to his parents from a jail cell.
“Mom and dad,” Steven Pfiel wrote, “now I’ve killed two people.”
* * *
“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Pfiel once told his friend Ed Prasauskas, “to stab someone in the head with this?”
In his hands he held a knife. He had pulled it from under the car seat, Prasauskas told the Chicago Tribune.
After the murders, those who knew Steven Pfiel searched their memories for indications of murderous rage in a boy who was raised under comfortable circumstances, in a ranch house under towering oaks.
Prasauskas, 18, remembered seeing his friend smash his stereo speakers with a pool cue; others recalled that he had been arrested once for smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol outside of his home.
Pfiel reveled in shooting pool, riding in fast cars and cranking up the volume when he listened to metal bands. He ran with a fast crowd at Stagg High School, where his record was unremarkable.
Pfiel knew Hillary Norskog, though they were just acquaintances. Hillary was 13, about to enter high school.
She was just starting to spend evenings away from the watchful eyes of her single mother. On July 14, 1993, she kissed her mom goodbye; she would likely party with friends, she said, and spend the night with a girlfriend.
Hillary and her friends headed to Hidden Pond Woods in a nearby forest preserve. The teens sat at picnic tables, laughed, drank a couple beers. At some point, Hillary apparently decided against spending the night at her girlfriend’s. She left the forest preserve in time to meet her 10:30 curfew.
Friends say that Steven Pfiel, just turned 17, offered her a ride home.
Three days later, two people walking behind a subdivision of million dollar homes not far from Hidden Pond found Hillary’s 80-pound body in a field of weeds. Beaten, stabbed and too decomposed to immediately identify, investigators recognized the Jurassic Park T-shirt her mother had described.
“She was so tiny,” Norskog said. “She never had a chance.”
* * *
Steven was arrested July 20 outside of his family’s Palos Park home, a short car ride from Hillary’s condominium. He told police the blood red stains that covered the seats of his 1988 Chevrolet were Kool-Aid.
He remained behind bars until Oct. 3, when his parents posted $100,000 of a $1 million bond.
Although Hilary’s mother Marsha Norskog kept intense pressure on prosecutors and police, the case against Steven was delayed again and again as attorneys wrangled over DNA evidence and its admissibility.
The trial has been put off once again, until June 21. Pfiel has been found fit to stand trial, but prosecutors and defense attorneys say they are working on plea agreements in both the Norskog case and the murder and rape case.
Norskog has long been convinced of Steven’s guilt. Last November, as he left the courtroom, she leaned from her seat and hissed in a stage whisper, “Why don’t you go kill someone else? You’re already killing me.”
The Pfiels, meanwhile, sat behind their youngest son at every court hearing and continued to back him publicly.
Media scrutiny had become excruciating, and the Pfiels decided to move with their children to St. John, Ind., just across the stateline.
They changed their minds after St. John residents learned of the plan – Norskog acknowledges playing a role – and mounted a letter-writing campaign to urge the Pfiels to go elsewhere.
The family settled instead in rural Crete, more than 30 miles from Palos Park. The 4,500-square-foot house was purchased quietly, for about $200,000 in cash, through the Pfiel’s lawyer. He referred to his clients by first name only, said sources familiar with the negotiations.
“We thought they were in the federal witness protection program,” said a neighbor who requested anonymity.
Other than a rowdy teen party late last summer, neighbors say they kept to themselves, the Pfiels kept to themselves.
By several accounts, Steven remained tight with his brother Roger, older by one year. Roger defended his sibling against those who believed him guilty.
“They were really close,” said friend Shawn Baker.
* * *
On the night of March 17, Roger and Gayle Pfiel left home for the 50-mile drive to Chicago and the St. Patrick’s Day party. In the hours after they left, the Pfiel home became a slaughterhouse.
How it came to pass, police do not know. But at 7:13 a.m. on Saturday, they received a frantic call from a young female family member, asking for help.
By the time police arrived, Roger Pfiel was dead in a bedroom. Police say he had been bludgeoned and slashed. The young woman who alerted police had been raped. Steven Pfiel had fled the home, taking with him his father’s shotgun and two rifles, said a deputy chief.
Several hours later, Mayor Michael Einhorn heard a knock at the front door of Crete’s tiny Village Hall.
“I need to talk to somebody,” said a young man wearing a black Metallica T-shirt. “I think I’m in some trouble.”
