On July 4th, 1994, 14 year old Chris Steiner was reported missing from his home in Baraboo Wisconsin. Chris’s dad called the police and told them that he had checked on his son around 10 pm the previous night and he was in bed asleep. At first they had agreed that it was likely he just snuck out to go to a party or something since it was the 4th of July weekend. But as the days began to pass with no sign of Chris it was clear that something was wrong. The police suggested that maybe they were dealing with a runaway but Chris’s parents quickly dismissed that theory stating that everything was fine at home and he had no reason to run away. Upon investigating, police found clear signs of an abduction. Chris’s bedroom window screen was sliced open, there were muddy footprints on the carpets, and a patio door had been left unlocked. Local authorities did everything they could to locate Chris but unfortunately he was found dead six days later on July 10th, his body had been draped over a partially submerged tree along the edge of a sandbar in the Wisconsin river. Police were convinced that foul play was involved despite an autopsy that revealed no traumatic injuries to the body. His death was ruled as a drowning and officially labeled as “undetermined”.
Just over a year later on July 29th, 1995, 13 year old Thad Phillips had fallen asleep on the couch but was later awakened by someone picking him up and carrying him through the house. Thad assumed it was one of his parents carrying him to bed as they had done many times before. He realized something wasn’t right when he noticed he had been carried outside and sat down on the ground. Still groggy from being asleep, he saw a young man that he didn’t recognize but he didn’t feel threatened by him because he seemed friendly. This young man was 17 year old Joseph Clark. Clark had asked Thad to come with him to his house that was only half a mile from Thad’s place claiming that he needed help with his car and Thad sleepily agreed.
Once they arrived at the run down house Thad began to suspect that he was in trouble. Clark introduced himself as “Joe” and stated that he was going to throw a party soon and even named some other boys that Thad knew saying that they would be there soon. While they waited for them to arrive Joe asked Thad if he wanted to see his model cars that were upstairs. Thad, still unsure as to what was happening, agreed and followed Joe upstairs. Once in Joe’s room, he grabbed Thad and threw him onto a dirty bed before jumping on top of him. Joe grabbed Thad’s ankle and began violently twisting his foot around until his ankle snapped. Shocked and now fully realizing the danger he was in, Thad managed to work himself free from Joe’s grasp and limped down the stairs where he was eventually caught and thrown onto the couch. Thad couldn’t understand why this was happening and tried to reason with Joe stating that he wouldn’t say anything and that he would say he tripped over a table but Joe said that no one would believe that. Thad then asked why he was doing this and Joe simply stated that he enjoyed the sound and feeling of bones breaking whenever he wanted. He even claimed that he had done this before and he began describing how much he loved it. This is when he took Thads leg and pushed it up toward his head and leaned on it until the bone in his thigh snapped.
After breaking the bones, Joe would attempt to provide medical care by wrapping his legs with ace bandages and socks. Sometimes Thad was forced to wear leg braces and try to walk. Thad stated that often after he was bandaged up, Joe would stomp on his legs. Joe used Thad and his other victims as a way to deal with daily frustrations. On one occasion, Joe’s car wouldn’t start so he twisted Thad’s legs until they broke before shattering his knees and jumping on his chest. Anytime Thad would attempt an escape, the punishment got worse, going as far as Joe trying to suffocate him with a pillow. Between these violent outbursts, Joe would pretend to be friends with Thad. Whenever he wasn’t breaking his legs, Joe would carry him downstairs to the couch where the two would watch movies and talk like nothing had happened. Joe even talked about his family, his car, his girlfriend that would later visit while Thad was upstairs, and how he lived in this old house with his brother. Joe even confessed to murdering two other boys.
One afternoon, while Joe was out, Thad managed to crawl out of bed and drag himself down the stairs. He passed out several times due to the pain, but he finally made it to the kitchen when Joe returned with a girl. The two sat on the couch, unaware that Thad was lying in the kitchen. Sadly, when Joe’s friend left, he discovered Thad lying on the floor. Once over the initial surprise of seeing him downstairs, Joe dragged him back upstairs and for the first time he threatened to kill him.
On July 30th, Joe left the house again but this time he wanted to make sure Thad didn’t escape and locked him in the bedroom closet before leaving. Almost immediately, Thad began to look around for something he could use to escape when he discovered a heavy electric guitar that he would then use to break down the closet door. Thad was weary from the pain and dehydration but he managed to throw himself down the stairs once again and make his way to the kitchen, passing out several times along the way. He finally made it to the phone that was hanging on the wall and thankfully it had a long cord that reached the floor, allowing him to shake it until the phone fell off the hook. Thad dialed 911 and was able to explain roughly where he was and what had happened. Officers were able to trace the call and get to the house quickly to rescue Thad. He had been kidnapped and tortured for roughly 43 hours.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Thad had serious internal bleeding and doctors said that he was likely just hours away from dying. His body was described as something you’d only see with a bad car crash victim. His legs were broken in four places and it was said that the skin on his feet was like rubber and his toes were pointing the wrong way. Thad could only remember that one of the names of the two boys that Joe claimed to have murdered was Chris and the last name started with an S. He stated that his dad sat down with him and started listing off names in the phonebook to jog his memory, and as soon as he heard the name he knew that was it. The name was Chris Steiner. This caused the Steiner case to be reopened and the body was exhumed for another autopsy which confirmed that both of Chris’s legs had been broken the same as Thad’s.
After Joe was arrested and Thad had spoken to the police, they decided to search his house. Police found a list with around 29 names that were separated into 3 categories; can wait, get to now (possible misspelling of “get to know”), and the leg thing. Joe had admitted to kidnapping Thad but insisted that he just wanted to hang out. When asked about Thads injuries he claimed that he didn’t know how it happened because he “kind of blacked out”.
Thad was eager to go to court and testify against Joe. He was being charged with attempted 1st-degree intentional homicide, causing great bodily harm to a child, mayhem (intent to disable or disfigure), causing mental harm to a child, and child enticement. He would then go on to plead no contest and not guilty due to mental disease or defect. His defense argued that his biological mom was a heavy drug user during pregnancy and that he had suffered a head injury from a bike crash the previous year. His adoptive mother backed him up, claiming that if Joe had left home she would have heard him because he would have passed her bedroom, this was quickly ruled out due to the fact that she was a heavy sleeper and that he had managed to sneak out before. Now having no alibi, Joe was found guilty and originally sentenced to 100 years in prison. But apparently 100 years wasn’t enough, they wanted to be sure that Joe never got out and asked Thad to return and testify again in a case specifically about Chris Steiner. However, before the trial, Joe’s neighbor, 15 year old Michael Huebsch, went to Thad’s house and shot him twice in the back with a hunting rifle. Michael and Joe were allegedly friends and Michael was upset about the results of the first trial and wanted revenge. Thad still wasn’t finished, he survived and attended the second trial where Joe was officially sentenced to 100 years in prison plus a life sentence without parole and a debt of $21,000,000 that was owed to Thad and his family. Unfortunately Thad claims that he hasn’t received any of the money that he was awarded but a local couple heard his story and has recently set up a gofundme to raise money for Thad’s medical bills.