On September 2, 1994, a man named Brian David Steckel entered the home of 29-year-old Sandra Lee Long in Wilmington, Delaware where he raped and murdered her.
He was tried and convicted of the crime, and was executed on November 4, 2005 by lethal injection.
September 2, 1994 was just a normal night for Sandra Lee Long, until a man knocked on her door. She opened it, and found her neighbor, Brian Steckel, who she had only met a week prior. He asked if he could use her telephone. She agreed. (I would never in 1 million years blame a victim for a crime committed against them... but this is why I feel like I would never help anyone who came to my door asking for assistance. I've read too many stories of criminals posing as people in need of help to gain entry into a home. Scary.)
Once he was inside, he disconnected her phone line and demanded sex from her. She refused, and so he threw her on the couch and attempted to strangle her with some pantyhose. When they broke, he grabbed a sock and continued the attack.
Once she was unconscious, he penetrated and sodomized her with a screwdriver. He dragged her into her bedroom where he set the curtains on fire. Sandra's official cause of death was smoke inhalation. When she was found, she had burns on 60 percent of her body.
After Steckel left and her home began to burn, Lane Randolph and John Hall, 2 tree trimmers who were in the area, came to her aid as she yelled "help me, please". Randolph was able to hold onto her hand for nearly a minute before the flames began burning him. The entire room was black with smoke. He thought he could pull her to safety, but couldn't. Hall tried to kick in the door to rescue her via a different entrance, but the flames were too much. "I felt like I was in total hell," Hall remembered.
After raping and murdering an innocent woman and setting her house on fire, Steckel went to a friend's home to drink some beers. He asked his friend's wife to drive him to the liquor store. Their route took them past Sandra's home, entirely engulfed in flames. According to her, he became agitated when she jokingly said, "you look like yo've killed someone".
Within a few hours of the fire, Steckel called the newspaper to deem himself Driftwood Killer, and named his next victim was taken into protective custody. She claimed she had been receiving lurid, sexual phone calls. The calls were traced back to him, and he was arrested. He was drunk at the time of his arrest. The next morning, he confessed to the attack and murder of Sandra.
TRIAL, IMPRISONMENT, AND EXECUTION
Once in custody, he changed his story man times. He at first seemed kind of remorseful, saying over and over that he killed a woman and thus was worthless, and asked interrogators if they got tired of dealing with men like him. Then he said that he killed her when she rejected sex. Then he said that they had sex several times before the murder. Then he said she was pregnant and demanding child support payments from him. Months later, he completely denied the murders, claiming some "drug-using married man with children" killed her.
With little push back, he was convicted in New Castle County, Delaware, of 3 counts of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death on January 8, 1977 by a vote of 11-1. He had asked the jurors to hold him accountable for his actions, which he knew were wrong and selfish.
Some relatives, however, argued that he was not a heartless monster. His aunt said, "you could not find a more gentle child". His brother recalled Christmas mornings with him. Okay, too bad, guys. He's not a kid anymore. He's an adult and a murderer!
But even though he confessed to his crime, and asked the jurors to give him a fair punishment, he was otherwise entirely unrepentant for his crime. In fact, during the trial, he sent a note to his innocent victim's mother of the autopsy report with a note attached that said: "Read it and weep. She's gone forever. Don't cry over burnt flesh."
On May 22, 1998, his sentence and conviction were upheld. Though he attempted to appeal his conviction multiple times, it was regularly rejected. His family and defense attorneys argued he had undergone a transformation in prison and was truly remorseful for his actions. His defense attorney argued that outside of jail, he would be very dangerous, but not behind bars. "He's just good at being in jail," he said of his client.
Sandra Jones, a death penalty opponent, believed that he could make contributions to society from behind bars, and even said she thought he'd be okay outside of jail, and she'd be okay with him as a neighbor. "He's a really neat guy" she said of the brutal murderer. "A little awkward, sometimes obnoxious", but playful, fun, and humble. NAH SISTER. Murderers aren't neat and quirky.
After exhausting all appeal avenues, his execution date was set for November 4, 2005.
His last words were: I want to say I'm sorry for the cruel things I did. I'm not the same man I was when I came to jail. I'm a better man... I walked in here without a fight, and I accept my punishment. It is time to go. I love you people. I'm at peace". He was pronounced dead at 00:21 hours (I'm sorry I have no idea what time this is) on November 4, 2005.
A death penalty expert believes that there were some failures with his lethal injection, apparently with signs of life still being evident 12 minutes after he finished his statement. He was lucid, and still making comments to family and friends during that time. A spokesperson said that nothing went wrong, he was just given extra time by the Warden to make his statement, though it seems possible that the drugs failed to take effect appropriately. Anyway, he eventually died.
CATCHING A SERIAL KILLER... BEFORE HE BECAME A SERIAL KILLER
Police and prosecutors claimed that Steckel was essentially "a serial killer who just never got the chance to kill again". He had bragged about murder before, yelling strangers that he had killed people in other states, and said his tattoos were from prison, even though he didn't have a serious criminal record at the time. He was an imposing man, standing 6'3" and almost 200 pounds, but extremely strong. Just months before he'd commit his first murder, he flattened a bartender with a single punch in a fight.
When he was arrested, he confessed to several murders he had nothing to do with. Despite constantly trying to get them to believe he was involved in other murders, police were never able to connect him to any other unsolved cases. He sent more than 75 letters confessing to murders in other states, bragging about the murder of Sandra, or just making threats.
A New Castle County detective believes that Steckel had been thinking about committing his first murder for a long time, and they were lucky to have caught him so early. "He liked people to be afraid of him," Joseph Gabay, Steckel's defense attorney said. He said he had all of the risk factors early in life that would make an adult turn violent. There was evidence that he suffered sexual abuse, and mental and emotional problems from as young a 12. (Gabay was his second defense attorney: His first team quit after he wrote the letter to Sandra's mother about the autopsy.)
Gabay believes that, had he not been caught, he would have gone on to kill again. He even gave himself a serial killer nickname, and named a second victim whom he planned to kill. They were only able to catch him because he was drunk when he called, and his phone number was traceable.
The man who prosecuted Steckel, Thomas Pedersen, said that it was the most gruesome case he was ever involved with. "If the death penalty is ever justified, Brian's case is probably the best candidate I can ever think of."
Though I agree with the analysis that he had potential for further danger had he not been caught, I don't think he would have been the next most notorious serial killer or anything. He killed a woman and then drunkenly called the newspaper to give himself a name, named his next victim, and used a traceable number. It wasn't like police got super lucky to stop a criminal mastermind before he could wreak havoc all over Delaware: he was an idiot and got himself caught. Just as I think it would have happened regardless.
Sure, he wanted to be a serial killer. He told strangers he'd killed before. He confessed to various murders he didn't commit. He gave himself a nickname. He wanted the attention, the notoriety. But to believe he would have actually become a serial killer? No. I think someone who essentially turns themselves in after 1 kill would fail 10 times out of 10. I'm glad he was stopped before he killed again, but I think he stopped himself. He was always meant to be his own intervention.
I wish this story could have focused more on Sandra Lee Long, but unfortunately, there is not much information about her. But the piece I do know is that she was innocent. She was a kind woman who opened the door for a neighbor who in turned raped and killed her. He may not have become a serial killer, but his crimes are still absolutely horrific. He still ended the life of a woman who should have lived a long, happy one.
Today, Sandra Lee Long has been gone for 26 years. I hope that her family has found peace, and that Steckel's execution brought them some semblance of closure.