If Stephen Had Done It Right …

This isn’t going to win me any friends. As a general precaution, be forewarned:  the following presents a rather sensational murder trial in a not too sensitive light.  It discusses how killers – the ones who get caught – are pretty moronic individuals, and how with a little forethought, they could not be caught.  First time visitors, brace yourselves.

Stephen Grant isn’t crazy.

He may have experienced a moment of disconnection from reality (and really, who hasn’t) the instant he wrapped a belt around his wife’s neck and strangled her to death, but everything that happened after that wasn’t insanity.  Incomprehensible panic – maybe.  Over-thinking the situation to the point of stupidity – absolutely.

Today begins the murder trial of Stephen Grant accused of killing his wife, Tara, and dismembering her body in the winter of 2007.  Jury selection begins today and over the next few days the judge will probably be hearing a motion for a change of venue, more than likely Wisconsin, because unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year, there’s no way any citizen of the State of Michigan hasn’t heard the salacious details of this case.  The facts are as follows: On the night of February 9, 2007, Tara and Stephen argued.  She was looking to divorce him and take the kids, perhaps to start a new life with whomever she may or may not have been having an affair with.  Okay, that last part is conjecture, but the fact remains that she was extremely unhappy and wanted a divorce.  The way Stephen acted over the subsequent weeks, you could sort of see why.  The smarmy attitude, cracking jokes at his “missing” wife’s expense, it was obvious to the casual eye that he was a passive-aggressive bully.  You almost hoped Tara had run away and found something better and would send for her kids later.

The divorce would have been bad for Stephen for two reasons, first and foremost the loss of his children, whom he took primary care of because he was a stay at home dad and Tara pulled in the big bucks.  The money, because she was the primary bread-winner, was probably a close second on his list of Bad Reasons, although Stephen’s father owned a tool and die shop and he probably could have gained employment from there.  It wouldn’t have been stay-at-home dad money, but he still could have seen his kids.  It started as a heated discussion, which became an argument.  The argument escalated from “I’m leaving you forever” to the kind of disagreement that ends with the husband standing over his wife’s body with a belt around her neck.  How she died and who killed her are not in dispute.  If you search properly, you can probably find the sixty-five (65) page confession of Stephen Grant someplace on the Internet.  I heard parts of it on the radio this morning which prompted this post.  Stephen’s defense will be insanity.  The prosecution is going for First Degree Premeditated Murder and Dismemberment of a Corpse.

It was what happened next and Stephen’s supposed frame of mind that will determine whether or not Stephen goes away for the rest of his life.  Frankly, they’re both wrong.  Stephen wasn’t crazy, and the prosecution will have a tough time trying to prove Stephen planned to kill his wife before he did it.  The dismemberment part is a gimme, but dismembering a corpse does not constitute premeditation.

After he killed his wife (again, not in dispute), he spent a considerably amount of time trying to figure out what to do with her body.  A considerable amount of time.  This was ultimately his undoing.  This is not premeditation – it’s blind panic with shades of abject stupidity.

First, he drove around with her body in his trunk for a while trying to figure out what to do.  Going to the police was not on his radar.  He’d already screwed that up by dragging her down the stairs and putting her in the trunk.  The confession goes into some pretty interesting details, which proves to me that Stephen hasn’t a clue when to shut his mouth.  He got some coffee, purchased some garbage bags, drove around some more, and then in the evening decided that dismembering her body would be the best idea out of the none he had come up with.  His father’s tool and die shop would be the place he’d ultimately make what was whole into many.  At some point between moving her body around, which he did many times, he made the false police report that one morning his wife had gotten into a black car, presumably on her way to a business trip, and never returned.

Over the next few weeks, he would move her body four times, from garage to the roof of his father’s business, to various spots in the woods; more bags, more trips to buy more garbage bags, more tearful pleas to his “missing wife” to please come home because her kids missed her terribly.  Finally, Stephen was seen in the woods with a sled moving garbage bags around.  When the police executed the final search warrant on the Grant Home, they found her torso in the family garage.  Stephen took his dog for a walk and tried to run, probably to Canada, taking the scenic route through Michigan.  Several counties and a case of severe frostbite later, he was apprehended in Emmet County and has been sitting in jail ever since.

This is where this article gets a little insensitive, because I can pinpoint several places where Stephen could have conceivable gotten away with it, even with very little preparation.  As a writer, I think of ideas and concepts from every conceivable angle because it’s what I like to do.  I like dissecting scenarios and reassembling the pieces (okay, that was over the line) to try to figure out all of the possible outs.  Sometimes there isn’t an out.  Sometimes, you’re just f*cked.

When I see arrests on the news all I can think of is where they went wrong.  Is there any such thing as a perfect crime – probably not, but we have to understand that the majority of uncrackable crimes are solved by sheer luck.  While television shows like CSI and Criminal Minds have made our potential criminals smarter when it comes to remaining undetectable, we forget that flesh and blood CSI techs are only human with ridiculous caseloads and they don’t gather every piece of evidence – gum wrapper from an obscure chewing gum, bark in the sidewalk crack that only indigenous to a specific region of the world.  This is not a knock at our fine men and women in blue and white coats, but let’s inject a little reality into the situation.  It still took police several weeks and a tip from a woman walking her dog before they finally caught him.  Sure they had their suspicions, and Lord knows he gave them ample opportunity to catch him, but in the end it wasn’t old fashioned detective work, but dumb luck.  Police don’t think like writers.  They trust gut, intuition, and motive.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it sucks out the creativity that would cause police work to examine all of the possibilities.  Reality doesn’t move like a Law and Order episode.  DNA results don’t come back from the lab in under five minutes.  Finger print searches take hours, sometimes days.  Autopsy and toxicology reports can take weeks.  That’s plenty of time to cover tracks – or not, as sometimes nature takes care of things for you.

