NE - Steven Haataja, 46, found dead, tied to tree, burned, 4 Dec 2006

Discussion in 'Crimes in the News' started by Tril, Oct 22, 2013.

  1. Tril

    Tril New Member

    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    In December 2006 Chadron State College math professor Steven Haataja (HAWdeeya) disappeared. His charred body was discovered bound to a tree 95 days later just over the hill from my house, in the rugged hills south of the college.

    This USA Today article gives an overview of the case: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-05-07-neb-prof_N.htm

    The case was bungled by local LE from the beginning, and although the case remains open, the consensus among local LE is that Haataja’s death was a suicide. I am one of many Chadron residents who disagrees and believes the death was a homicide.

    Chadron author Poe Ballantine wrote a book focusing on the case: Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. A documentary film based on the case has been completed. An introduction can be seen at this link: http://www.loveandterrorthemovie.com/

    It is strange that although the body was estimated to have been 95% charred, the tree to which the body was bound, as well as the surrounding area, were barely burned.

    Excerpt from Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere:

    “You read about things like this, of course,” Sheriff Conaghan said. “You’re trained for it. But I had no experience. The upper body burned to bone and the tree that he was tied to not burned? The area all around him barely burned? How does that happen? It was Twilight Zone *****. And I didn’t have the staff or time to deal with it. I got prisoners, paperwork. I was up to my ass in alligators. So I turned the case over on the spot to State Patrol.”

     
  2. Loading...


  3. Lizbetbathory

    Lizbetbathory New Member

    Messages:
    200
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    This is really weird
     
  4. Tril

    Tril New Member

    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    It really is, Lizbetbathory, and the more one learns about the case, the weirder it gets. Here’s another example: an ash ring from an apparent campfire was found several feet from the badly burned body, but the body was tied to the opposite side of the tree, facing away from the ash ring – and, like the tree itself, the ground vegetation between the tree and the ash ring wasn’t burned.
     
  5. det.penny

    det.penny New Member

    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Hi there, I've been thinking a lot about this case, recently (probably bc he was found on March 9 and that's my birthday). There's not much online about it, but nothing about Dr. Haataja's death makes any sense to me. I wasn't able to find any other threads on WS about Chadron, but has anyone found anything new?
     
  6. Wyle_E_Coyote

    Wyle_E_Coyote Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,342
    Likes Received:
    75
    Trophy Points:
    48
    I lived in NE when this happened. Here's an early article.

    http://www.kearneyhub.com/news/loca...cle_ab7d0a5f-290c-5877-8fe2-c057cbff4e86.html
    His sisters, Sharon Taylor of Rapid City, S.D., and Emily McAllister of Plymouth, Mich., said it's hard to imagine that their brother committed suicide in the bizarre fashion described by investigators: burned, after tying himself to a tree in a remote canyon and using his free arms to douse himself with an accelerant and start a charcoal-aided fire.

    But all evidence points to that, they said.

    It bothered Taylor, a 43-year-old homemaker, so much that she insisted on seeing photographs taken by investigators. She has visited the site where her brother's body was found March 9 by ranchers checking on cattle.

    "I saw the truth, and the truth hasn't been pretty," Taylor said. "But I needed the truth."

    -snip-

    "Where he was, it's just hard for me to picture how you could get someone of his size (6-foot-4 and 230 pounds) back there unwillingly. It would have taken six guys," Curd said of the steep climb to the site.

    -snip-

    The conclusion became that Haataja, a loner who had battled depression in the past and unsuccessfully tried to take his life while at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, committed suicide.

    -snip-

    His actions on Dec. 4, 2006, the last day he was seen alive, seemed to say otherwise. That night, Haataja, who was alone, purchased a 7-pound bag of charcoal at a Chadron convenience store.


    I think the prior suicide attempt and his purchase of the charcoal we're the primary reasons it was initially ruled a suicide. IIRC, his prior suicide attempt was unusual. I'll try to find something on that.

    LE got a ton of flack for how they handled the investigation and the conclusion of suicide. I didn't know there was a book/documentary about the case, I'll have to find that.

    Such a strange case.

    Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk
     
  7. asmi106082

    asmi106082 Member

    Messages:
    65
    Likes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I watched it last night. It was interesting. I was confused at first because the story is told by an author who wrote a book about the professors death and he (author) was simultaneously telling his biography and the professors. Anyway, it doesn’t explain much but it gives you a good idea of the small town atmosphere and the community’s views on the incident. Also kinda cool to see the landscape and actual places that you read about in the news articles. It’s free to watch on Amazon Prime Video. Here’s a link:
    https://www.amazon.com/Love-Terror-Howling-Plains-Nowhere/dp/B00T6YTED0/ref=nodl_
     
  8. seventeenseconds

    seventeenseconds SeventeenSeconds

    Messages:
    355
    Likes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    28
    It was good.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  9. det.penny

    det.penny New Member

    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Sorry for the delayed reply - Thanks, Wyle_E_Coyote! Great article. I also watched the doc a bit ago, asmi, and thought it was good but definitely found the author, Ed, distracting, hah.

