Search for answers continues in Steinfurth caseWritten by Evan Brune Casey Harper | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The room where Elaina Steinfurth was last seen is frozen in time. The dark, cold space offers a glimpse into the turmoil that has enveloped her family during the past month. Overturned mattresses — grungy and stained — and piles of clothes lay scattered across the floor, untouched since the most recent police search. The room is colored by a pink glow from the light filtered by window shades. The eerie silence is broken by the slow, low whir of a ceiling fan. In the corner of the room, a torn bag of diapers sits unused.
Eighteen-month-old Elaina was moved from house to house during the weeks before she disappeared. The last night she was seen was spent on Federal Street in an East Toledo neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses and worn-out homes where children run and play with broken toys. Shattered beer bottles and spent firecrackers litter the sidewalks.
People crowd front porches. Kids laugh and neighbors yell. Since Elaina’s June 2 disappearance, the routine is broken daily by reporters and news cameras, white-collar workers referred to as “$100,000 kids” by Federal Street residents. The persistent media attention adds tension to the grief-stricken street.
Barney and ramen noodles
Despite her surroundings, family members describe Elaina as a curious and playful baby who laughed and brought joy to those around her.
“Everyone who was in the house always gravitated toward her,” said Julie King, who has spent decades in the house where Elaina was last seen. “She usually sat up on the couch and watched my grandson and her sister play with the dogs. She would watch Barney, Wiggles. She’d watch SpongeBob with the kids.”
Terry Steinfurth Sr. said his granddaughter was always happy and playful when he saw her.
“She was just starting to walk. A week before she went missing, I found out she could high-five,” he said. “When she was born, she had her foot turned in, but she had therapy for it and was walking fine. She had blue eyes. A lot of people say she looks like her mom, but when she was a baby, she looked like my son.”
Julie said Elaina loved to eat ramen noodles. The night before the baby’s disappearance, Julie remembered eating noodles with the toddler.
“She always ate ramen noodles,” Julie said.
When Julie’s grandchildren set down an iPad, Elaina was quick to grab it and begin tapping the screen.
“She would go sneaking, quiet as a church mouse, to [the iPads],” King said. “Oh my goodness, she would just press everything. She just liked the different things, you know?”
Angela’s stepfather, Richard Schiewe, said Elaina loved macaroni and cheese and playing with ABC magnets on his refrigerator.
“I just tickled her a lot and watched her laugh,” he said. “She would climb up the stairs and slide down on her butt. She could run, but she couldn’t run real good. She’d always run over to me and say, ‘Papa! Papa!’ Them babies loved coming over to my house.
“She loved the swimming pool. We bought her a floatie thing and life jackets. She loved it.
“I’m gonna miss all that. No more Christmases or birthdays, no more Easter egg hunts. There’s no more now. All I got now is memories and pictures.”
Those happy moments were apparently rare for Elaina.
Witnesses say Elaina’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, would leave Elaina in a playpen for most of the day. At 18 months, she could not complete full sentences and was “jabbering.”
Angel Zam, a family friend, said Angela would leave Elaina alone for hours at a time.
“That baby was in the playpen for 20 out of 24 hours. I feel so bad because I didn’t do anything. I feel ashamed,” she said.
Julie, the mother of Angela’s boyfriend Steven W. King, said she would often take Elaina out of the playpen when she got a chance because she felt sorry for the child. She described a sad Elaina the past few months before she disappeared.
“I thought she should be just more full of life,” Julie said.
Terry Steinfurth Jr., Elaina’s father and Angela’s estranged husband, came to pick up Elaina and her 4-year-old sister Kylie between noon and 1 p.m. June 2 at the King home at 704 Federal St. An argument ensued when Angela refused to give Elaina to him, according to several witnesses.
“They woke me up with their arguing between noon and 1 p.m. I had been taking a nap,” neighbor Dennis Bolfa said. “They were yelling back and forth, and [Steinfurth Jr.] kept saying, ‘I want my kid! I want my kid!’”
Almost an hour after the start of the argument, Angela went in to get Elaina, but came out “crying and screaming” that Elaina was gone, according to Steinfurth Sr.
The family began searching the area for Elaina. They called the police when she could not be found.
Bolfa said “something wasn’t right” about Angela’s initial reaction.
“She was pacing up and down the street, and then she walked up to me and asked for a cigarette. She went from crying to smiling. How do you go from fake crying to a smile?” he said. “Something ain’t right there. If I lost my kid, I wouldn’t be asking for a cigarette. That’s a crock of s***. If it was my kid, I’d be going crazy.”
Angela was arrested June 12 on a charge of child endangerment.
On June 24, she was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of obstruction of justice. She appeared before a grand jury for the child endangerment charge after a preliminary hearing on the morning of June 24. A pretrial date has been set for July 24.
At Angela’s arraignment June 26, Judge Gary Cook lowered Angela’s bond from $250,000 to $100,000 with no option to pay 10 percent to the court. This means she must arrange for full payment of the $100,000 rather than paying the court 10 percent of it.
In such cases, the incarcerated person can either stay in jail or find a way to get 10 percent of the money to a bail bondsmen as a nonrefundable fee. Once the person pays the fee and gets cosigners and collateral property put up, the bail bondsmen will pay the full bond so the incarcerated person can get out of jail.
If the released person disappears and does not appear in court, the bondsman is responsible for finding the person or covering the bond.
According to multiple Toledo-area bail bondsmen, Angela could walk out of jail for $5,000. Every bail bondsman surveyed by Toledo Free Press said they would pay Angela’s bond for $5,000 and could set up a payment plan for an additional $5,000.
“If she has family support, she could be already out,” said Shon Hunter, owner of In and Out 24/7 Bail Bonds.
Schiewe told Toledo Free Press on July 3 he was working to get her out of jail within days.
The possibility of Angela being back on the street raises questions concerning her safety, given the national attention her missing child has garnered.
Weeks of investigation passed with no sign of Elaina. The Toledo Police Department and FBI have shared few details with the public, but Toledo Free Press broke a story June 19 about a tip that revealed new information.
Angela was seen leaving the Federal Street home between midnight and 1 a.m. the morning of the toddler’s disappearance.
Bolfa, who lives across from the King home, said he saw Angela and her boyfriend Steven W. King leave in their van and return 10-15 minutes later.
On June 12, police seized the van Bolfa saw the couple leaving in.
“I thought they were just going to get cigarettes or something,” he said. “It didn’t dawn on me at the time.”
When Bolfa was interviewed by Toledo Free Press on June 18, he had not yet reported this information to authorities, who later questioned him about the incident.
“That’s abnormal for that van to leave after 10 [at night]. They don’t usually do that,” Bolfa said on June 20.
Bolfa said he believes Angela was involved in the disappearance.
“A couple days before, she said, ‘[Steinfurth Jr.] ain’t getting my kid,’” Bolfa said. “She’s got something to do with it, no doubt.”
Two days later, Toledo Free Press broke the news that a family reported a tip that Angela had confessed to her cellmate about what happened on the early morning of June 2.
Jobeth Adams of North Toledo said her sister, Connie Elam, called her June 18 from Lucas County Corrections Center.
Elam told Adams that Angela had confessed to helping her boyfriend hide Elaina’s body.
“[Elam] called Tuesday night, and she was really upset,” Adams said. “She said, ‘I don’t know why this woman has decided to confide in me.’”
According to Elam, Angela’s boyfriend Steven threw Elaina against the wall between the night of June 1 and the morning of June 2, injuring her. King then put the toddler down for a nap and when Angela checked on her later, Elaina was dead.
“They wrapped [Elaina] up in a blanket, and took her down by the High-Level Bridge and [Steven] stood behind [Angela] and
she threw this baby in the river,” Adams said.
“[I said] ‘So what you’re trying to tell me, Connie, is there is no hope for this baby coming home?” Adams said. “And she said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘They’re looking in the right place for this baby. This baby is dead. She’s in the river.’”
Elam called Adams at 9:24 p.m. June 18. Adams’ husband called Toledo Police Department’s Crime Stoppers tip line at 10:50 p.m.
