12-year-old Stephanie was murdered in her room while her family slept on January 20, 1998. She was found by her family the next morning. Police zeroed in on Stephanie’s 13-year-old brother Michael and two of his young teenage friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser, though they had no evidence of their guilt. So police grilled the boys relentlessly. Eventually they wore the boys down and got half confessions from them.
The night of the murder, neighbors reported a strange man, homeless, mentally ill Richard Tuite, had knocked on several homes on the street. He was belligerent and acting so strange that several neighbors called police suggesting that he should be investigated for Stephanie's murder. Police found Tuite and took him to the station where they questioned him for a couple of hours then let him go. Police also confiscated his filthy clothing, taking note of scrapes on his body and a cut on his hand. Amazingly, Police never considered schizophrenic Tuite a suspect in Stephanie's murder.
Maybe because they already had their man, 13-year-old Michael Crowe. He was singled out by Escondido police because the crime scene seemed to suggest an inside job, and because he seemed "distant and preoccupied" after Stephanie's body was discovered and the rest of the family grieved. Police interrogated him multiple times without his parents' knowledge and without an attorney present. During the interrogations, police falsely informed Michael and his friends that they had found physical evidence implicating him, that they had all failed an examination with a so-called "truth verification" device, and that Michael's parents were convinced he had done it. After an intense 6-hour interrogation, he gave a vague confession to killing his sister, providing no details and saying that he couldn't remember doing it. The interview was videotaped by police; at times Michael is heard saying things to the effect of, "I'm only saying this because it's what you want to hear." He was arrested and charged with murdering his sister.
The court ruled that the two confessions were redundant and ordered that the first confession be suppressed. The second Treadway confession remained admissible. Houser's statements to police were suppressed because police did not sufficiently advise him of his Miranda rights. Michael and his two friends were arrested and put on trial, to pre-empt the defense, police finally tested Tuite’s clothes. It was discovered that 2 brown spots on Tuite’s shirt were Stephanie’s blood. That was enough for the case against the boys to be dismissed after they had spent 8 months in jail. Oddly enough the Republican DA requested that the dismissal be without prejudice, which meant the DA could arrest and try the boys again if he chose. The Republican DA and Police were suspected of having leaked the story that the blood had been planted or the evidence contaminated during the course of the investigation, possibly by one of the boys' defense attorneys or someone else. The best possible theory is the DA and Police were doing CYA, better to convict an innocent boy and his two friends than to admit they had been wrong from the very beginning. And the murderer was going to walk away free, once police and the DA gave him the contamination cover story.
To understand this phenomenon, see my page on Peter Reilly who was coerced into a false confession for murdering his mom. A very good movie, A Death in Canaan (1978), starring Paul Clemens, Conchata Farrell, Brian Dennehy and Stephanie Powers was made based on Joan Barthel's book. In Peter Reilly's case, a lie detector administrator falsely told the boy that his exam showed Peter LIED AND WAS 100% GUILTY OF THE CRIME. It didn't. Later examiners looked at the same exam print out and said it absolutely did NOT show Peter's guilt or that Peter was lying. The police and lie detector examiner used this false testimony to intimidate the innocent teenager/orphan to confess to the murder of his Mom. Peter was all alone and had no one to turn to for advice, he had been in police custody for over 24 hours and relentlessly questioned and bullied by the officers. The same phenomenon, Peter and Michael both said they had NO memory of doing the crime of which they were accused, but believed police when they told the boys they had absolute proof of the boys guilt.
Police always suspect the last person seen with a murder victim, even if it is/was a 14-year-old good kid like Steven Truscott, who was only doing a good deed for a friend and classmate.
3) A boy named Gord was fishing with friends in the local stream when he noticed Steven and Lynne on the road and yelled hello and waived at them on June 9th. He and his friends knew them and they only fished that one day, the first really warm day of the year, so they were 100% sure of the identification and testimony. The reason this is so important, Gord and the stream were well past the point at which Lynne's body was found and within a few 100 yards of the crossroads where Steven said he dropped Lynne off on his way home. The boys fishing in the stream said they did NOT see Steven and Lynne double back, though they did see some cars on the road after that. One of the vehicles they noticed was a YELLOW automobile going in the direction of their school, the Air Force Base and the thick woods WHERE LYNNE'S BODY WAS FOUND. The prosecution during the original trial adamantly claimed that Steven and Lynne never reached this point and police discounted and refused to take these other boys' testimony seriously.
The crossroads where Steven dropped Lynne off today, since paved. https://militarybruce.com/case-not-closed-the-enduring-tragedy-of-the-harper-truscott-murder-case/
An ambulance is seen loading Lynne's body, to give you an idea of the dense forest which hid her body for two days. The first photo was taken from the main street leading to Lynne and Steven's homes and the Air Force Base. Even an adult would have trouble carrying a struggling child or dead body this far without a car/truck.