July 25

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 25, 1988:

A young man turns the death of his parents into a game

Police responding to an emergency call in Washington, North Carolina, find Lieth and Bonnie Von Stein stabbed and beaten in their home. Lieth was dead, but Bonnie, barely clinging to life, somehow survived. Angela, Bonnie's 18-year-old daughter, was found in the next room; she said that she had slept through the brutal attack.

Investigators were immediately distrustful of the crime scene, which appeared to have been staged as though to suggest a robbery. Detectives caught a lucky break when a hog farmer happened to spot a fire in the woods around the time of the murder. A hunting knife, some clothing, and a scrap of paper with a map of the Von Stein's neighborhood were recovered from the remains of the fire.

Detectives assigned to the case learned that Lieth had had a poor relationship with his two stepchildren, Angela and her older brother, Chris, both of whom were known drug users. The police also found out that Lieth had inherited over a million dollars shortly before he was killed. As the investigation dragged on into 1989, police turned their attention to Chris, who refused to take a polygraph test (which his mother and sister had passed).

A devotee of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, Chris often vented his frustration to his fellow players at North Carolina State University. Reportedly, Chris was bitter toward his stepfather for not spending more of the inheritance on him. When pressured, some of Chris' friends revealed that James Upchurch and Neal Henderson, other D&D players on campus, may have been involved in some sort of plot with Chris.

After turning Henderson, who accompanied Upchurch to the Von Stein home, into a state witness, prosecutors persuaded Chris to plead guilty to aiding and abetting the murder. Chris testified that he had supplied a key and the map to the house where Upchurch had killed Lieth Von Stein. Although Henderson's testimony was not entirely compatible, and there was no physical evidence tying him to the murder, Upchurch was convicted of murder in 1990 and sentenced to death.

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