Hey, little skeletons! I’m Gina – And I’m Amber! – and this is Weird True Crime! (music intro)
Amber: I have a bad habit of scrolling on my phone at night before I go to sleep. The other night, I was flipping through my photos and came across all the pictures of my 18-month-old, nicknamed Tiny, and man did it hit me in the feels. Certainly not enough to want another one though. No. Not gonna happen. I swear if my 10-year-old tosses her prepubescent sassy attitude at me one more time, I’m going to ground her until she’s 30. And Tiny. Oh, man. One minute she’s cuddling with me on the couch, and the next she’s yeeting a hard plastic toy at my face, and she’s got some strength on her for sure. That’s enough birth control for me thank you. I’m not looking forward to what the next few years are gonna be like with all the girly hormones raging.
Gina: Raising boys is no walk in the park, either. My 10-year-old has the attitude of a 16-year-old, eats non-stop, and outgrows his clothes every two months. The 7-year-old still acts like a toddler half the time, talks non-stop, and refuses to do things he can easily do himself. They may be turds to us, but they’re respectful to their family members, teachers, and friends, so we must be doing something right. Let’s just hope our kids grow up to be decent humans and we never get a call like the one Stephen Pladl’s mother received on April 12, 2018.
[911 CALL FROM STEPHEN PLADL’S MOTHER]
G/A: It’s heartbreaking to hear the sorrow in Grace’s voice in that call.
G/A: Truly one of every mother’s worst nightmares.
Now, let’s back up a bit. You know, in 1995, internet chat rooms were already a thing. I was too young and didn’t gain an obsession with it myself until around the age of 15 – which was the exact age of Alyssa Garcia when a 20-year-old Steven Pladl met her in a chat room. Alyssa was a normal teenager growing up in San Antonio, Texas, but had found herself falling in love with this older man. They sent messages and love letters to each other and Steven would even visit her in Texas – despite the disapproval of Alyssa’s family. Now, I will be the first to admit that when I was that age, I did not make the best decisions when it came to matters of the heart. Unfortunately, Alyssa had decided that her best course of action to fulfill her dreams of being with Steven was to run away from home. This led Alyssa across the country from Texas to New York. A year later, Alyssa became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter who they named Denise, on January 29, 1998. Alyssa noticed almost as soon as Denise was born, that Steven hadn’t bonded with the baby. He never took care of her, he rarely held her, and he would even yell at her. Things continued to get worse from there. For those of you who don’t know, babies cry. A lot. That’s how the baby communicates to you that it needs something, whether that be a diaper change, they’re hungry, or they’re cold even. Steven couldn’t handle that and he would cover her mouth when she cried instead of trying to soothe her. Alyssa said she noticed that baby Denise would have bruises all over her little body from where Steven had pinched her.
G/A: You would think that if he didn’t want to hear her crying, he wouldn’t do something like pinching her to make it worse.
G/A: Right. Think that’s a pretty good insight into his character, but there’s more though.
Alyssa said that eventually he would reach his breaking point with her crying and would place baby Denise in a cooler or an ice chest. Sometimes he would put a blanket in there to keep it cracked open, and sometimes he would shut it and not allow Alyssa to go open it or take care of her daughter. Alyssa said “He would make me wait a few minutes until I could go back and I’d open the cooler and she would just be gasping for air, drenched in sweat, bruises on her. I would just scoop her up and shut the bedroom door so he couldn’t bother me and I would rock her back and forth and tell her how sorry I was for the life she was having.” When Denise was 8 months old, Steven and Alyssa decided to put her up for adoption. Alyssa said that it was because she was only 17 and depressed and couldn’t cope with having a baby, but in reality, it was so Denise could be safe from further abuse from Steven. It didn’t take much convincing on Alyssa’s part to get Steven to agree to it either.
G/A: So sad. Why didn’t Alyssa tell somebody, anybody, about the abuse?
G/A: She said she was too frightened and confused so the best thing she could do for her daughter was to give her up to a loving family. Believe it or not, Steven and Alyssa eventually got married in 2006 and would go on to have two more daughters together in 2007 and 2012.