What should he have done differently?  First he had several days between the time he killed her and the time he reported her missing.  In all of that time, he kept her in the garage or his trunk – he couldn’t decide.  I can only assume that was due to remorse, but that should have been when he made his move.  For some reason, when someone kills another, the first few places people think of disposing bodies are at the bottoms of lakes or deep in the woods.  *Yawn*  On my way to the coffee-shop this afternoon, I probably passed scores of dumpsters, open utility truck beds, open and empty excavation sites, etc…  Granted I notice things most people don’t, but if I had a body in my garage you’d better believe I’m going to be looking for some place ordinary and unremarkable to dump it.  Tripled bagged and tossed into dumpsters five minutes ahead of the trucks are parts that will probably never be found, and who doesn’t know when garbage day is?  I know the garbage schedule of not only my street, but also of the apartment complexes for six blocks.  There is a garbage truck trundling down Main Street or Rochester Monday through Thursday.  Speaking of dumpsters, never pick a dumpster in the City of Detroit because those things don’t ever get emptied.

The most ingenious place I heard about was just last night, when the body of a female was discovered in a manhole, and only because DPW received complaints of water backing up into peoples’ homes.  Lo and behold, under the manhole cover was the body.  It’s badly decomposed but chances are the sharp-eyed CSI-techs will discover some piece of string knotted in her hair and they’ll be able to trace it back to some exotic scarf that was only sold in one boutique on the east side, and wouldn’t you know it: only one was sold – WITH A CREDIT CARD!  Actually, she’s currently a Jane Doe, and contrary to popular belief, she’ll likely be buried inside of a month in a section of the cemetery reserved for the unknowns.  They’ll look for her killer, unless she turns out to be a known prostitute or addict, in which case, her file will get bounced from rookie to rookie, unsolved for the next decade or so.  It’s the way of the world.  If Tara Grant hadn’t been such a successful businesswoman, Stephen might have gotten away with it.

Using the tool and die shop was a smart idea and while you might worry about blood and DNA evidence, it was still one of the last places the police searched, and only after tips from others.  People don’t keep bone saws in their homes, and the human body it a lot tougher than people imagine.  I’m not saying Stephen Grant should have gotten away with it, so hold your angry letters, and yes I understand that two children lost their mother, but the dead are buried and we’re left with conjecture, which is all this is.  We should learn from the mistakes of others regardless of which side you’re on.

Stephen Grant didn’t act like a murder or a lunatic.  He acted like coward who realized far too late that the relationship with his wife was over and he chose the wrong way to end it.  He then compounded the problem by choosing the wrong way out, by disposing of her or and not turning himself in.  It’s not First Degree Premeditated Murder because he didn’t plan on killing her and only wanted shut her up, and who among us hasn’t wanted to shove a gasoline-soaked rag down someone’s throat and light it just to stop him or her from talking?  If you’re not raising your hand, you’re lying.  The difference between Stephen and the rest of us is that we don’t act on our impulses.  He’s not a lunatic because stupidity and panic do not equate to lunacy.  Driving around with a body in your trunk while you drink your coffee looking for more garbage bags is not insanity.  Standing in the middle of the street naked wearing your coffee and screaming at the top of your lungs that your dead wife is singing show tunes in the trunk of your car is insanity.

Stephen Grant over-thought the situation and in trying to be wicked smart in out-foxing the law, he ended up handing himself over to the police after many weeks of loose speculation, sloppy misdirection, and the fact that he couldn’t leave well enough alone.  He couldn’t leave the body alone, he had to keep moving her.  He couldn’t stop being the grieving husband in front of the camera, he believed he had to keep begging for her to return.  Yes, everyone grieves differently, but Stephen Grant never met a microphone he didn’t like.  This doesn’t make him a sociopath or a crazy person – it makes him human and not a terribly bright one.  All he did was pretend his wife was missing and acted accordingly.  He’s either a bad actor or he just didn’t care enough.  We can blame television or movies for his bad acting, but the fault lies with Stephen himself.  When you get down to brass tacks, he didn’t screw up by not being smart enough.  He screwed up by killing his wife.

People get caught because they act passionately – usually at the wrong time – and they don’t think rationally after the fact, if at all.  For all of the television we supposedly watch, we don’t learn a whole heck of a lot, but many of us still think and act as if we’re just characters on our favorite program.  We must be smarter than the average bear, the cops are killing their lunch breaks at the coffee shops, and they’ll never suspect the person that makes the most noise.

There are between twenty-five (25) and one hundred (100) active serial killers in the United States, a fact few people know.  My dad once told us to never put ourselves into a situation where our only two choices were death.  Leave it to the professionals, folks.