This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
The Richardson Family Murders is the bizarre story of
- a 23-year-old high school dropout who claimed to be a 300-year-old blood-drinking werewolf,
- the 12-year-old girl who manipulated him to do her bidding, and
- parents desperate to regain control of their deeply troubled daughter.
When her parents ordered the 12-year-old to stop seeing the man eleven years her senior, they unwittingly signed their own death warrants.
This case is also exposes the utter uselessness of a Youth Criminal Justice Act publication ban. While I could (and would) be charged for violating the publication ban if I printed the daughter’s name, Canada’s publication ban only applies to Canadian media outlets.
You can discover the young killer’s name in 7 seconds or less by searching the web. Her name is everywhere.
It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s government policy.
Youth Criminal Justice Act Publication Restrictions
- 110(1) Subject to this section, no person shall publish the name of a young person, or any other information related to a young person, if it would identify the young person as a young person dealt with under this Act.
On April 23, 2006, the bodies of Debra Richardson, 48, and her husband Marc, 42, were discovered in the basement of their Medicine Hat home. Both were stabbed multiple times until they died.
Their 8-year-old son Jacob was found upstairs in his bedroom, his throat cut and his bed drenched in the child’s blood.
Their 12-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found and initially police thought she was kidnapped by the murderer.
She was not kidnapped by the murderer.
She was the murderer.
The convicted triple murderer, dubbed Runaway Devil by journalist and former Calgary Herald staff writer Sherri Zickefoose, cannot be named due to a publication ban under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act. Zickefoose coined the moniker to address this conundrum to allow her to write about the youngest mass killer in Canadian history while avoiding contempt of court charges.
Runaway Devil was no ordinary 12-year-old girl. She looked and dressed far older and, if you see any of the pictures published of her outside of Canada, you’ll understand what I mean. She was smart, pretty and easily manipulated the emotionally challenged Jeremy Steinke into doing whatever she wanted.
Here’s an excerpt from reporter and author Sherri Zickefoose, who discusses the case on her blog.
Covering the Medicine Hat murders was like no other reporting experience I’ve ever had in nearly 20 years in journalism. Hours after the news broke that police were investigating deaths inside a family home, I had travelled 300 km southeast from the Calgary Herald newsroom to stand on the sidewalk at the scene with a notebook and endless questions.
Our presumption – callous but practical to deadline decision makers in newsrooms everywhere – was that it was possibly another tragic case of domestic violence; a murder-suicide. As the hours ticked past, the real tale began emerging and the story spilling. A Grade 7 classmate told me J.R. wasn’t missing: she had run off with her older boyfriend in a grey truck and online she called herself Runaway Devil.
My colleague Robert Remington crossed paths with a teenage mom who said she’d left a raucous afternoon house party with her newborn baby after a kissing and giggling couple made her feel uncomfortable. The amorous pair was none other than J.R. and her boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke, just hours after the murders. Steinke told his friends he was a 300-year-old werewolf and that he liked to drink blood.
The ill-matched pair plotted to stay together when the girl’s parents kept them apart. J.R. was the architect of the crime: “So I have this plan,” she messaged Steinke, who went by the user name Souleater. “It starts with me killing them and ends with me living with you.”
In the decade after the crime, I have to wonder if anything has really changed. The lives of grieving family members are regrettably still darkened and diminished by the kind of damage that only comes from murder. A little neighbour boy, now a handsome high schooler, surrendered his innocence after coming to play and instead discovering the bloodied bodies of the dead through a window.
On this sad anniversary, police officers and other first responders with long memories vow to replace the gore and horror they saw by choosing to think of the family in happier times. If they can.
What’s woefully missing 10 years after the killings is any kind of significant national conversation about childhood mental illness and supportive resources for parents. Have we learned anything from the nightmare that befell the family? Has anything improved since the desperate Medicine Hat father and mother sought help for a daughter they couldn’t control?
She was always two steps ahead of them, able to manipulate and outsmart any boundaries her parents tried to enforce. Mental health experts have since said J.R. is afflicted with oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. To most, that looks an awful lot like tantrums and disobedience, not uncommon in childhood.
The murders of J.R.’s father, mother and young brother were needless, of course. Because the courts must protect J.R.’s identity in order to fulfil efforts to rehabilitate her, the family’s legacy remains shrouded in secrecy. They were, in fact, loving parents who were building a better life for their young family.
The family’s struggle was no secret. The parents told many in their circle of the problems they were having with their daughter. Family therapy wasn’t working. They were fighting hard to rein in their wilful and headstrong daughter in the weeks leading up to the tragedy. Their legacy deserves to reflect that.
And I guess that’s where the rub is. J.R.’s records are sealed, but can anything be learned from her mental health case? We are left to hope that her case can be used to improve children’s mental health detection and support for parents looking for crucial answers.
The Runaway Devil 14 Years Later
The maximum sentence a young offender can receive for murder, no matter how many people they kill, is ten years. By the time she completed her custodial sentence in 2017, Runaway Devil had spent almost half her life incarcerated.
JR aka The Runaway Devil, completed her youth sentence for three counts of first-degree murder. She is now 27 years old with a new identity. Her accomplice in the murders of her entire family remains in prison.
By all accounts I can find, JR successfully convinced her psychiatric care handlers and a judge she poses no further threat to society – that she is a new woman intent on getting on with her life.
If you were to meet JR today you would never know it. Her identity is shielded by a system more concerned with protecting a triple-murderer’s privacy than it is with public safety.
For more on this bizarre Canadian tragedy:
- Runaway Devil: How Forbidden Love Drove a 12-Year-Old to Murder Her Family by Sherri Zickefoose and Robert Remington
- Sherri Zickefoose’ Blog: https://sherrizickefoose.wordpress.com/