“Thirteen days later, my brother was murdered and my left arm was shattered,” he says.
Stecker extends his arm as far as it can go, about 5 inches shy of straight. Thick dark Hebrew script is tattooed onto his forearm. It means “true servant,” a concept that summarizes Stecker’s life calling to help others. Beneath the tattooed skin, steel pins and plates hold the bones together.
Stecker recalls being terrified at the Bedford home. “When [Don] was around everything was peaceful and nice and friendly, but when he wasn’t [home] she would scare us,” he says. “If you cried, you got hit, whatever you did … it was like … Jekyll and Hyde.”
“She would hide behind the stairs and scare us, grabbing our ankles, yelling ‘Boogeyman!’” In interviews with police after Eddie’s death, little Chuckie said his foster mother held their heads under faucets and beat them with sticks.
“You name it,” says Stecker. “Go to bed [and you’d be] ripped out of your bed. In the tub, the hot water faucets would be turned on. Evil stuff.”
Dr. Joseph Spelman, the city’s medical examiner at the time, told authorities that the bruises associated with “parental punishment” on Eddie’s body suggested that he had been “mistreated physically” for some time leading up to the fatal blow. “The report also indicated he had been struck repeatedly for a day or so before his death.”
Lillian Bedford confessed, though not right away.
According to a published account of the events, “Mrs. Bedford at first had maintained that Edward had fallen from his crib, but his brother, Charles, told them, ‘My new mommy hit him.’”
Bedford was arrested for involuntary manslaughter and assault.
Author Joe McGinniss, then a popular Inquirer columnist, wrote the only public narrative of Don Bedford’s life after his wife’s arrest.
In McGinniss’ portrait, Don Bedford staggers through his day swigging whiskey and sobbing, a broken man who loved his wife and always wanted children of his own.
“Believe it or not,” Bedford told McGinniss, “She’s a damned fine woman. And I wish you could have seen how wonderful she was with the kids. She had a nursery school class at our church and the things she did with the children there were just terrific.”
McGinniss summarized the husband’s dilemma. “It was not easy for him to decide what to do. At first he hated her. He had waited all his life for children and she had killed them when they came.”
“He could have walked out and said to hell with her and tried to find a new life, but instead he hired the best lawyer he could get.”
The Bedfords hired A. Charles Peruto Sr. A local courtroom legend, the 84-year-old retired attorney still lives in town.
Stecker says that he periodically tried to contact Peruto, and his son, Peruto Jr.—well-known for representing reputed mob boss Joey Merlino—for details of the beating death. “I was told he didn’t want anything to do with the case,” says Stecker. Turns out, Peruto simply doesn’t remember.
“You’re not telling me anything that strikes a bell,” says Peruto during a recent telephone conversation. “I tell you I stopped counting murder cases that I’ve had when I hit the magic number 333. Otherwise, you see bodies in your sleep, for crying out loud.”
Randolph E. Wise, the Welfare Department commissioner in 1967, was widely quoted describing Eddie Stecker’s death as “the first of its kind in the history of the city’s foster parent program.”
But in April 1966, another 2-year-old died while living with the Bedfords and though murder was not proven, it should have been a big enough red flag to disqualify the couple from the foster program.
Press reports indicate that Brent “Chuck” Garcia had suffered a “severe bruise” on his scalp but “the autopsy on the Garcia boy failed to determine either the cause of death or how the child died.” Bedford claimed Garcia’s death was a result of him accidentally falling off a rocking horse.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom