“Within a week of our initial interactions, [Byrne] calls me again and has the court records,” Stecker says. “[Now] all of a sudden arrest records are found, court records found. I’m excited. Finally.”
Stecker holds up his cell phone to show the record of the call from Byrne. “I literally found the outcome of [Bedford’s] case out yesterday,” he says. “Tuesday, April 25, 2011, 10:18 a.m.”
Byrne “told me several things I didn’t already know,” says Stecker. “He told me that [Bedford] never went before trial … which would explain why the court itself couldn’t find records. [Byrne] only found the investigation records. It was presented before the court, but her attorney kept having it postponed.”
“Every time after that it was that she was mentally unfit to stand trial. She never appeared in court again, he couldn’t find where she was remanded to psychiatric treatment by the court.”
One of the last articles covering the case states that on March 4, 1967, Lillian Bedford was sent to Norristown State Hospital by order of Judge Stanley M. Greenberg. The hospital can’t, of course, confirm patients’ records due to federal law.
“Charles can’t obtain the records,” says D.A. spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson. “I know that Detective Byrne read him information over the phone but as for physically obtaining the records, that’s not something anybody can do.”
Byrne confirmed for Stecker that Lillian Bedford died on Jan. 2, 1998.
About the outcome: “It is what it is,” Stecker sighs. “All my life I had been told nothing ever happened to [Lillian Bedford], but I never fully believed it. It wasn’t a shock, I don’t have any animosity—she’s passed away. It was a bit of closure at least, finally hearing it directly from someone who saw the record. Now I know for sure.”
Now for the other puzzle piece: finding out how he and his brother ended up in Bedford’s care. Between the bits of documentation he obtained and his mother’s and father’s accounts, Stecker has tried to piece together his past, but his parents, who divorced shortly after Eddie’s death, offer conflicting versions of many events.
Stecker was born in now-demolished Naval Hospital Philadelphia in 1962, the first-born son of 21-year-old Marie Stecker (now Smith). His mother had a troubled childhood: Her parents died when she was 9 years old, then her grandmother died when she was 12. She was adopted by an aunt. “My life went downhill after that,” says Smith, 70, from her home in Virginia. Smith grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city down the street from Stecker’s father and namesake, Charles Joseph Stecker Sr. After running away and spending the better part of her teen years in a school for troubled girls, she married Stecker. He was a cook with the Coast Guard.
Right away they had Charles. Two years later, Edward [Eddie] John was born, followed by a baby girl named Donna. Paging through the Stecker family baby books, you wouldn’t guess the tragic turn their lives would take. The penmanship looks like a teenager’s lopsided scrawl. “Charlie, Jr. loves his brother Eddie very much. He especially likes to hold him with my help of course,” wrote a then 23-year-old Smith on a page reserved for her son’s “Year Two” milestone. Smith diligently recorded details such as the child’s favorite vegetables and first attempts at standing up. The book reads like the record of an attentive, loving mother.
“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” says Stecker, staring at the page. “I don’t know, maybe she was trying then.”
But the book, like the rest of the documents, doesn’t tell the whole story.
“By the time I was a year old, my [birth] mom had fractured my skull. By the time I was 2, she had knocked out a few teeth,” says Stecker. Under a page titled ‘Illnesses’ there are three fractured skull entries. “Fell out of crib on head” is marked 4/63, “clumsiness” is marked 11/65. A third entry in different ink says “fell.”
Stecker believes the city intervened. “DHS got involved because the Navy hospital caught the fact that I was coming back [to the hospital with injuries] routinely,” he says.
His mother insists it didn’t happen that way; that he shouldn’t believe what the papers say because they never talked to her. “He thinks the state took him, no they did not,” counters Smith, who says she signed him over voluntarily, though she accuses her ex-husband of tricking her into giving up custody of her first-born son.
“They put a paper in front of me and my ex-husband had already signed it,” says Smith. “I didn’t think to ask, ‘what’s this I’m signing?’ I signed my son over.”
“They said something about abuse, I said fine,” she adds. “Then it just snowballed after that.”
Smith denies beating her son. “There was an accident that happened and yes he was hurt,” she says over the phone. “Chuck had fallen and to this day I cannot remember what happened.”
While Smith denies specific allegations of abuse, she will admit to the possibility of physical abuse in general terms—with the caveat that she wasn’t alone.
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino