It’s Wisconsin Wednesday today! I wish I were providing some great secret about Wisconsin that you didn’t know. But, today, I bring to you a disturbing case from the Southern part of the state, the Circus Capital of the World….Baraboo!
Yes you read that right. Baraboo, WI, was the winter grounds for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Today you will find the Circus World Museum, and the largest library of Circus information in the United States. And you thought we only were known for cheese!
However, Baraboo isn’t all trapeze and exotic animals. It is the setting for a horrible crime against two teen boys which began in 1994.
Christian “Chris” Steiner was 14 years old in 1994. It was after the fireworks on the Fourth of July and his family were all in bed. The next morning, Chris was gone. As he wasn’t the type of kid to runaway, his parents immediately contacted the police and had a missing person report filed. The only evidence was show impressions outside his window and muddy tracks in the house, further suggesting that Chris had been taken. Unfortunately Chris would be found 5 days later his body was found tangled in a tree on the Wisconsin River.
There was no further evidence, no suspects, and no arrests in Chris’ murder.
July 29, 1995, Almost identical to how Chris disappeared, another 13 year old boy disappeared seemingly without a trace from his home. Thad Phillips was asleep on the couch in the new house that his family moved into. In his partial sleep state, he thought it was one of his parents taking him to bed.
Once outside Thad woke, and saw an older boy that he didn’t know who had asked him if he could run with him. Thad agreed and they ran back to the house the boy claimed he lived in with his brother. When they arrived, the boy said his name was, “Joe” and that they were having a party later. Joe mentioned some names of other boys that Thad was familiar with.
Joe asked Thad if he would like to go look at “cool model cars” upstairs. Once they arrived upstairs, Joe was no longer nice. He threw Thad on the mattress, jumped on top of him and then began to twist his foot around his leg until the bone snapped and splintered.
Shock and adrenaline aided Thad with jumping from the bed and trying to run down the stairs. Joe easily caught him and returned him to the bedroom and began to beat Thad until he no longer struggled.
Joe then talked with Thad. Thad was trying to create an escape plan, and said he wouldn’t tell anyone if Joe just let him go. When Joe didn’t show any inclination to release him, Thad asked why he was doing this to him. Joe’s answer was as terror inducing as a horror movie; he liked to hear bones breaking at his whim, and he had done it before and loved it.
Between bouts of Joe breaking more of his bones, and beating him, Thad would be carried to the couch where he and Joe would talk, watch movies, and Joe would tell him about how he lived with his brother, his family, his car, and even his girlfriend; who at one time was at the front door while Thad was on the floor faking unconsciousness.
The torture continued for hours at a time. Joe took out his frustrations on Thad. He twisted his legs until they splintered, broke his knees and even jumped on his chest. If Thad attempted to fight back or escape, the brutality increased. This continued for 43 hours.
During this time, the 13 year old boy fought back as best as he could, he tried to escape three times, and he even threw himself down the stairs in an attempt to flee is attacker. This kid wasn’t giving up, however it was getting more and more difficult. His legs were swollen, bruised, and completely broken. Internal organs were damaged, he was bleeding internally and he had been without food since he arrived.
During his escape attempts, Thad would have to crawl only using his arms and hands, and due to the pain would pass out for unknown lengths of time. While Joe was out of the house, Thad was able to locate a phone, and called 9-1-1. Authorities arrived before Joe returned and Joe was arrested upon his return to the house.
Thad was immediately transported to the hospital, he had life-threatening internal bleeding. Doctors speculated that he was only hours away from dying. His twisted feet had skin reminiscent of rubber, and his toes were pointing the wrong way. His thigh had snapped, his ribs were bruised and broken, and his arms had been bent and twisted. Thad would require numerous surgeries over the next several years to regain his mobility.
Thad managed to tell police Joe had confessed to doing this before to other victims, which helped police link him to Chris Steiner.
Police looked for any indication of previous victims, but they found evidence suggesting Joe intended to capture and torment more boys. In the house, police located a school notebook, which listed names of over a dozen local boys, including some Thad knew. The boys’ names were in different columns, detailing whether or not Clark could kidnap them soon or later, and what he wanted to do to them. Part of the list included a column titled “The Leg Thing,” suggesting he intended to mangle his future victims with the same methods.
Joe claims he doesn’t recall any of the torture inflicted to Thad, and claims no knowledge of Chris’ death. Chris’s body was exhumed and x-rayed, his injuries were almost identical to that of Thad. Joe was convicted on the death of Chris Steiner, and the torture of Thad Phillips. He is serving life plus 50 years.
Thad has regained his ability to walk again, but a limp remains as an unneeded reminder of what he went through.
That my friends is a most disturbing case. I hope that no other child had to go through what Chris and Thad had experienced and the bravery of Thad Phillips is awe inspiring on how he managed to fight for his life and survive.
Be strong, make good choices, be safe