Five Questions – Part 4

Parts of this post were used in Aggravated. This is the fourth post of five questions/items that were part of a chapter in Aggravated. In that chapter I answered and/or explained all five in just a few paragraphs, so these are just more detailed breakdowns of the reasoning behind those answers. If you’ve already read the book you can just skip these posts unless you want the extra detail. If you missed the earlier posts, and want to read them in order, start with, When Was the Rodeo? Here’s the first of the two items.

About the Water Tower

Why is This Item Important? On the way to Alderson from the rodeo grounds that night, they passed a water tower. They stopped and looked inside. Three years later, Hanna and Rhonda tried to turn that brief visit into something disturbing.

During Tom’s interview with Hanna, he asked her where Steve picked them up. She said, “At the rodeo arena in Deep Springs. And he …um …let’s see [6-second pause] …uh …he showed us this big water tower. I don’t know where it is. It’s …I don’t know. It’s kind of in a secluded place. I don’t know. It’s a big, cylinder-shaped water tower.”

[“…he …um …let’s see” “I don’t know where,” “kind of in a secluded place,” “I don’t know.” Does it sound like she was trying to work out the details of her story for the trial?]

Tom asked Hanna to tell him about seeing the water tower. She said, “Yeah. He never like did anything while we were out there. He was just going to show us the inside of it. Because he asked us when we got there, he’s like ‘How much do you think it takes to fill this with water?’ And both of us were like ‘The whole thing?’ Then he drove around to the back of it, because he had access to it because he worked with… I don’t remember who he was …I think he was working with the maintenance department …State Parks.” Tom asked if Steve told them about it before they got there. Hanna said, “Well, like he kind of told us, he said ‘I want to show you something, let’s take a detour.’ We’re like ‘O–kay,’ and he took us out to this water tower and showed us the inside of it and …man that place was awesome, the echoes are fricking loud …but anyway, nothing happened there. It was kind of cool. We looked around a little bit, and then…” Tom interrupted to ask if he made any advance toward Rhonda while they were there. Hanna said, “No.” He asked if Steve tried to kiss her or anything that Rhonda might have seen. Hanna said, “No.”

[Hanna claimed that Steve said they were going to “take a detour,” but she also said “nothing happened there,” and that “He never like did anything while we were out there.” If it was a city water tower, though, how could Steve get inside if he was working for the State Park?]

Did Hanna’s story change when they got to the first trial? Ross asked her where they were supposed to go when Steve picked them up. Hanna said, “Home.” He asked her if they did go home, expecting her to say “No,” but she said “Yes.” Did she forget her lines? Ross tried again, and asked her if she went somewhere before going home. Hanna caught on. “Yes, I did,” she said. Ross asked her where they went. She said, “He drove out to — I still to this day don’t know where it is. It’s a big round water tower in the shape of a — like a can, just like canned goods or something. It’s shaped like a regular can. And he asked how much water did we think was in it. We both said, ‘All the way full.’ Then he said, ‘Well I want to show you something.’ And by this time he was working with the State Park in maintenance. So, he was able to get in the gates, and he drove to the back of the water tower and he told us to go inside. And he showed us the inside of it, and there was an amazing echo in there.” Ross asked her whose idea was it to go there. Hanna said, “It was Sirois’. We didn’t even think anything of it. We never thought about a water tower.” He asked her if she thought it was odd that someone his age would take two girls to a water tower. Hanna said, “I didn’t, because I was used to going off to strange places with him, but I don’t know about Rhonda. I don’t know what she thought.” Ross asked her what happened there. Hanna said, “He just got really excited, said, ‘Oh, this will be really cool,’ showed us the water tower.”

[Hanna said they thought the inside of the “can” was probably completely full of water. It wasn’t. The water is in a tank in the upper part of the tower so gravity helps the water feed out to the surrounding community. Ross asked her if she thought it was odd that he would take them to a water tower, and she said, “I didn’t, because I was used to going off to strange places with him.” For now, let me just remind you that Hanna’s own mother said that wasn’t true. Darla said, that sometimes “he would take a few of them to the movies or, you know, here and there. But just one on one, no.”]

Here’s a picture of the water tower. It does look like a big concrete can.

The Water Tower
The Water Tower

Hanna’s ambiguity about the location of the tower was matched by Rhonda’s. Ross asked Rhonda what happened when they left the rodeo. She said, “We started in a direction that I didn’t know, and he said we were going to a water tower.” He asked Rhonda if Steve asked them if they wanted to go there, and she said, “No, sir.” He asked her if Hanna asked to be taken there. She said, “No,” so he asked her how they ended up there. She said, “I really don’t know. He just said he was going to take us there and that — and explain how it worked.” After asking her what time this was, “10:30 or 11:00 at night,” he asked her how long they were there. She said, “Probably about 20 or 30 minutes.” She revealed that she felt “pretty uncomfortable” because, instead of going to a water tower, “he was supposed to be taking us home.”

[Rhonda suggested that Steve told them they were going to go to see the water tower whether they liked it or not. Was that the way it happened? And did they really spend twenty minutes to a half hour there? Steve’s version is just below.]

Bevin Jenkins asked Steve what happened that night. He said, “I picked them up at the rodeo and went by the access road…it’s actually in route. On the way, I noticed — saw the water tower and asked them if they wanted to see something pretty neat. That is all it was, it was more educational than anything. That’s what I did for a living. I took care of that tower and several other towers in the city of Deep Springs. I had taken my kids…” Jenkins stopped him and said, “Hold on. Did you ask them if they wanted to see the tower?” Steve said, “Sure.” Jenkins wanted to know how far out of the way it was. Steve said, “It’s not out of the way at all. It’s right there on the road. That’s the access road you take to get to the Ritter Highway.” Jenkins asked what the girls thought of the idea. Steve answered, “Said, yeah, sure.” Jenkins asked what he did next. Steve said he drove inside the small fenced area surrounding the tower, then “opened the door and kind of did an explanation of it. It’s a million gallons, which is 8,336,000 pounds above your head. It’s just kind of a neat educational thing. It’s got a real creaky door, you know, but it was not — We weren’t there total time, open gate, close gate, 15 minutes. Stepped inside, showed them. That was it.” Jenkins asked him, “Did you touch Hanna inappropriately in that time?” Steve said, “No, sir.” He asked, “Did you touch Rhonda Crider inappropriately? Steve said, “No, sir.”

[That’s a simpler story than the girls told. They were driving past the water tower, it’s right there on the road, it was part of his job for the city, he asked the girls if they wanted to see it, and they were in and out in fifteen minutes.]

Those stories repeated in Trial #2. Sort of. Ross asked Hanna what happened when they left the rodeo. Hanna said, “And then, he said, ‘I’m going to show y’all something.’ ” Ross asked her what Steve said he was going to show them. Instead of answering, she said, “We were both like — we just looked at each other like, ‘What?’ We both thought we were going straight home, and he kept taking different turns. I didn’t know where we were. The next thing I know, we were coming up on a water tower on the right side of the road. A big circular one. He said, do you see that water tower over there? We were both like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘How much water do you think is in it?’ We both thought it was all the way full. And because at that time, he had long quit working for my uncle and he then worked for the State Park in maintenance, so he had the key to get into the gate. And we drove around to the back side and we saw a door. And he had unlocked the door and he told us to come inside.” She described the interior, and finished by saying, “There was an enormous echo.”

[I don’t know why Hanna persisted in saying that Steve worked for the State Park. He stopped working for Hanna’s uncle in October 1999 when he started working for the city of Deep Springs. He was still working for the city in July 2003 (the night of the rodeo), but started working for the State Park a couple of months later. Did Hanna honestly not know that Steve had been working for the city since 1999? Isn’t it logical to assume, if she and Steve actually had spent all those months and years communicating, plumbing the depths of each other’s souls, that Hanna would have found out some basic information about him? Based on everything I’ve heard and read, I believe that Hanna is shallow and vain, but you would think that after two years of getting to know her “sort-of boyfriend,” she would at least know what his job was. While we’re on the subject, why would a state park that is north of the city have control of a water tower that was south of the city? Also, the tower is on the left side of the road, not the right, and Steve didn’t keep “taking different turns,” there is only one turn before the water tower. See the map below.]

Map #1: From the Rodeo to the Water Tower
Map #1: From the Rodeo to the Water Tower

There’s one turn, from US 373 onto FM 29. You can see the water tower as you turn off of 373. The red dots on the map are where street lamps are located, by the way.

Ross asked Rhonda what happened after Steve picked them up. She said, “We drove to a water tower in Deep Springs.” He asked her why they did that. She said, “I do not know.” Some predictable questions followed. “Did you ask to go to a water tower?” Rhonda said, “No.” “Did the Defendant say anything to you about why he was taking you to the water tower?” Rhonda said, “No. He just said we were going to a water tower and he was going to show us — or tell us how it worked.” He asked her what time it was, and she said, “It was night around 12:00 or 12:30.” Ross asked her how she felt about this man taking two girls her age to a water tower at that time of night. Rhonda said, “Well, at first I didn’t think anything of it because he was a family friend, so I assumed it would be fine.” He asked her if something changed her mind about that. Rhonda said, “I started to feel uncomfortable as we got closer to the water tower.” Ross asked her if she knew where the water tower was located. She said, “In Deep Springs. I’m not exactly sure where.” And he asked her how long it took for them to get there. She said, “About 10 to 15 minutes.”

[I think Rhonda actually knew why they stopped there, but she tried to make it seem like they were clueless, helpless girls. If she started feeling uncomfortable when they got closer to the water tower,” then she felt that way as soon as they left the rodeo. The tower is really close, and don’t forget, in Trial #1, Rhonda said that the rodeo ended around 10:30 pm, but in this one she said they arrived at the tower after midnight and it took them “10 to 15 minutes” to get there. I’ll dig into the distance, the driving time, and the time of night in the analysis.]

Trial #2 continued. Cleveland Sanford asked Rhonda if Steve used a key to get into the tower. She said “Yes.” He said, “Didn’t break into anything?” Rhonda said, “No.” He asked her if Steve made any advances toward her. She said, “No.” He also asked if Steve made any toward Hanna. Rhonda said, “Not that I know of.” Sanford asked her if she felt any apprehension that night.” Rhonda said, “No.” He asked if she told Steve that she didn’t want to go to the tower. She answered, “No, sir.” He asked her if she told Steve that she was uncomfortable, or didn’t think it was a good idea. She said, “No.” Then he asked if it was neat. Rhonda said, “It was a water tower.” Sanford asked her if Steve explained how everything worked. She said, “Yes.” He asked if Steve told them how many gallons it held. Rhonda said, “I think he may have, but I’m not sure.” He asked if Steve told them how much all of that water weighed, and Rhonda said, “I think so.” Finally, Sanford asked if they made echoes inside the tower. She answered, “We may have.” A lot of noncommittal, terse answers from someone who appears to have been acting as a hostile witness. Sanford finished with three specific questions. “But there wasn’t anything bad that occurred at the water tower?” “And you haven’t ever been to that water tower before or after, have you?” and “Not just counting that night, Mr. Sirois has never made any advances toward you of any kind, has he?” Rhonda answered “No” to all three questions.

[Despite Rhonda trying to give minimal answers, the information she revealed was that Steve didn’t break in (he had keys), that he told them some things about the tower, and that he never made a pass at her. Also, despite her testimony to Ross about becoming uncomfortable as they got closer to the tower, to Sanford she said she didn’t feel any apprehension about it. Which of those statements was true? They can’t both be.]

Sanford also asked her if she agreed that her note about the water tower, said that he “let us go inside.” Rhonda said, “Correct.” Sanford said, “He didn’t force you inside, did he?” Rhonda said, “No.” He said, “Didn’t force Hanna inside, did he?” Rhonda said, “No.”

[Whether it was a smart idea for Steve to show them the water tower or not, Rhonda agreed, somewhat begrudgingly, that Steve had asked them if they wanted to see it (despite her earlier testimony to the contrary), and that they said yes. He didn’t make them go inside against their will.]

Sanford asked Marri several questions about the tower. “Marri, you have been to the water tower with your father, haven’t you?” “Was it neat?” “Was it educational?” “Did you enjoy it?” and “Did it appear to you that your father liked to explain what he knew about the water towers?” Marri, shy and soft spoken, and nervous about testifying, quietly said “Yes, sir” to all of them.

[Hanna and Rhonda weren’t the only ones Steve showed the water tower.]

Sanford also asked Beau. “Did your father ever take you to a water tower?” “When he took you to a water tower, did he ever explain how it worked?” “Was he pretty proud of his knowledge of water towers?” and “Was it neat?” Beau also said, “Yes, sir” to all of those.

[Beau agreed that it was neat too.]

In 2014, I asked Steve about it. He said. “During the trial they made a large thing out of the fact that, when I gave Hanna and her friend a ride home from the rodeo, I stopped by a water tower which was my responsibility to monitor. The tower was on the way. Records that I acquired for Sanford showed that I had been called out to that tower constantly during the summer months. I just thought it would be nice to show them, and would also be nice for me to check on it to make sure it was not about to overflow, and that way I could sleep when I got home without worrying about it.”

[They were just passing by one of Steve’s water towers. It was old, and about to be decommissioned, and there was a good chance he might have to drive all the way across town to service it the next day. By stopping and checking on it right then, he could save himself an extra trip, and thought it might be nice for the girls to see what it was like inside one.]

Analysis: Steve’s version of what happened that night is this: When they left the rodeo grounds, they drove by a water tower he was responsible for, and they stopped to look inside. He checked it out, made sure it wasn’t overflowing, and explained how it worked. They got back in the truck and drove to Alderson, where he dropped off Rhonda, then Hanna. The prosecution, on the other hand, tried to foster the idea that the water tower was a secluded, romantic (yes, romantic) spot where a man in his 40’s could take two impressionable young girls to seduce them.

Let’s start with the idea that the tower was secluded. Hanna told Tom that Steve said, “I want to show you something, let’s take a detour.” Then at the trials, both girls said, variously, “We started in a direction that I didn’t know,” “I don’t know where it is,” “It’s kind of in a secluded place,” “He drove out to — I still to this day don’t know where it is,” and “He kept taking different turns. I didn’t know where we were.” Rhonda also said the tower was “10 to 15 minutes” from the rodeo, and that they arrived there “around 12:00 or 12:30.” Let’s dispel all of those falsehoods.

Check out the map. The route from the rodeo to the water tower consists of only one turn, not a bunch of different ones. Steve headed south from the rodeo grounds on Highway 377, and turned east onto FM (Farm to Market Road) 45, the road the tower is on. This turn was onto a paved streetlamp-lit road, not multiple turns down deserted roads heading out into the boondocks. There is a subdivision and a middle school just north of the tower. No one would put a water tower out in the middle of nowhere to service an urban population.

Let’s look at the time of night, and the time it took to get there. Rhonda’s times changed from one trial to the next. Both she and Hanna agreed in the first trial that the rodeo ended around 10:30 to 11:00 pm, but in Trial #2, Rhonda’s said they arrived at the water tower between midnight and 12:30 am, after a 10 to 15 minute drive from the rodeo. That’s just nonsense. The tower is barely over three miles from the rodeo, less than five minutes away. Even counting a 15 to 20 minute stop at the tower, they arrived at Rhonda’s house in Alderson long before midnight.

Hanna also said the “water tower was on the right side of the road.” It wasn’t. It could only have been on the right side if they approached it from the east, the opposite direction. My theory: Despite all her protests to the contrary during the trials, Hanna did know where the water tower was. One reason she may have thought it was on the right side of the road is because, once Rhonda came forward with her note, Hanna realized she would have to describe the tower in the trials. If she drove there from Alderson (or possibly Bloom, where she was living after she moved out of her mom’s house), when she arrived (from the east), the tower would have been on her right.

In her interview with Tom, Hanna portrayed the tower as place that “was awesome.” She also told Tom that “nothing happened there. It was kind of cool.” When Tom asked if Steve made any advances toward Rhonda, or tried “to hold you or kiss you or anything” while they were there, Hanna said, “No.” Even during the first trial Hanna didn’t seem to think that seeing the tower was anything unusual, but said, “There was an amazing echo in there.” In Trial #2, Rhonda unenthusiastically agreed that Steve didn’t force them to go there, did nothing to them while there, and made no advances toward either of them. As far as the water tower being romantic, it’s a very old, large, round concrete structure that holds a million gallons of water and is very dusty inside. Interesting scientifically, perhaps, but hardly a place to take someone for flirting and innuendo. The tower, which still stands, is now decommissioned and has been replaced by a newer one.

The only other issue Rhonda raised about their time at the tower was during Trial #1. She said “When we were walking in the water tower, he would put the hand on, like the bottom part of her back.” The prosecution tried to make that seem depraved, but it made me think about the tower’s door. Originally I envisioned a door that was flush to the ground, but I wondered if that would be practical, because they wouldn’t want the interior of the tower to get flooded during heavy rains (which could damage electrical equipment inside). In a 2016 phone conversation, I asked Steve if there was any kind of a lip on the tower’s door. He said there was. I asked him how tall it was. He said, “It’s about twelve inches. You have to step over the lip.” He also mentioned a second lip at an inner door inside the tower. I said, “In other words, when Rhonda said you put your hand on Hanna’s back, that could have been to say, “Hey, watch out, there’s a lip here?” Steve said, “Absolutely.” So, if Steve did that, it might just have been to warn her to watch her step and not trip over some obstacle.

Conclusion: It was fairly well settled during the trials that nothing happened at the water tower. I think that Rhonda, as the trials approached (maybe with some urging from Hanna, Darla, or the DA), searched for anything she could think of to help strengthen Hanna’s case, and the only thing she could remember was that Steve might have touched Hanna’s knee (shifting gears), and that he had placed his hand on Hanna’s back as she entered the tower. So they were able to turn what was probably a simple warning, for Hanna to watch her step, into something creepy.

Nothing inappropriate happened at the water tower (or in the truck).

Michael Sirois

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