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Nashville had a 'dark age' where serial killers ran rampant
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Nashville had a 'dark age' where serial killers ran rampant
March 18, 2023
While Music City is known for making the dreams of a small number of aspiring musicians come true, for decades Nashville also had a dark side whereserial killerspeople directed to various city attractions: Vanderbilt University,dive bars, rest stops and motels.
True crime author Michael Arntfield calls the period between 1975 and 2007 the "dark age" in Nashville history, with homicide detective Pat Postiglione and his hit squad leading the charge to apprehend those who took advantage of the city. In Arntfield's new book,Monster City: Music, Murder and Mayhem in Nashville's Dark Agesfocuses on the many serial killers that Postiglione is responsible for capturing over the course of his 33-year career. Ultimately, the decorated detective would close 55 open and unsolved murders between 2005 and his retirement in 2013, a national record and possibly an international record forfiled casessorted out
In this excerpt frommonster city, used with permission, we find Tom Steeples, a computer store owner who found some of his victims in dive bars. Steeples would later die of a suspected suicide (a massive drug overdose) in prison while awaiting trial for his murders.
From the time he retired on October 24th until Christmastime, Steeples played the role of an innocent man who had a bad reputation. He kept his head down, went to work and talked to friends and neighbors about what he called a big mess, about how he would have his day in court and be vindicated, as he claimed Jack Lowery had told him. He also entered and soon withdrew a divorce petition and made at least one suicide attempt by carbon monoxide poisoning before deciding he wanted to move on in 1994 and try a new type of murder. Meanwhile, as he celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas and doted on his children in the way expected of him, and as the fateful year 1993 turned into 1994, Steeples' drug addiction soon began to reveal itself. Money started to get tight and the pressure built. He was entering a period known as decompensation, when the stress of playing well and the jargon of everyday life begin to wear on the psychopath, and the urge to kill returns in full force.
It was on the night of Monday, March 7, 1994, nearly five months since posting bail, that Steeples decided the time had finally come to satisfy that wish. For one reason or another, he ended up at another now long-closed Music City dive bar, this one known as the Stagecoach Lounge on Murfreesboro Road in South Nashville. Back in his element, he sat alone like in the Corral and started making happy hour cocktails. Even among drug addicts like Steeples, it is actually distilled alcohol that acts as the most consistent and preferred disinhibitor, something the vast majority of serial killers, especially organized psychopathic killers, have in common before committing their crimes. On this particular night, though Steeples didn't have a specific plan for who to kill or how, he kept his options open. Though the night had started off slowly, Steeples realized he had hit the jackpot. He had arrived at the bar at an amateur open mic talent night.
It was at the beginning of the amateur exhibition, around 7 pm. m., when a newlywed couple, Robb, 24, and Kelli Jean Phillips, 28, showed up at Stagecoach. They had driven a beat-up old GMC pickup two thousand miles east of San Diego to Nashville with big dreams. Robb was originally from Charleston, South Carolina and was a US Navy veteran who served aboard the aircraft carrier USSconstellationfor two years before moving with his new girlfriend to San Diego to start a band. In 1994 he decided to pursue a solo career in country music as a singer and guitarist. That left him with only one choice of where to go next: Music City.
Like the thousands that flock to Nashville every month to this day, Robb and Kelli Phillips came to stalk the country music scene and all of its spin-off industries. Hoping to land odd jobs in the service industry whenever possible, Robb was determined to ride the "new" country's wave of success and get discovered. His wife was unwavering in her support, believing in her husband's talents or just being too sweet to say he was lost in space and acting as his publicist and manager. She was also his rock, even agreeing to uproot their lives to move to Nashville after being burned once during Robb's first attempt at a solo career. By this time, the young couple had already been lured to Mexico and robbed of their modest savings by a disgusting industry "insider" with "connections" along the lines of Chuck Dixon incash boxmagazine. By the time they reached Music City, on the afternoon of March 7th, they should have been bitten once and shy twice. Tragically, they weren't. They still managed to trust people to the limit and believe in their dreams. The money from the family savings was gone, and with their last few dollars (their hopes and their beat-up old truck, both smoldering), Robb and Kelli had checked into a run-down Econo Lodge earlier that day, one located just down the street. from Stagecoach Hall. The sign out front read, "Where the Stars Stay." For Robb, it was a good omen. Kelly agreed. It was also a decision that sealed their fates.
As Robb entered the stage with his Yamaha guitar, stepping up to the microphone to play some Toby Keith covers for the motley-looking crowd, Kelli sat at a table in the front row and smiled. It was then that Steeples noticed her and hatched his plan. Having correctly concluded that she and the man on stage were married, a newly reactivated Steeples zeroed in on her with an ominous confidence and innate bravery that allowed her to manipulate and exploit the young couple's desperation. Attributing Steeples' charm to genuine Southern hospitality, unaware that he hailed primarily from Illinois and many other places, Kelli didn't mind when he sat down next to her. At the words “I'm in the record business,” Kelli's ears perked up; it looked believable. After all, they were in Music City. “I think your man has real talent. I could introduce you to some of mine. Could Monster City 121 feature both? Kelly smiled; she talked the talk; it looked like he had money and they needed money. "Let me buy you a drink," he told her. The bait was cast.
At the end of Robb's set, Robb joined his wife and the stranger beside her for a drink, quickly won over by Steeples' ruse. They thought of it for the real deal. They'd been in town less than twelve hours and it already looked like Robb was about to get his big break. Booking a room at the Econo Lodge, where the stars were said to be staying, now seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It sounded too good to be true. Of course it was.
After about two hours of coaxing Robb and Kelli and treating them to round after round of drinks, Steeples, after enacting the charade of the well-connected, spendthrift record producer, managed to get all the details he needed to move on to the next stage. . Saying goodbye to them, he promised to call the couple into his room as soon as he had more details on when Robb could meet the real players in Music City, when he might even have some studio time. It may be in the morning; it might even be later that same night. Robb and Kelli Jean were overjoyed; they were also a bit drunk and not thinking clearly. They were insensible to the danger they were in. Shortly after Steeples left the bar, they left and headed back to Room 112 at the Econo Lodge, Kelli hopping straight into the shower while Robb tried on stunning country star outfits. At the same time, Steeples was at home looking for his tools.
It was a little after 9:00 the next morning, Tuesday, March 8, when two short knocks followed by a third and a "cleaning" announcement preceded the opening of the door to Room 112 by the motel maid. It was eerily reminiscent of three years earlier and the actions immediately preceding the discovery of Michael Magliolo's murderous work at the Esquire Inn. With the story apparently on autoplay, the maid entered the suite that morning to find a scene of abject horror, a spectacle she could never stop watching and which would change her forever...
Excerpted from Monster City: Music, Murder, and Mayhem in Nashville's Dark Age by Michael Arntfield. © 2018 Published by Little A Books, September 4, 2018. All rights reserved.
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