Kingfisher Police Chief Dennis Baker said he anticipates charges of first-degre murder, kidnapping and desecration of human remains charges to be filed Thursday against a Kingfisher man arrested Friday for allegedly killing his girlfriend, dismembering and burning her remains and then burying them in the backyard of their home.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Steven Stricker, 62, 421 W. Sheridan Ave., Kingfisher, about 3 p.m. Friday at the police department, even as other agents and local police officers were unearthing what they believed to be the remains of Stricker’s girlfriend, Brenda Baber, 56, from the backyard and garden of the couple’s home, Baker said.
Stricker remains incarcerated in the Kingfisher County Jail awaiting the filing of formal criminal charges by the District Attorney's Office, Baker said.
“We anticipate those charges to be filed on Thursday,” he said late Tuesday afternoon.
Based on a preliminary investigation and welfare check at the home on Thursday, authorities obtained a search warrant Friday for the house, yard and outbuildings.
Five local police officers, four OSBI agents and a representative of the state medical examiner’s office spent about 10 hours collecting evidence at the scene, Baker said.
“The main things found and collected at the scene were blood and bone fragment evidence,” Baker said Monday.
“There was evidence of a large amount of blood in the bathroom of the home that was largely diluted, possibly through cleanup efforts.
“A lot of time was spent in the bathroom collecting swabs of blood evidence for DNA analysis.”
Authorities also found “a large amount of bone fragments” in the garden area and around the adjacent alleyway and outbuilding, Baker said.
“In particular, bone fragments were found that the medical examiner’s office believes are from the cranium of the victim,” he said. “All bone fragment evidence was collected by the ME’s office for examination and possible DNA analysis.”
Stricker also allegedly told OSBI agents on Friday that some of the victim’s remains were placed in his residential trash cart for garbage service pickup on Wednesday, which led Baker to send Sgt. Dustin Brodrick and Lt. Travis Gray on a fruitless search of the multi-city landfill at Union City, along with OSBI agents.
“Landfill management knew the proximity of where Kingfisher’s trash would have been dumped, but approximately 400,000 tons of trash had been dumped in that location since last Tuesday,” Baker said. “They were unable to locate anything there of evidentiary value. You can imagine that this would be literally finding the ‘needle in the haystack.’”
Stricker allegedly told OSBI agents that Baber died accidentally after falling in the bathroom and hitting her head and he “panicked” and took steps to dismember and attempt to dispose of and hide her body.
Police launched a search for Baber Thursday when her sister, Ellen Samuels of Cushing, reported that Baber had called her on Tuesday and asked for her help moving out of her Kingfisher home.
The sisters made plans to do that on Thursday while Stricker was at work, according to Samuels’ statements to Kingfisher police officers.
Stricker was a restaurant cook employed at Boomerang in Kingfisher at the time of his arrest. He’d also worked for a time at the Stack Grill, according to former coworkers.
Samuels told police that she went to her sister’s home on Thursday and no one answered the door, although Samuels believed Stricker was inside.
Samuels also told police that her sister and Stricker had a history of domestic violence and Baber told Samuels that if she ever comes up missing to call the police, Samuels said.
An online search of court records showed Stricker had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse in Kingfisher County District Court in 2011, for which he received suspended sentences.
A third allegation of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2012 triggered a motion to revoke Stricker’s suspended sentence and he was ordered to serve 90 days in jail.
Baker said his department had investigated no recent reports of domestic altercations involving Stricker and Baber.
When police spoke to Stricker at the couples’ home Thursday, he said Baber had been home in bed when he left for work that morning and was gone when he arrived back home and he did not know where she was.
Baker said his officers were told that Baber suffered from lupus and a chronic lung disease, could no longer walk without a walker and was unable to drive. Her walker and recently refilled prescription medicines were still in the home, as was her dog, according to the report.
Samuels told officers her sister would never have left the dog behind, which made her concerned that something bad had happened.
A neighbor told police Thursday that Stricker allegedly had been burning something in his backyard fire pit over the last few days and also had been “messing around in the garden,” which the neighbor found odd since the house was slated to be purchased and demolished as part of the city’s flood buyout program, according to the police report.
Police examined the fire pit on the back porch and described it in the report as “very clean with no ash or wood inside.”
Police also noticed “burnt wood pieces mixed into the rain-packed dirt” in the garden area, according to the report.
Later Thursday evening, Julia Blanchard, identified in the report as Stricker’s sister, called the police department with more information.
Blanchard told police that Stricker allegedly called her about 6 p.m. Thursday and repeated several times that “we lost Brenda,” according to the report.
Stricker also allegedly told his sister that the police were at the house looking for her and he did not know where she is but “she is gone.”
Stricker also allegedly told Blanchard that he used to work as a butcher and he knows how to get rid of a body and that “a fireplace works miracles,” according to the report.
Blanchard told police that Stricker allegedly had threatened to kill Baber in the past if “she ever left him and took his stuff” and Baber had allegedly told Blanchard that she was going to leave Stricker, at which time Blanchard informed her of Stricker’s alleged threat to kill her.
Baker said OSBI was called in to assist with the investigation Friday morning, based on witness statements, although the case also continued to be worked as a missing person until the search warrant was obtained and the human remains and other evidence were uncovered.
The remains had not been officially identified at the time of Stricker’s arrest. The exact time of death also hasn’t been determined, but Baker said Baber most likely died Tuesday, sometime after the last conversation with her sister.
A group of area residents organized a prayer vigil in front of the Stricker-Baber residence Saturday evening, placing a memorial sign and flowers at the curb.
Baker said a probable cause affidavit was submitted Monday to the district attorney’s office, where the formal charging decision will be made.
In the meantime, the ongoing investigation includes interviewing another possible witness to whom Stricker allegedly made incriminating statements, Baker said.
Kingfisher city commissioners applauded Baker and his officers for their professional handling of the case, leading to a speedy arrest.
“Our police department has been very professional and has worked well with the OSBI to process that very difficult scene,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Alexander said at Monday night’s city meeting. “Chief Baker also handled himself well with the media.”
Baker was not present at the meeting, but said Tuesday morning:
“I am thankful for the quick response we received from the OSBI and the ME’s office for technical and forensic assistance with this case.
“It’s one thing when your case has a body but something altogether different when your case relies upon the identification of fragments and DNA collected at the scene.
“All investigators worked very well together with my officers and made a great team.”