The mayor called police, who arrested Steven Pfiel. Sheriff’s police say Steven made a full confession to his brother’s death but gave no motive.
Pfiel’s parents have not visited their son since the day they found their lives undone.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” said their attorney, Raymond Pijon. “I don’t think there’s any way to assess it. There are no magic words that make this go away.”
At his first court hearing after Roger Pfiel was killed, Steven was led through a phalanx of reporters on his way back to jail. “Steven, do you have anything to say?” shouted one of the reporters.
Steven lifted both handcuffed hands, the middle finger on each extended upwards.
QUIZ: Historic moments at BYU home football games
Steven Pfiel had always maintained that he didn’t murder a 13-year-old Palos Hills girl, and his older brother, Roger, had been his most vocal defender.
Authorities say that after standing over Roger’s slashed and bludgeoned body, Steven Pfiel took pen in hand in the early hours of March 18 and finally confronted his demons.
In a brief note to "Mom and Dad," Steven, 18, recounted that he had been drinking with Roger, 19, in the family’s Crete Township home, the two had fought and Steven "freaked out" and killed his brother.
"I now know I am guilty of two murders," he wrote in the note, which is now in the possession of law enforcement authorities.
The note promises to be a key piece of evidence in Pfiel’s upcoming murder trial for the July 1993 death of Hillary Norskog, whose brutally stabbed body was found in a Palos Township field three days after she disappeared.
"Steve was my friend. Hillary was my friend," said Kim Gagner, 16, who introduced the two and took heat for maintaining her friendship with Pfiel after the murder. "I didn’t think Steve would do something like that."
Now, she said, "I hate him. I hate his guts."
Pfiel is accused of beating his brother with a baseball bat, then slashing his throat with a meat cleaver while his parents were away for the night at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, authorities said. Afterward, he allegedly sexually assaulted another family member in the house.
Pfiel fled in a family pickup stocked with guns and camping gear at about 7 a.m. Five and a half hours later, Crete Mayor Michael Einhorn heard pounding on the front door of Village Hall.
"I think I’m in some trouble," a harried Pfiel told Einhorn.
Authorities charged Pfiel with one count of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault. He is being held in Cook County Jail.
When told of the note, Raymond Pijon, Pfiel’s lawyer in the Norskog case, said it could have a bearing on the case.
"Anything that a defendant says that is a statement against his interests or admission of sorts is damaging," he said. "On the other hand, sometimes such a thing could be helpful. It just depends on the nature of the defense."
Many former friends can pinpoint the moments when their faith in Pfiel was irrevocably shaken.
Ed Prasauskas, 18, of Lockport, had shrugged off the time when Pfiel, a few months before Hillary’s murder, pulled out a new hunting knife from underneath his car seat and said, "Wouldn’t it be cool to stab someone in the head with this?"
Prasauskas’ loyalty was tested again when Pfiel, now out on bail, suddenly started smashing his stereo speakers with a pool cue during a pool game in his bedroom-and then denied memory of the incident the next day.
Roger Romo, 19, of Orland Park was jolted a couple of months ago when he and several friends were visiting the Pfiel brothers at the Crete Township home where the family relocated last year. They’d been drinking beer outside when a shotgun blast shook the night, and they turned to find Pfiel clutching his father’s most powerful firearm.
"I thought, `No way. Somebody better get this out of his hands,’ " Romo said.
In hindsight, those who knew Pfiel point to landmines scattered throughout his past: a spoiled upbringing, his drinking and drug use, a thrill-seeking impulse and his use-’em-and-lose-’em way with girls. But although his behavior was sometimes odd, nothing could explain how the carefree Pfiel they knew squared with the vicious killer described by police.
"He did a lot of nutty things, but I know a lot of people who did a lot worse that didn’t commit murders," said Jake Ostrowski, 18, of Palos Park.
Pfiel is one of three children of Roger and Gayle Pfiel. He grew up in Palos Park in a sprawling ranch house with 1 1/2 acres shaded by towering oaks. His father is a high-ranking executive at a Chicago meat-packing company.
"He had everything you could ask for money-wise," said Anthony Gagner, 18, who has been a friend of Pfiel’s since 6th grade.
The Pfiel house was the site of frequent gatherings because Pfiel’s parents either stayed in the other wing of the house or were not at home, friends said.
"They let him get away with everything," one friend said.