“Carl called and gave all the information, and they transferred us over to the FBI,” Adams said.
Adams said her sister is only interested in helping the search for Elaina.
“The other women [in Angela’s cell] want something. My sister don’t want something,” Adams said.
Adams said Elam and Angela became cellmates June 17.
“[At first], she felt bad because all the girls in there was wanting to beat the girl up,” Adams said. “Then all of a sudden, the girl comes to her and confided in her and she’s like, ‘You didn’t take your baby to the hospital?’”
Elam is incarcerated on child endangerment charges, but has not been convicted.
The charges stem from a March 20 incident in which Elam left her 2-year-old daughter with the child’s paternal grandfather, Aubrey Dale Marshall, a convicted sex offender. Adams said Elam did not know of Marshall’s prior conviction.
Marshall is charged with raping Elam’s daughter, but has not been convicted.
“My sister’s in there for something that happened to her child that she couldn’t help and is looking at this girl like, ‘I took my baby to the hospital.’ My sister took her child to the hospital … and this lady didn’t do nothing for her baby. So it hurt my sister. It hurt her bad. It is a real messed up situation.”
An attorney for Angela did not return calls seeking comment.
The store clerk
Hayleigh Rowan, a clerk at the Gas Express Mart on Starr Avenue and White Street in East Toledo, said Angela came in with Elaina between 8-9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 2. She bought a doughnut and a bag of chips, then left without saying a word. Rowan worked with Angela for a few weeks at the same Gas Express Mart.
Rowan said she saw no bruises on Elaina, contradicting reports of a source named only as “Frank” on HLN’s “Nancy Grace.”
“I didn’t see anything, but I did just glance at the baby,” Rowan said. “But even at a glance you’d notice a black eye.”
The store normally records customers coming and going, but Rowan said the cameras were down that morning due to a “wire mishap.”
Rowan called the Crime Stoppers tip line June 8, six days after the toddler’s disappearance. Rowan said she mentioned the information to her boss a few times and then later reported it to Crime Stoppers at the urging of her mother.
Rowan’s statement is one in a long line of tips that have surfaced during the past month, creating much uncertainty for investigators and family members.
The latest clue in the investigation came when a Toledo-area fisherman gave what he believed to be human hair to the Toledo Police Department on June 23.
There have been two reports of possible human hair in the Maumee River under the High-Level Bridge in the past 10 days.
A different fisherman found what he believed to be human hair June 29 in the same location.
Greg Boswell found the strands June 23.
“Well, I was fishing with my granddaughter and we pulled something up and I said, ‘Hey, I think this is human hair,’” Boswell told Toledo Free Press on July 2. Boswell said he handed the sample, which consisted of three strands varying from 3-5 inches long, to police officers stationed on the bank of the river.
A detective later approached Boswell about his discovery.
“He said, ‘Hey, I hate to interrupt your fishing trip but I need to get some information,’” Boswell said.
Boswell said the police told him they were getting the strands tested and would get back to him. On July 2, he said they haven’t contacted him.
On July 3, Toledo police confirmed the hairs were of human origin, but a DNA test matching the strands to Elaina could take weeks. When the second hairs were found, relatives of Elaina petitioned the Toledo Police Department to dive the river. On July 3, the Toledo Fire Department sent divers into the river at the spot where the fishermen found the strands.
As of presstime July 3, the results of the dive were not known.
The discoveries suggest the missing toddler’s body could have been placed in the river under the High-Level Bridge, matching the earlier story reported to the FBI by the sister of Angela’s cellmate.
Allegations of abuse
A chorus of witnesses in the Federal Street neighborhood said Angela verbally abused Elaina and physically abused her 4-year-old daughter, Kylie.
“She would slap the oldest in the face, tore her hair,” Julie said. “She was rough, very rough. She would yank her up by the arm.”
Julie Malkin, public information officer for Lucas County Children Services, said the agency responded to a call regarding Angela and Steinfurth Jr. earlier this spring.
“We investigated a situation where we were concerned about the children being exposed to domestic violence,” Malkin said. “In this case, the worker felt that the situation had resolved itself.”
Angel Zam said she heard Angela screaming at Elaina.
“I’ve seen her be abusive, have heard her scream [to Elaina], ‘You little bastard!’ You know, stuff you just don’t say,” she said. “She was really abusive to the kids. She had a lot of issues. I felt sorry for her.”
Zak Zam, Angel’s son, said he witnessed similar incidents.
“She just seemed very violent toward [Kylie]. Slapped her across the face, said, ‘You little b****.’ Those are some of the worse things that I’ve seen,” he said.
Ginger Smith, Elaina’s cousin, has helped raise awareness and lead the volunteer search effort.
“I know the mother wasn’t a very nice mother. She yelled at them and was always cussing,” she said.
Angela’s treatment of the two girls was the final straw in Steinfurth Jr.’s decision to end his relationship with her, according to Steinfurth Sr.
“I have seen her smack, yell, scream at [Kylie]. I flat-out told her I don’t agree with it. I was very happy when [Steinfurth Jr.] said he was going to try to take custody,” Steinfurth Sr. said.
Julie said she wanted Steinfurth Jr. to take custody of the two girls.
“I said to him, ‘You gotta do something,’” Julie said. “‘I’ll help you but something’s gotta be done. I’ll do anything to help you.’”
Julie said she had considered calling Lucas County Children Services, but hesitated.
“I didn’t want to see the kids go through the system, you know?” she said.
Angela had previously lived with Julie for a few months, and that time together “made me hate my house,” Julie said. She also said Angela regularly smoked marijuana.
“She’d do it a few times a day, if she could afford it. She’d go to people’s houses,” Julie said.
“I think it’s an inside job on the mom, if you ask me,” Federal Street resident Terry Luce said. “She’s all happy and smiling. That mom messed the baby up.”
Schiewe denied the allegations.
“Both my granddaughters loved their mom,” he said. “It’s bulls***. She loved them girls. None of them neighbors know nothing. Everybody wants the media spotlight.”
The stress and national attention combined with the strain of a missing child pushed the families into a clash witnessed by the nation.
Three factions emerged. The Steinfurths composed the largest group. Steinfurth Jr. and his father along with Elaina’s cousin Ginger Smith spend much of their time at a “command post” at the end of Federal Street. Search teams meet there. The area also serves as a gossip hotspot and festers with a simmering discontent that grows daily.
Angela’s stepfather Schiewe has publicly defended her from the beginning. The Kings, represented mostly in the media by Julie, have not involved themselves in public confrontations in front of the media, but repeatedly noted dissension among themselves and the Steinfurths and Schiewe.
The conflicts began with the “Nancy Grace” show. Grace had several family members on her nightly primetime show, drawing more attention and publicly displaying the infighting as the rift between family members widened.
The fighting hit a boiling point on June 20 with a video from Toledo Free Press showing Steinfurth Jr. and Schiewe shouting in front of multiple news cameras in front of the Toledo Municipal Courthouse. The video appeared on multiple television stations, including before Grace’s national audience.
Despite the different factions’ distaste for each other and the media, each continues to emphasize that they should keep the focus on finding Elaina.
“We ain’t here to worry about them guys. We just want to find the baby,” Smith said.
At press time, Angela is in Lucas County Correctional Center awaiting trial for the obstruction of justice charge. Her pretrial is set for July 24.
“I don’t feel that she should get out,” Steinfurth Sr. said. “Until that baby is found, I think she should sit. I feel she knows more than what she’s saying.”
“I’m happy,” said Smith at the court appearance June 24. “Hopefully, we’re going to get somewhere now.”
During the week of the July Fourth holiday, under gray and rainy skies, Steinfurth Jr. continued to troll the bottom of the Maumee River where the fishermen found the hair, searching for his missing daughter. He drops a line with a large hook into the muddy waves, on a mission that seems to have evolved from rescue to recovery.
His life is frozen in time, with a dark, cold space where his 18-month-old daughter Elaina used to be.
Anyone with information regarding Elaina Steinfurth’s disappearance is encouraged to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at (419) 255-1111.