Despite a massive search for Steffey beginning a couple of days after his disappearance, nobody discovered Steffey's body in the utility room, even though officials said the room was searched and K-9 units had been used in the area to search for Steffey. The body was not discovered until March 19 after students returned from spring break after a physical facilities employee was notified of a popping noise eminating from the area of the utility room. This employee was drawn into the room, according to the Purdue's Exponent student newspaper, by a "strange odor" emanating from the room. He discovered Steffey's body just 50 yards from where he had last been seen on January 13. As the Exponent reported on March 21 :
The room in which Steffey was found had been searched once from the inside entrance shortly after he disappeared. Because of poor lighting and the position of the body, however, searchers could not see him from that doorway. Eight K-9 units also failed to uncover the location of the body, despite several searches in the building's vicinity.
Norberg said the odor of the body may have been masked by the odor emitted from the transformers, which is sealed from the inside of Owen by a thick door. The room also maintained a slightly higher temperature than outside, which may have postponed the decomposing process.
If Steffey died from electrocution on January 13, why were no "popping noises" heard for more than two months--the sound of his body grounding the electrical current? Why was the odor not detected during this period of time? How could the outdoor entrance to the high voltage utility room remained unlocked and undetected for more than two months? Why was the outside door to the utility room not marked with the words "DANGER, HIGH VOLTAGE"? Why wasn't there a light switch by the outside door, which would allow someone to turn the lights on without stumbling through the dark searching for the only other light switch near the locked inside door? A cell phone was found with Steffey's body. Were signals not emitted very near this area around the time of his disappearance?
What is even more troubling is a new revelation today that a Purdue maintenance worker found a shoe belonging to Steffey on January 23 just 10 days after he disappeared in the door well leading into the room where his body was found. The AP reports:
A maintenance worker found a shoe belonging to a missing Purdue student near a utility room where his body eventually was found, a spokeswoman for the university said.
But searchers didn't immediately link the plaid-lined slipper to Wade Steffey when it was found on Jan. 23, 10 days after the 19-year-old Bloomington man vanished.
"Obviously, it's something that we wish -- in hindsight -- had made us look more closely," Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said Tuesday . . .
Numerous items of clothing were found and stored as potential evidence, Norberg said. The shoe was covered in leaves and debris and looked as if it had been outdoors more than 10 days, she said.
Steffey's parents are not satisfied with what they've learned so far. They've retained an Indianapolis law firm, Montross, Miller, Muller, Mendelson and Kennedy, to represent them in a potential action against the university. Speculation about Steffey's death has been further fueled by Internet rumors about his sexual orientation and whether that could have played any role in his death.
It is clear that Purdue officials and local police badly mishandled the search for Steffey. I only hope the passage of time and the resulting deterioration of the condition of his body over that more than two month period does not remove the possibility of getting the answers his family and the public deserve.
The photo above was taken by the Lafayette Journal and Courier.