Pfiel’s clique played pool in his bedroom, blared bands like Danzig, Pink Floyd and the Red Hot Chili Peppers from his stereo and jammed in the garage on his electric bass guitar.
At Stagg High School, Pfiel migrated toward a loose-knit group of "misfits" and "stoners" who liked to ditch school and hang around local forest preserves, where they drank beer, smoked marijuana and occasionally used LSD.
Ostrowski said Pfiel’s drug use could get excessive.
"One time I saw him at the lunch table in school take five hits of acid," he said. "This kid, he was going berserk."
On one drug-fogged night, Prasauskas said, he and Pfiel took turns speeding down Kean Avenue at 80 m.p.h., with the other clinging to the hood.
Pfiel’s risk-taking wasn’t limited to cars. Prasauskas said he once watched Pfiel and his brother take the "wussy" test, which involved holding a burning cigarette between their two forearms to see who would flinch first.
Pfiel’s arms and wrists were dotted with burns, friends said.
Still, most stressed, Pfiel didn’t often set himself apart from the crowd and usually seemed like a typical rebellious teenager.
"We never really liked school," said Anthony Gagner. "I think he was the one who got the worst grades of us all."
Stagg officials would not make any of Pfiel’s records available, but Principal Ross Cucio said, "To look at his school file, there was nothing that would indicate any violent behavior." He added that Pfiel’s only offenses were minor infractions like smoking.
Pfiel’s only previous arrest came on July 3, 1993-two weeks before he was charged with Norskog’s murder-when he was caught by police in front of his home with marijuana.
Pfiel was popular with girls but had a reputation for being persistent, though not violent, in his pursuit of sex.
"He was a little forceful with girls," said one former girlfriend, now 16. "(But) he was like any other teenage guy. He was a walking hormone."
On the night of Hillary’s murder, Pfiel and Hillary attended a party at Hidden Pond Woods Forest Preserve with 15 or 20 others. The group pushed two picnic tables together and sat around, some drinking beer or smoking marijuana, according to teenagers who were there.
Hillary came to the party with Pfiel and two others, but they weren’t dating, her friends said. Hillary had confided that she was interested in Pfiel, but he reportedly didn’t reciprocate.
"He said she was like his little sister, and he wouldn’t do anything to her," Kim Gagner said.
Friends said they last saw Hillary in Pfiel’s car. Three days later, her mutilated body was found in a field a few miles from her home.
Pfiel told police that red stains in his car was from Kool-Aid, but testing later revealed the stains were blood. Police also recovered a blood-stained knife and bloody clothes from Pfiel’s home.
He spent three months in Cook County Jail before his parents posted 10 percent of his $1 million bond to free him. Back in Palos Park, Pfiel rarely left his home despite a lack of court restrictions. He spent much of the time playing pool and practicing his bass guitar.
He also entertained a dwindling group of friends, for whom the arrest was an uncomfortable topic.
"It was all like no big deal for him," said John Grigus, 20, a friend of both brothers. "He was like, `I’m going to get off, I’m going to sue the papers, I’m going to be rich.’ "
Ostrowski recalled a time when he and several others were sitting around drinking beer with Pfiel in the Palos Park house. Pfiel’s mother surprised them, and said, "After all we’ve done for you, you’re going to ruin everything by letting your friends drink here."
Pfiel responded with an obscenity.
"His mom started crying right in front of us. I just decided we had to leave," Ostrowski said, adding that he was so disgusted that he never spoke to Pfiel again.
Last fall, the family moved to unincorporated Crete because of the publicity about the case. By this time, Pfiel had shed most of his friends and was rarely seen without Roger.
"A lot of Steve’s friends abandoned him, and a lot of Roger’s friends abandoned him for supporting Steve," said Chris Schumpp, 17, a former friend.
Romo recalled that the Pfiel brothers had a rare party a few months ago and invited a group of local girls. When Pfiel told them that he’d been charged with murder, Romo said, "they took off in a minute," leaving Steven, Roger and a few friends from his old haunts.
"I don’t know why he killed Roger," said Grigus. "He was his only friend out there."
‘Carp cowboys’ round up invasive Asian carp as Illinois, federal officials debate costly measures to protect Lake Michigan
ESPN returns ‘SportsCenter’ to its roots: ‘I think we miscalculated a little bit’
George W. Bush offers emotional eulogy for his father, a fellow president: ‘Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand’
© 2018, Chicago Tribune
- Sexual Assault
- Palos Hills