Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Where is Professor Stees?
Where is Professor Stees?
by Robert A. Waters
On February 21, 1970, Gene Isaac Stees walked away from the state prison in Columbus, Ohio and disappeared. He’d been convicted of bludgeoning his pregnant wife and dumping her body in Dow Lake, near Athens. For 38 years, he’s escaped justice. Today, if he’s still living, he would be 76.
It was a classic love triangle. Gene Stees, 31, a professor at Ohio University, and his wife, Helen, 30, had separated because of his dalliance with a third woman. Patricia Weathers had caught his eye. Married and with three children, local newspapers described Weathers as “svelt,” “doe-eyed,” and “beautiful.”
Gene and Helen had met at Grace College in Indiana where both were students. They married in 1955. A nurse, she worked to put him through school. He obtained his Master’s Degree from the University of Indiana and began working toward his doctorate. During the course of their marriage, Gene and Helen had two children.
While attending classes at the university, Stees met Weathers and they became lovers. She later testified that he told her he was divorcing his wife. After the divorce was legal, he said, they would get married.
A few months before the murder, Stees took a job as an assistant professor at Ohio University in Athens. He rented a small farmhouse and moved in with his lover.
On October 20, 1962, Helen, who was living with her parents in Ashland, Ohio, arranged to meet her husband in Athens. She told them she hoped they could work out their problems and reconcile. (Weathers had flown to Florida to see her husband and children.) The next day, when Helen didn’t come home, her parents called police.
Investigators found a pool of blood on the seat of Stees’ car. An article from the Athens Messenger describes his confession: “Shortly after [Gene and Helen] arrived at the farm, Stees [said he] struck his wife in the head with a crow bar and then pulled a plastic bag over her head. That night, he stuffed her body into a metal drum, placed it in his station wagon and drove to the upper end of Dow Lake. There he carried the barrel to a boat, lifted it into the craft, rowed out into the lake near where the swimming area is located, and dumped the metal coffin with his wife’s body over the side.”
At the trial, prosecutors established two motives for the slaying: the desire to marry his lover and the fact that at their last meeting Helen had informed Stees that she had become pregnant.
The evidence was overwhelming and Stees was convicted of “first degree with mercy.” That meant he wouldn’t face the death penalty, but he would have to serve life without the possibility of parole for twenty years.
Stees entered the Ohio Penitentiary on February 14, 1963. He was a model inmate and was eventually transferred to the records office, where he became a clerk. The job had two major benefits for Stees: first, instead of wearing striped prison clothes, he dressed in khakis, much like blue collar workers on the outside; second, the records section was only a few feet from the door that led outside.
On February 18, 1970, almost exactly seven years after entering prison, Stees simply walked out the door and vanished.
Several glitches in prison protocol gave him a head-start. Although Stees was thought to have left the prison in the morning, a head count wasn’t made until late in the afternoon. Once he was reported missing, the Ohio State Police wasn’t notified until three days later. By that time, the trail had run cold.
Where did he go after his escape? Did he have help? Police interrogated Patricia Weathers but found no sign that she had ever contacted Stees after he was arrested for the murder. In fact, she made up with her husband and had lived in Florida since 1963.
The best guess is that Stees had saved some money from his job. (He made a few cents an hour.) On the day he vanished, he may have taken his money, walked out onto Spring Street, a busy thoroughfare, and blended in with construction workers nearby. Had he boarded a Greyhound bus, he could have been anywhere within a few hours.
Athens County Sheriff Harold Shields, who arrested Stees, often transported prisoners to the penitentiary. While there, he spoke with Stees, who helped with the paperwork for the new inmates, on many occasions. Several times Stees spoke of his interest in Australia. Shields always maintained that Stees could have easily caught a bus to Canada, changed his name, and migrated to Australia.
While it was possible that Stees had outside help, prison officials regularly monitored all inmates’ mail and phone calls. They never got an indication that he had any friends on the outside.
For years, Ohio officials and the FBI searched for Stees. The FBI eventually closed their books on him. However, his 1960s-style mug is still shown on the Ohio cold case website.
Is the deadly professor still alive? Or is he lying in some anonymous grave? It’s a mystery that may never be solved.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 5:06 PM