They moved to Henrico, which is a suburb of Richmond, Virginia where Steven was perpetually unemployed and Alyssa was the main breadwinner of the house, sometimes holding multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. Steven would threaten Alyssa that if she were to leave him, he “would blow his brains out with a gun, figure out a way to record it, and make sure the video got to me.” This was a threat that seemed entirely plausible to Alyssa as Steven had a cache of four or five guns in the house and all of the firearms were purchased legally as he didn’t have a criminal record. Steven didn’t treat his other two daughters in the same way he had treated Denise, but Alyssa had described him as still “violent and angry, temperamental and unpredictable.” His outbursts usually consisted of him tossing furniture around and punching walls. One incredibly disturbing event occurred when the neighbor’s cat found its way into the garage. I’m sure you can tell where this is going… Alyssa stated that Steven had beaten the poor cat to death with his bare hands, and possibly some tools, wrapped it up in a garbage bag, and tossed it in the trash. His only reasoning for doing so was that he didn’t like cats.
G/A: Well, that’s a giant red flag if I’ve ever seen one.
G/A: Huge red flag. Plenty of people don’t like cats, you know, they prefer dogs more or something, which is fine… but you don’t see them beating up cats simply because they don’t like them, just saying. Thankfully though, as we mentioned before, Steven never treated his other two daughters in the way he treated Denise. However, he wasn’t exactly a model father to them either.
When one of his daughters was only three years old, she had an accident and wet herself. I mean, even after they’re potty trained, this is a common occurrence with kids that young, accidents happen. Steven’s response to his young daughter wetting herself was yelling and berating her, instead of cleaning her up. Then he made her stand in the bathtub still wearing her urine-soaked clothes. The poor little girl had to wait hours, for hours, for her mother to come home. When Alyssa found her, she was shaking and crying and just said “Can I please come out now mommy?” Alyssa says there were other instances of Stephen treating the girls poorly, and that every day she wishes she would have gotten them away from him sooner. She said, “I was always on eggshells, whatever his mood was, everybody knew, and that mood was often not happy, a lot of yelling, a lot of things smashed in the house, in front of our kids.” Sad to say though that it would still be a little while before they were away from Steven Pladl.
G/A: Those poor girls. Poor Alyssa.
G/A: Absolutely. She tried to protect them in any way she could from him while they were in that house with him. At least she didn’t have to protect Denise anymore.
Denise had been adopted by a wonderful couple, Anthony and Kelly Fusco, from Dutchess County, New York and they changed her name to Katie. Kelly’s brother said that his nickname for Katie was Pac-Man and that she was always eating. She was a vegetarian – she loved animals. She was also an aspiring artist. She had attended school at Dover High School and was well known for drawing comic strips. She planned to attend college at Dutchess Community College in August of 2016 and pursue a career in digital advertising. In a blog post, Katie wrote: “A pen and something to draw on became a safe place for me. Ink became my weapon against rules and regulations… To be short; for me, a life without art is no life at all.” Just like a lot of adopted kids, Katie had begun to wonder about her birth parents and where she came from, and with the help of social media, she was able to reach out. After she turned 18 in January 2016, she found Alyssa and Steven Pladl and messaged them. Over the next few months, she talked with her biological parents and started to get to know them. When August of 2016 rolled around, instead of enrolling in college as she had planned, Katie decided that she was going to move in with Alyssa and Steven in Henrico. Undoubtedly her adoptive parents had probably preferred her to continue with college as she had planned, but since Katie was 18, there was nothing they could do about it.
G/A: Nothing sounds weird, yet.
G/A: You’re right… everything seems about par for the course on a true crime case so far, so where does the weird come in? Hang tight, we’re almost there.
Well, when Katie moved in with Steven and Alyssa, and her two sisters in August 2016 everything seemed normal. Alyssa was overjoyed being able to get to know her oldest daughter after so many years, but unfortunately, the family wouldn’t remain whole for long. Steven and Alyssa had already been sleeping in separate bedrooms for some time before Katie moved in. Alyssa also noticed that Katie had started spending most of her time with Steven while she was at work and there was an obvious change in Steven’s appearance and behavior as well. Before Katie moved in, Steven looked like your typical dad. He wore his hair short with some facial hair, t-shirts, and jeans. He began wearing trendy clothes, like skinny jeans, shaved his facial hair, and grew his hair out longer – I guess to make himself appear younger. Alyssa found out that he had even started sleeping on the floor in Katie’s bedroom, but when she confronted him about it, he dismissed that anything weird was happening and left the house with Katie. In November 2016, Alyssa moved out of the house with the younger two girls while Katie remained behind with Steven.
G/A: What a creep. It sounds like he was starting to develop feelings for his own daughter after abusing her as a baby…
G/A: Yep, there’s the weird. Alyssa had had suspicions about their relationship, but no confirmations until she stumbled across a journal entry in her younger daughter’s journal. Also, she even told Katie about how Steven had treated her as a baby, and Katie was unbothered by it.