    I guess I found a couple of things a bit confusing: 1. the method (binding and burning), 2. the location (it's quite a hike, and to do that at night alone in the winter with all those items seems really difficult), 3. the doc mentioned he checked his email from school @ 11pm that night, 4. he just moved there and it appeared that he started to make some acquaintances. (I do realize that mental health is complex, and if he was suffering from depression/ anxiety/ any other mental illness then there might not have been a difference between 3 months or 3 years in a new place. However, it does seem a bit strange that he might take this position and only stay those couple of months.)

    Also, I'm pretty new to responding in Websleuths (or any forum), so I might not be doing/ using it correctly! Sorry!
     
  10. Wyle_E_Coyote

    Wyle_E_Coyote Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,342
    Likes Received:
    75
    Trophy Points:
    48
    What gets me... It's a *very* small town. There are no secrets in a small town. You would think there would be rumors and talk. If it was murder, people know.

    But small towns are also very insular. A stranger coming in to investigate may not get a lot of cooperation.

    Source:. Grew up in a similar small town.

    I can't make up my mind about this one.

    Sent from my SM-G930V using Tapatalk
     
  11. TruthIsStranger

    TruthIsStranger Member

    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    18
    Trophy Points:
    18
    This was a fascinating and sad, of course, case and documentary. One of the best docs I've seen in terms of input from colleagues, eccentric townsfolk, and the fascinating author himself. Huge mystery. How Steven walked all that way in the dark of a cold night, carrying all of that stuff...wow. He had a leftover leg injury, too. He'd been fine at a party earlier that evening. And why did he check his email at 11 pm if he had this plan? Was he hoping to hear back from someone special? And if someone helped him, why? I have heard of two assisted suicide cases this past year out in the woods with strangers, but there's no trail of emails, calls, or texts for Steven. And who would bring his own charcoals and lighter fluid to his own unexpected, unwanted hate crime?

    Related Gossip: There was a long interview with Poe Ballentine (book author) that was done later on where he mentioned that the ex Los Angeles cop who taught criminal law at the college "tried to steal his wife. " Loren Z. from the documentary. It was at the Rumpus Room website . He also said that LZ with was a psychopath and is the prime suspect in his mind. The guy didn't seem evil, but who knows.
     
  12. MelmothTheLost

    MelmothTheLost Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,219
    Likes Received:
    182
    Trophy Points:
    63
    The trailer looks interesting. My partner has Prime so I will see if I can use his log-in to watch the whole thing.

    My first thought on burning oneself alive as a means of suicide is that the cases of self-immolation I've read about are public acts, usually a political statement or protest, done for the shock value, almost always with witnesses. Not just the famous case of the monk in SE Asia, but more recently the Tunisian street trader who burned himself to death in protest at the repeated confiscation of his wares because he did not have a trader's permit and couldn't afford to bribe the police to obtain one. The reaction to the latter case is what set off the whole Arab Spring in the Middle East. It changed Tunisia from a dictatorship into a fledgling but shaky democracy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Bouazizi

    I just don't see how taking oneself off into the hills to do this sort of thing all alone would fit with the profile of self-immolation.

    The only other explanation that comes to mind is some sort religious act of expiation. Heretics (and to a lesser extent "witches") were burned for centuries across Europe, both Catholic and Protestant. Is there anything to suggest he might have been expiating in a massive way for some action or omission? But that presupposes that Haataja was from a European Christian religious background or culture since I doubt it would even occur to anyone else.

    I vote for hinky.
     
  13. MelmothTheLost

    MelmothTheLost Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,219
    Likes Received:
    182
    Trophy Points:
    63
    An interesting article on self-immolation:



    https://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/political-psychology-self-immolation
     
  14. MelmothTheLost

    MelmothTheLost Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,219
    Likes Received:
    182
    Trophy Points:
    63
    With apologies for a link to the Mail:

    'I apologize for the mess': Jogger finds scorched remains of prominent gay rights activist and lawyer, 60, who set himself on fire in a Brooklyn park in a protest over fossil fuels and left cops a note to say sorry and identify himself


    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...-sets-fire-protest-suicide-Prospect-Park.html

    This presupposes that the suicide note was genuine and that Buckel did not die in a hate-inspired murder.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice