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Murder in a Small Town

Updated on May 15, 2015

Before I begin, let it be known this is a true story. It is an act of terror, of premeditated murder, and of Satanist activity that occurred right here in Southwest Missouri. The Bible Belt was shattered for many, the innocence that was Small Town Life lost. Over the intervening years this catastrophe has lost its meaning for many, pigeonholed into the back corners of many people's memories and ignored for the most part; the wounds have healed as well as they can, scars have formed; but rest assured: this type of thing can and does still occur. Anywhere, anytime, to anybody.


It was just over twenty-five years ago that this small town in Missouri, home to about 4,000 people was rocked to its core by a murder most foul. Three high school seniors, including the class president, took another senior boy, a fellow classmate, a friend, out to a secluded location with the singular intent to commit murder. And succeeded.

The four boys were well known in the school. They were deep into the party scene complete with drugs and heavy metal music. Eventually, it became known that they were also into something much more damaging: Satanism. For some time they had been selecting small animals as they came across them, strays and even other people's pets to used for sacrifices. But that soon began to lose its edge; its excitement. One day they made a decision to kill something a bit larger: a person. But who? After some more talk, a decision was reached. They selected one of their own group to murder in order to gain what they perceived as a portion of Satan's power.

This is the story of how those children murdered one from their own group of friends; someone they saw every day. It was planned; it was followed through on. It was cold blooded murder.

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Timeline: 1987

There were hushed rumors of Satanism going around the school but no one believed them; not really. Other students thought it was a way for these boys to gain further notoriety within their selected group of friends and fringe hanger-on students. The truth would eventually be found in the details, and there were adequate opportunities for this to have come to the attention of someone, anyone who could have halted it. But no one took it seriously. No one believed these boys were capable of committing what would be perhaps the most heinous crime ever in this sleepy little town. For some time there had been unexplained losses of pets; small dogs and cats disappearing from area homes. Had the truth been known at the time, it would have been that this group of boys were capturing and executing these defenseless pets in search of power and acceptance from Satan himself.


Timeline of the Murder

October 31, 1987 First attempt was planned for this night.

Mid-November 1987 Second attempt. Jim, Pete, and Ron cruise Steve's house waiting on him to come out. He didn't.

November 29 1987 Third attempt. Four bats; five boys.

December 6, 1987 Their mission accomplished

Steve Newberry was a big kid; just under six feet tall and just over 200 pounds. When a group of students at this high school decided they would sacrifice someone for Satan, a female student jokingly nominated Steve. Steve hung around with this group, desiring nothing more than the opportunity to fit in; to be accepted. The group included Jim Hardy, Pete Roland, and Ron Clements. There were others but these three were at the core of the group, enjoying the adoration that went with being someone others looked up to, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Steve was considered a "wannabe", a person outside of the circle yet desperately desiring to be in the group. He would do almost anything they asked in order to be a part of Hardy's group. The group hated him, yet all groups like this need a scapegoat; someone they can pick on to make themselves feel superior. Steve fulfilled that requirement willingly.

The circle of friends listened to heavy metal music called "thrasher music"; were heavy into drugs and would also drink with the singular intention of getting stone cold drunk. Another member of the group, Lance Owens, was a reasonably talented artist. Steve had found a picture in a textbook of what appeared to be him, mutilated and being held aloft by a giant. It even had Steve's shirt on the body; right down to the color and the emblem emblazoned across the front. This made Steve uneasy. The others assured Steve he was safe, that they had no intentions of killing him. In his desire to fit in, Steve blinded himself to the fact they were lying to him and accepted their promise at face value. They gave their word and that was good enough for Steve. After all, they were his friends, his classmates. They wouldn't hurt him.

First Attempt

On Halloween of 1987, Jim, Pete, and Ron had decided this would be the perfect night to sacrifice Steve to the devil. They had made plans to pick him up and take him to a nearby well that they termed the "Well of Hell", kill him and throw him into the old well. They failed to take a mother's instincts into play that evening.

Marlys Newberry had strange feelings about this group of friends of Steve's. Steve had informed her of the drawing. This made her very nervous,even though Steve assured her they boys had told him he was safe; she didn't believe it. So she packed the family up and took them to Arkansas to visit their grandmother for the weekend. This foiled the groups first attempt on Steve's life.

Second and Third Attempt

The boys made plans for mid November. They tried to get Steve to go cruising with them one evening. Driving by his house numerous times yielded nothing as Steve failed to appear, thus sparing his life one more time.

Thanksgiving weekend, they tried again. Jim told Steve that there were some stray dogs wandering the woods across from his house near Farmer's Chemical. Steve wanted to fit in, but he was not really into the whole sacrificing thing. He had not been included into this realm very much and Jim felt certain Steve's heart just wasn't really into it. Jim had even convinced himself that Steve knew they were going to kill him, and went along anyway, because he didn't believe they would go through with it.

During this time frame, Steve would write stories about him killing someone. He felt that by writing these and showing them to the group it might show them that he was right there beside them and that they would not kill him. But even that backfired, as Jim stated that Steve was trying to let them know they were going to kill him, and he was okay with it.

On this afternoon, Ron and Jim were waiting when Pete arrived with Lance and Steve in tow. They all got high smoking some pot before they retrieved some baseball bats from Pete's car. There were only four bats and Steve remarked on that; but Jim was smooth and found a small hatchet in the garage for him to carry, giving Steve his bat. Having this in hand made Steve feel better, like he really was part of the group.

Into the woods they went. Pete had offered to strike Steve first, but after nearly a half hour, nothing had occurred; Pete was scared and no one else would step up to begin the murder of their friend. No dogs were around to mutilate, and with no one having the nerve to hit Steve the darkening skies forced them to make their way back to Jim's house.

Steve went home and told his younger brother of the event. He then wrote another story which depicted him standing over a well with a sadistic smile on his face, reflected in the water below.

Sunday, December 6, 1987

The group decided once more to take the steps to end Steve's life. This time, they planned it for Sunday and vowed to remain sober. They felt that by doing so they would get more out of the murder.

The Saturday before their plan would take place, Jim went to school in order to serve a dinner to the senior citizens of the area. Whether this was meant to look good to the community in order to throw them off the track for what was to come or not is not known. He spent the day helping out in the kitchen, serving a Thanksgiving type meal to the retired people who resided there. He then went home and watched "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Perhaps this was to get in the mood for what he had planned. It is hard to comprehend a mind that can serve a dinner to senior citizens one moment then sit and watch such mayhem and murder the next.

The next morning, the Newberry family attended their church. After the church services they had a wonderful meal before Marlys returned to the church for a play practice for the coming Christmas holiday. Jim called and asked if Steve wanted to hang out; Steve was glad to be included in anything his buddies planned so accepted. Jim then went to Pete's to help out with some chores during the afternoon. As they were burning a pile of leaves a small kitten wandered into the yard. Jim quickly grabbed it and placed it into a bag, calling it "Bait for Newberry".

Jim called Steve to see if he wanted to go along and kill something. Ron and Pete waited in the car as Jim went to the house to gather their sacrificial lamb. Steve's mother Marlys had finished the play practice and returned home. She watched nervously as Jim waited on Steve in their front room, shuffling his feet and not making eye contact nor speaking with her at all.

Jim finally made his way to Steve's room and gathered him in. Marlys tried to talk Steve out of going but he wanted to go. Many years later she remembered telling Steve that he was 19 years old and could decide for himself.

He went.

Listening to music blaring from the speakers in the car, Pete remembers hearing a line in one of the songs as they drove away: "Dying time is here". It would prove to be prophetic.

Once they arrived at their predestined point, they exited the car and made their way into the woods. They let Steve hold the captive kitten but Jim demanded it back, feeling Steve was treating it too harshly, stroking it too hard. It bothered Jim because they never treated animals they killed in this manner. This is one of those seemingly random acts that strike me about this case: they took a defenseless kitten with them for the sole intent of killing it yet felt badly about the way their other sacrifice was handling it. This makes no sense to me.

Tying the bag containing the kitten in a tree, they proceeded to hit the bag numerous times until the cat was surely dead. Then Jim took the bag down and tossed it aside.

"Do it now!"

Steve is said to have wished they had something bigger to kill. Ron replied "what are we going to do now, Jim?"

Jim had volunteered to strike first but he was losing his nerve. He asked Steve if he had his pipe so they could smoke some dope in order to give himself some time to regain his composure. As Steve dug into his pockets for the pipe, a voice inside Jim's head said,

"Do it now!"

He swung, striking Steve in the face. Steve stumbled away, asking repeatedly "Why me guys?"

Ron laughed as he replied "Because it's fun, Steve."

Read that line one more time. Because it's fun. These boys were completely aware of what they were doing; no drugs or alcohol were involved at the time. It was intentional; it was premeditated; it was for fun.

Pete would later say they had struck Steve some 70 times, even breaking one of the bats on his head. When it was over Jim stood over Steve and said "Sacrifice to Satan". They drug his lifeless body back to the well, tied a large rock to it and dumped it into the cold water below.

A Mother's Premonition

Steve didn't return home that night. When the family had finished watching television, she told the others that she should not have let Steve go with those boys that night. Then they went to bed.

The next morning, she woke early and went outside looking for her son. She wasn't sure if he was dead or not, thinking he was injured and in pain. She called to him time after time, all to no avail.

She called the school and it was reported Steve was absent. The other boys were all in attendance. She contacted the sheriff.

Lance had arrived at Pete's house early that morning before going to school. Pete gave Lance all the details while Jim cried "We did it!" time after time.

Ron asked Lance if he would like to become his new locker partner even while Steve's things were still inside the locker.

A broken bat was found by a worker at the Farmer's Chemical plant that morning. He saw it was red with blood and that ants were crawling across it. He left it there and walked away.

The group told Steve's younger sister that they had left him at a store that evening. Jim even acted surprised, asking "He never came home?" while knowing full well he would never come home again.

Eventually, the sheriff brought each of the boys in one by one and listened as they each said the same thing, that Steve had been dropped off at a convenience store Sunday evening to make his own way home. But the boys weren't as careful outside of the principal's office; some friends of Steve's sister had told her they heard Jim and Pete laughing and joking in the hallway about stabbing a fat boy to death. She called her mother who called the sheriff again.

That afternoon, before Steve's body had even been found, Marlys called her pastor to inform him that Steve was dead. She knew it in her heart.

Four hours later, at about 8:00 PM the authorities had a confession. Just a few hours later they had Steve's body.

Epilogue

Jim Hardy, Ron Clements, and Pete Roland would be tried as adults and found guilty of First Degree Murder. They are currently serving life without parole. People in this small town rarely if ever speak of what happened here over twenty-five years ago, preferring to leave it in the past. Perhaps that is best. But it is said that if we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it. We need to learn from it in order to not have this happen to us yet again.

Could this have been prevented? Were enough people aware of what was going on to have stepped in as halted it before it came to cost young Steve Newberry his life? You decide.

Drugs, books, movies all played a part in Steve's demise, and those convicted of his murder. Jim Hardy was seen by a local mental health center several times before his parents gave up and dropped the sessions. Jim was even known to have threatened his own father with killing him, and threw a heavy chunk of wood against the house and another through a sliding glass door.

Friends overheard their talk and either ignored it as just teenager talk or walked away from it. No one took it seriously until it was too late.

Ron Clements was seen by professionals and the center felt it wasn't necessary to admit Ron at that time for drug and alcohol rehab even though Ron himself wanted to be clean and sober at that point. He also admitted to having horrible thoughts and feelings which were put off as normal teenage boy issues and dropped. Ron's journal was found to contain descriptions of violence and other violent issues. Yet this same professional advised that this was normal, and even cautioned his parents to stay out of Ron's room as he needed his privacy.

Jim even wondered aloud in front of Pete's mother what it would be like if he killed someone. She simply said "I know you're not that bad, Jim".

Many years later in an interview, Jim uttered a profound statement saying that if they were empty of morals, then they must have been filled with hate.

Friends of the boys never thought they were serious with the whole Satan thing. It was seen as a way to garner attention to themselves, to "shock" others then walk away laughing. They were considered normal teenage boys at the time. A little extreme, but just kids. They were never taken seriously until it was too late for Steve.

As stated, no one in the town talks about this at all. Through careful conversations I have learned a bit more than the papers detail at the time of the incident, but not much. I have spoken with a classmate or two who were upset that I even brought it up, The feelings were the same as before: they were just kids messing around. The fact that one of them was Class President made this all surreal, it couldn't be. But it was: these same boys who clowned around in school, were friendly, well liked, mischievous but were never mean spirited. At least, not to most people.

And yet, they killed a classmate, a friend, one of their own. Intentionally. With planning. Because it was fun. Fun. Murder. Fun.

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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I didn't know how to vote on this. It's a useful lesson and it's interesting in the way these boys behaved, again as a lesson in psychology. In the end I voted Up, useful & interesting and shared it.

      As you say, fun and murder shouldn't go together and maybe it could have been avoided. But would they have gone on to do other terrible things? Sometimes it's in the blood I think and some might reform but not all.

      Much food for thought here. A gripping, gruesome tale.

      Ann

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      This was very well written. It was factual with little embellishment and it chilled to the bone. Murder is always hard to understand but something like this goes completely beyond comprehension.

      Teenage boys using Satanism as fun is a disaster from day one. Shame on those that shrugged off the problems of these boys as "normal teenage boys", but, as always hindsight is 20/20.

      Voted up, useful, awesome because it is well written, and interesting. My share buttons have all disappeared.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Normal teenage behavior? Are you kidding me? It's scary to know that authority figures and those who are supposed to know the way the mind works could just brush the boys' behavior aside. I've never known anyone to think or say the things those boys did.

      It pains me to put myself in Steve's place as he was bludgeoned over 70 times. I hope he haunts his killers until they go insane.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      A very well told story. It makes me wonder what else young people are learning in our Public Schools today. We know that our schools are great places for children to buy their drugs. We also know that peer pressure is a powerful driving force for these young people.

      This story makes me wonder if things would have been different if the professionals had done their jobs and not pushed this off as normal childhood behaviour. Had these children not carried out this horrible murder and been imprisoned, what would they be doing today as adults in our society?

      We now have evidence that many of those involved with school and workplace shootings have had a history of mental issues that were untreated, not unlike these students.

      That fact would lead me to believe that our mental health "experts" are really not "experts" at all. But on the other hand, these "experts" must be careful to not ruin someone's life because he or she thinks differently than they do.

      Thanks for sharing this thought provoking story with us.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nicely done, Mike! The evil within us...we are capable of such beautiful acts...and acts so vile as to chill the blood. This is not the way I wanted to start my day, but I will be thinking about it for some time.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderfully done!

    • FitnezzJim profile image

      FitnezzJim 2 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      This is a chilling and horrific account, and well beyond any sense of normal understanding. They planned, advertised, and even told their victim what was in store for him. And all reacted in the same way. What they planned was so unbelievable that no one took them seriously. It must have taken a lot to tell this in a straightforward factual way.

      Your discussion at the end is scary too. No one in the town speaks of it. Is that because of communal guilt? Or is there a notion that remaining silent when faced with evil will stop it? Or is it that they think justice was carried out, and that ends it? Has the town changed since then?

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you all for taking the time to read this and to share your thoughts. There were so many things about this that bothered me, not the least of which is the perhaps unconscious decision by those still around to not talk about it. I cannot decide what it is that causes this: embarrassment or something else.

      But the fact remains that more than a few people had knowledge that these boys were dangerous and nothing was done. Both personal and profession individuals failed and a boy was killed as a result. To me, that was criminal.

      I appreciate your comments on this being well written and that I stayed somewhat removed from it. I truly tried to do this as a report, not as one involved because I live here. When I noticed the memorial and saw the name, I recalled seeing it as it occurred and feeling horrified. But in the ensuing years I forgot until seeing it one afternoon on campus. Then, it all came back with the decision to write about it. But still, it took me two years to decide to publish it. Thank you all once more for your time and may you have a blessed day.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 2 years ago

      I agree that murder can occur anywhere at anytime. It's scary that they premeditated Steve's death even having a picture of his body horribly mutilated. Its also very scary that those that you think are your friend's really aren't your friends.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      That is what struck me the hardest: that one cannot count on friends looking out for one another. As adults, we tend to have a more jaded view and be a bit more protective (sometimes) but as kids? Just trying to fit in can leave one open to harm. Thank you for reading this and taking the time to comment; I appreciate it.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 23 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi, the story was sad, most of all because it was true. This boy had his whole life ahead of him. We had a bad murder in our small town just last year. Voted up, and sharing. Stella

    • JulieJohnson3 profile image

      Julie Johnson 23 months ago from Southwest Missouri

      What town did this happen in? I was 13 at the time and don't remember this story. I do remember vividly a murder that took place down the road from where I lived as a child. A man was bludgeoned to death in his home with baseball bats. I tried to watch the video, but it wouldn't play. I'm just curious which town? I live in the Neosho, Granby area.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 23 months ago from Missouri

      Stella and Julie, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this horrible event. Stella I am sorry you and your town went through a similar situation, it is hard on all concerned whether one knows the individual or not.

      Julie, this was in Carl Junction. As for the video I will try to see what occurred, perhaps they have changed the address or something. Regarding your memory of a similar murder, I do not recall that one. I do recall one which took place in Joplin in this same period, where a wife contracted a man to kill her husband. He was shot outside of town and left there, bound and dead. I worked where she and her boyfriend at the time worked and it was crazy! Over 80 people were summoned to court (not me!) to testify on what they knew.

      I just don't understand why some feel they need to kill someone in cold blood like this. To protect one's family, yes but not like this. Take care ladies.

    • JulieJohnson3 profile image

      Julie Johnson 23 months ago from Southwest Missouri

      That must be why I don't remember the story. I'm not too familiar with Carl Junction. I went to Granby school district and had a Neosho address. I currently live just outside of Granby between Neosho and Joplin. The murder I remember growing up took place just outside of Monark Springs near Neosho, which is where I grew up. It was also a planned homicide by a group of individuals ganging up on one man inside his home. It was brutal and horrible. I'm surprised anyone would even want to live there after that.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 23 months ago from Missouri

      I know where Monark Springs is but I do not remember that incident; now I will have to research that as well. If you are familiar with it maybe you should research and author a hub about it; I think people would read about it here. Best of luck to you here on HubPages and take care.

    • profile image

      Grievingmom2 15 months ago

      It is clear that mental health professionals failed Ron and his family. When someone cries out for help, an outstretched arm must be there. My heart goes out to Steve and his family and Ron's family Such a tragedy!

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 15 months ago from Missouri

      Thank you Grievingmom2. Please take care.

    • profile image

      Tamstrat 7 months ago

      I lived in Joplin, Mo at the time of the murder, and my mother in law had worked at a local restaurant in Joplin with one of the boys who killed Steven. I can't remember which one of the murderers it was, and sadly, my mother in law passed away many years ago, so I can't ask her. I do clearly remember how shocked she was when she found out this young man was involved, saying what "a nice boy he was". It was a shocking and scary crime.

      Even when I was in high school in the late 1970's, attending nearby Carthage Senior High School, there were rumors of a Satanic Church located somewhere outside of Joplin. I heard it was either an abandoned old church (highly unlikely) or just an old abandoned building where what we termed "Devil Worshipers" would meet and do whatever it is they do. I heard there were upside down crosses on the walls, 666 and pentagram graffitti. Whether any of this is true or just stories made up to scare kids, I don't know, but it was scary to hear these stories.

      Personally I think Jim, Pete, Ron and sadly, even Steven were just a group of disenfranchised young men with some mental problems complicated by drugs and alcohol. In the 1970's and 1980's there wasn't really anything for teenagers to do in the Joplin/Carl Junction/Webb City/Carthage area other than ride around, drink and smoke weed. I know, that's what we all did. These boys had serious issues however, and they fell through the cracks. And Steven paid with his life.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 7 months ago from Missouri

      Tamstrat, I graduated from one of the two high schools in Joplin in 1977. I know of what you speak, the drugs and drink rampant in the schools. I even had a girl pull out a nickel bag of "weed" and hand it to me in the hallways as I was thought to be one of those guys; I wasn't but I ran with those who were. When I gave it to one of them they smelled it and laughed saying it was a cigar shredded up and sold as pot.

      There was nothing else to do in and around Joplin then but still, this couldn't and shouldn't have been ignored. It was, and Stephen is dead because of it with his friends in prison for life. Thank you for your read and comment, and it's good to hear from a someone from the area. Take care.

    • profile image

      Wilbur 6 months ago

      I remember the Giraldo special and the interview when the kid said "he asked 'why me' and I said 'cuz it's fun"

      At one point Giraldo was sort of aghast at the senselessness of it all and he said "here you are young, smart, good looking kid" and when he said 'good looking' the kid kind of squinted and cringed for a second. It was like he knew that being good looking won't matter anymore. No more girlfriends for him except for prison groupies.

      I wonder how quickly these guys realized that Satan wasn't going to come and rescue them.

    • profile image

      JoMcG 5 months ago

      I remember this event very clearly. My daughter was in fourth grade at CJ Elementary at the time and a rumor had been circulating that the local Satan worshippers were going to abduct any young girls with long, blonde hair and blue eyes. My daughter had very long, blonde hair and blue eyes.

      In one version of this story, it was told that when the boys were talking about a human sacrifice, Steven suggested "what about that girl Angel..."

      My hair stood on end when I read that. My daughter's name is "Angel".

      You know those green signs on roads that say, for example, "This section of the road is taken care of by local Scout Troop #52" (or similar words)

      I wonder if anyone remembers that there was a sign on 96 highway (just north of the school) that said, "this section of the road is taken care of by Local Witches Coven #..."

      That was around the time of Steven Newberry's murder.

      I specifically remember my father saying that if they ever got to the bottom of this story, that they were going to find out that this went way deeper than just a few teenagers dabbling in Satanism. He believed that there were many adults involved, including teachers at the school. When I questioned him as to why he thought that, he wouldn't answer. My father was born and raised in Carl Junction.

    • profile image

      Mr biscoff 3 months ago

      In my opinion, CJ is a very strange town. I used to live there, but moved out of state. I get creeped out every time I go there to visit family in the area. The old DuPont site near the river is the creepiest place I have ever been. I remember one of the defendants. There was a skating rink in CJ, and he was a regular there when he was younger. I remember that he was a scary dude, even as a kid. Too bad that investigative journalism is a thing of the past, because I bet things would be uncovered around there.

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