Parts of this post were used in Aggravated.
In the first Gasnick post, I provided a little background about Steve’s connection to Billy Gasnick, and how Steve and Robin introduced him to Karen Suhler. After Karen and Billy got married, they ended up moving a number of times, and had recently moved into a dilapidated house a little north of Deep Springs.
One day, Steve was watching a bunch of kids at his house while the wives were out of town at a bowling tournament when Gasnick called him in a panic, saying that his step-daughter, Jenny, was missing, and he needed help. Steve told him he would be there as soon as he could. He finished feeding everyone, asked our dad to watch the kids and Jeff for a while, and drove over to Gasnick’s, about a dozen miles away. When he got there, Gasnick told Steve he had looked everywhere for Jenny, and just didn’t know what to do. Steve asked if he had called the police yet. When Gasnick said he hadn’t, Steve waited while he made the call, and then they called their wives.
Karen asked if they should come home right away. She and Robin had finished bowling for the day, but they had been drinking and stormy weather was predicted, so they weren’t sure if they should get on the road. It would have been a two-and-a-half hour drive under the best of circumstances, but facing the long drive back to Ashwell County under the influence and in the rain? No. Steve advised against it. Not wanting them to worry, he said he was sure Jenny would turn up, and he didn’t think they should be driving late at night anyway. He told them to come back in the morning, but said they would call them if they heard anything new.
Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Stavens arrived a little after 10:00 and helped them look until nearly midnight. Steve suggested getting a REACT team out there to help with the search. Stavens agreed, and put in a call before he headed back to the sheriff’s office. Steve went back and forth between Gasnick’s and his house a few times, checking to make sure everyone was okay. As he made trips between the two houses he took different roads, looking for Jenny on the way.
People were searching the property most of the night, until a heavy rainstorm called a halt until dawn. Steve said that Gasnick seemed nervous and fidgety during the rain. Buddy Suhler, Karen’s brother, said that once the rain stopped, Billy hopped in his Ford Escort and drove off, saying he needed to get away for a bit. He returned about ten minutes later.
Shortly after that, the full REACT team and other volunteers were making sweeps across the property, walking side-by side in long rows, but there was no sign of Jenny. Helicopters with heat-seeking equipment were flown overhead. Tracking and cadaver dogs were brought in. One of the dogs seemed interested in Gasnick’s car, so Gary Tidwell, a Texas Ranger who had been called to the scene, asked for permission to search the car and the house. Gasnick signed the forms to allow them to search. In Gasnick’s Escort they found blood splatters and small bits of brain matter. Gasnick was bought to the sheriff’s office for questioning. Late in the afternoon of the next day, May 24th, Jenny’s body was found in a culvert, a little over two miles from the Gasnick house. She appeared to have been raped and then bludgeoned to death with some sort of a solid object.
According to a number of sources, Gasnick may have also committed several other horrible crimes before 1993, including rape, kidnapping, and murder. No one in the area, not Steve and his family, and certainly not Karen or her girls, were aware of Gasnick’s past. He was tried elsewhere for a few of the crimes, and was under suspicion for the rest. The Gasnick family closed ranks whenever Billy got into trouble, sometimes providing sources of confusion and alibis for him. According to Steve, when Billy was accused of an earlier murder charge, in spite of other specific physical evidence, one of his sisters claimed he was with her in a different state, and he was acquitted.
In 1993, though, Gasnick was tried and convicted for raping and murdering Jenny. No one in Deep Springs was aware of Gasnick’s past crimes until the sheriff of a neighboring county heard about Jenny’s disappearance. Steve said the sheriff came to the Gasnick house after he found out that Billy was the primary suspect and said, “What do you expect from the most dangerous son-of-a-bitch in Keegan County?”
Soon after the murder, with the evidence mounting against Gasnick, Steve decided he needed to talk to the investigators. Steve and our father both submitted to interrogations and gave DNA and pubic hair samples which excluded them from blame. They also both agreed to testify for the prosecution. Steve said that, while they were at the sheriff’s office, Deputy Otto Walton said they believed that when Billy left his house after the rainstorm, he actually drove to the culvert to make sure the rain hadn’t washed out Jenny’s body.
In the next post I’ll cover Gasnick’s trial, the time leading up to it, and why it relates to the prejudice against Steve that developed in Deep Springs during the decade before his own trial.
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