In the journal entry that Alyssa read, her daughter stated that Katie was pregnant and her dad calls the baby his baby as well. She also wrote that Steven told her and her sister to call Katie their stepmom and not to call her their sister anymore. Alyssa immediately contacted Steven and asked him about the pregnancy. His response was simply “I thought you knew. We’re in love.” She contacted the authorities and got a protective order banning Steven from contacting her or their other two daughters which prompted an investigation – but no arrests were made at the time. Two months after Steven and Alyssa’s divorce was finalized, Steven married his daughter, Katie on July 20, 2017, in Parkton, Maryland. Since incest is illegal, they lied on their marriage application stating that they were not related for the ceremony to take place without objections. Surprisingly, Steven’s parents and Katie’s adoptive parents were in attendance. Anthony and Kelly Fusco believed it was best to support Katie in her decision, regardless of their discomfort with the situation. Shortly after their wedding ceremony, Katie gave birth to their son, Bennett on September 1, 2017, and they moved into a house in a cul-de-sac in Knightdale, North Carolina. However, their bliss was short-lived. In January 2018, Steven and Katie Pladl were arrested and charged with incest. They were released on bond with the condition that they have no contact with each other. Steven’s mother was granted custody of the baby, Bennett, and Katie moved back to New York with her adoptive parents, Tony and Kelly. Steven’s lawyer stated that there was never any allegation that Steven had pressured Katie into a relationship. He said “This case is an 18-year-old girl who shows up at the doorstep of a 40-year-old man who’s going through difficult times with his wife. They have a bond because they’re biologically related, but they never knew each other before they had a sexual relationship. He was head over heels in love with her, so much so that that outweighed the issue of them being biologically related.”
G/A: Since they were no longer allowed to see each other, they ended the relationship, right?
G/A: Well, Katie did call Steven and end their relationship – but considering the events that were about to unfold, he clearly did not take that information very well.
Katie routinely visited her adoptive grandmother in Waterbury, Connecticut on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Steven knew this. On the morning of April 12, Katie left with her adoptive father, Anthony, to travel to Waterbury. According to a surveillance video, Steven had parked nearby in a minivan and watched them leave. It wasn’t too long later that witnesses in New Milford reported someone opening fire and Katie and Anthony were fatally shot. Shortly after the shooting in New Milford, as heard on the 911 call earlier, Grace called and reported that her son had told her he killed the baby, Katie, and her adoptive father. Now, the night before, Steven had called his mother and said that he was going to come by and pick up the baby to bring him to Katie in New York. Grace didn’t suspect a thing, and let Steven take Bennett. Before Steven made the drive from the home he had previously shared with Katie, he ended his own son’s life and left his body in a closet which the police would later discover. When he found Katie and Anthony stopped at a stop sign, he opened fire on them both with one of his previously mentioned guns (an assault-style weapon similar to an AR-15.) Police found his minivan back in Dover where they discovered Steven Pladl had taken his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In later interviews with Alyssa, she stated in reference to Steven: “He had an obsession with guns. He had been an outcast since school. He hadn’t had a job for eight years; He fitted the exact profile of one of these mass shooters.” Unfortunately, no one saw this coming. Katie and baby Bennett were laid to rest on April 21, 2018, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Dover Plains. Alyssa stated she didn’t attend as she didn’t want to draw more media attention, but she opened up in the interviews to say: “I’m grieving. I’m sad. I’m upset, but I also want to have something good come out of this. If it’s to get the truth out there, to open people’s eyes to incest.”
This case is next-level weird. We try to keep our opinions out of the serious topics we cover on the podcast, but it’s hard to keep our mouths shut sometimes. Without getting on a soapbox, I just want to say while Stephen Pladl is an absolute piece of shit, it seems like several people are guilty of failing to act, speak up, or alert authorities to the situation. Katie may have been an adult, but we’re talking about incest here, which is illegal and just morally wrong. I understand wanting to support your child, but sometimes it’s necessary to object or intervene when their safety and well-being are at stake. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Head over to Instagram and follow us at @weirdtruecrime to see pictures from this week’s case, previous cases, and the best memes on the internet. We also have a Facebook Group! Join the Weird True Crime Podcast Group to chat with us and other listeners! If you love what we’re doing over here in our corner of chaos, leave us a 5-star rating and review on your favorite podcast app. If you can’t leave a review on the app, send it to our email email@example.com. We’d love to start doing listener story episodes, so write in your true crime, spooky, or otherwise weird tales. Next week we’re lightening things up again with another What the Fuck Wednesday!
Until next time, stay safe – make good choices – bye!!