September 2, 1994
Wilmington, Delaware
Brian D. Steckel (27) strangles, rapes, and sets his neighbor Sandra Lee Long on fire

Steckel’s story changed during the course of his interrogation, trial, and incarceration. In the most consistent version of events Steckel claimed he visited Long’s apartment to ask to use her telephone — multiple neighbors at the Driftwood Apartments later verified Steckel often asked to use their phones to check his messages as he did not have a touchtone telephone to access the system. Once inside Long’s apartment, Steckel claimed he punched her, threw her across the room, strangled her into unconsciousness with a sock and pantyhose, raped her, and sexually assaulted her with a screwdriver. Before Long lost consciousness, she sustained defensive wounds and bit Steckel’s finger, drawing blood. After the attack, Steckel lit Long’s apartment on fire and left.

Long regained consciousness and called out for help. The faint cries of “help me, please” were heard by two tree-trimmers taking their lunch break near the apartments. One kicked open a window to Long’s basement apartment while the other broke down her front door. The rescuer at the window was able to hold onto Long’s hand and pulled with “all [his] might” until the flames could no longer be tolerated, while the rescue attempt through the front door was blocked by a wall of flames. Long perished in the blaze, dying of smoke inhalation and severe burns over 60% of her body.

Hours after the murder, Steckel called The News Journal to confess to the murder, dubbing himself “The Driftwood Killer” and threatening to kill another victim. He supplied the newspaper — who in turn informed police — with the name of his intended victim. Police placed the woman in protective custody and discovered she had been receiving a series of obscene phone calls, presumably from the same person who called the newspaper. The calls were traced to Steckel and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Brian Steckel at trial

An officer found Steckel walking down the road, drunk, on the night of September 3. After identifying Steckel by a distinctive tattoo on his arm, the officer feigned being lenient about a public drunkenness charge and offered to drive Steckel home. Instead, the two drove to the police station where Steckel was booked for murder.

During interrogation, Steckel called Long “sleazy” before immediately correcting himself, explaining: “She’s not sleazy, man. I took her fucking life, man. She didn’t deserve to die. … There is something wrong with me inside me and I … I just go off the fucking handle, man. And it’s just not right, you know what I mean?”

She’s not sleazy, man. I took her fucking life, man. She didn’t deserve to die. … There is something wrong with me inside me and I … I just go off the fucking handle, man. And it’s just not right, you know what I mean?

During this time, Steckel’s story began to change. He alternately claimed he attacked Long for refusing to have sex with him, that she was pregnant with his child and demanded child support payments, that he was not involved but had a vague description of the man who did, and that Long had accused Steckel of stealing drugs from her then attacked him with a frying pan. He also began sending letters, over 75 in total, to various people, threatening them, confessing to other killings, and bragging about Long’s murder. One such letter was sent to Long’s mother, which included Long’s autopsy report and “Happy Happy. Joy Joy [a reference to the Nickelodeon‘s The Ren & Stimpy Show]. Read it and weep. She’s gone forever. Don’t cry over burnt flesh.”

While in custody, Steckel confessed to police regarding several other killings, claiming he left a signature of bite marks on the victims’ buttocks. Police could not connect him to these murders and Steckel was eliminated as a suspect. When confronted about the lack of links between Steckel and the murders, he replied: “I was just shooting the breeze, man, and I was drunk … when I was saying that … I never killed anyone else.” Steckel was convicted of Long’s murder and sentenced to death.

Steckel’s attorney Joseph Gabay attempted to have the sentence commuted to life, citing Steckel seemed to thrive in the 24-hour structured environment prison provided. “Outside,” Gabay explained, “he is a dangerous guy. Very dangerous. He’s just good at being in jail.” The appeal was unsuccessful and Steckel’s lethal injection proceeded as planned. He was executed on November 4, 2005, his official final statement including apologies to Long’s family and, “I’m not the same man I was when I came to jail. I’m a better person.” At some point during the process he asked the warden, “why is it taking so long?” and joked with witnesses including friends and family, telling them they had “beautiful eyes.” Just before he died, Steckel said, “It’s time to get out of here. The journey away begins.”

Sources:
“Brian D. “Red” Steckel.” Clark County Prosecutor. Accessed: September 2, 2019. http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/steckel991.htm
“Family hopes execution of killer will bring closure at last.” Intelligencer Journal [Lancaster, Pennsylvania]. November 5, 2005
Torrejón, Veronica and Gamiz Jr., Manuel. “Ex-Valley resident facing execution.” The Morning Call [Allentown, Pennsylvania]. November 3, 2005
O’Sullivan, Sean. “Rapist, murderer longed to kill, attorney says.” The News Journal [Wilmington, New Jersey]. October 31, 2005

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