Runaway Devil – Robert Remington & Sherri Zickefoose

Runaway Devil – Robert Remington & Sherri Zickefoose

Runaway Devil-final


Marc and Debra seemed to have it all — a lovely home in the Prairie town of Medicine Hat, fulfilling careers, a supportive marriage, and two beautiful children: eight-year-old Jacob and twelve-year-old JR. After years of struggle to reach this point, they finally felt their future held promise. But on April 23, 2006, their bodies were discovered in their basement, covered in savage stab wounds. Upstairs, Jacob lay dead on his bed, his toys spattered with blood.

Investigators worried for JR’s safety, but unknown to them, the pretty honour roll student had been developing a disturbing alter ego online. Runaway Devil professed a fondness for a darker world of death metal music, the goth subculture, and a love for Jeremy Steinke, a twenty-three-year-old high-school dropout who lived in a rundown trailer park. Soon, shocking evidence in JR’s school locker — printed here for the first time — led police to believe the girl was a suspect in her family’s murders.

The case horrified parents everywhere. Journalists Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose have been covering it from the beginning, and inRunaway Devil, they reveal what really happened: the unlikely young love, the teenage rebellion, a troubling world of adolescent drifters, and a small community torn apart by an unthinkable crime.

A modern cautionary tale, Runaway Devil is also a chilling portrait of an approval-seeking man smitten with a manipulative young girl — who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted.

My Thoughts

In case I haven’t made myself clear already, I really love true crime! This case hits close to home – it was a sensational case that took place in Canada. Headlines and nasty rumours even reached as far as where I was living at the time in Northern Ontario. There is one word that kept popping up throughout the book, as well as through other reviews I’ve read, and blogs still keeping track of the case – unthinkable. That’s exactly what this case is. Unthinkable.

As the verdicts and sentences were read out, JR would become the youngest Canadian to be convicted of first-degree murder – on all three counts. At the tender age of 12, she masterminded and manipulated her way into getting her family killed by her devoted boyfriend. Through all my years as a university student, never have I encountered such blatant hostility and organization by such a young mind. Thankfully, such events took place while she is very much still a child – through extensive treatment (which she has been receiving), she can modify her behaviours and (hopefully) become a model adult – as the ending epilogue states, her treatments were going very well, and she does not pose a threat to society. I’m sure there are many who beg to differ.

There are many details of the case that seem rather fuzzy. Both JR and Jeremy refuse to take the blame for the killing of eight-year old Jacob – each forcing culpability on the other. Though common with many co-accused, this still doesn’t sit well with me. Jeremy takes full responsibility for the murders of Debra and Marc – all fine and dandy. But there are many questions remaining as to little Jacob. Unfortunately, I highly doubt those are answers we will ever receive.

What I really liked was the fact that the authors were sure to make a distinction between these two individuals and the rest of the goth subculture. It is unfair to place blame on an entire subculture for the actions of two individuals. Simply because one is goth does not mean that one will be a violent individual – just the same as not every jock is brainless, and every book lover is a geek. Stereotypes do not predict violent behaviour. There are many psychological, sociological, and criminological studies and research papers that back this argument. To the authors for making this clear – thank you, you did your due diligence, and you did your jobs as journalists.

There is much research in the academic community about young individuals who murder their families. Sifting through it all is quite the task – trust me, I’ve been there. But there are often commonalities – a young person who seeks the death of their family (for the grand majority) come from situations of abuse, neglect, substance abuse, or all of the above. This was not the case for JR. This begs the question of why? Why did she plan this – why did she want this? It seems those answers are fuzzier than we’d like to believe. She felt restrained by the rules her family tried to impose on her as her behaviour began going off the rails. She felt trapped and wanted an escape. Her grandiose view of how her life should be matches that of a 12-year-old mind – she wanted a castle in Europe, she wanted to be able to do whatever she wanted, and she wanted to be with her boyfriend. These seem like the normal dreams of 12-year-old girls. But where her mind took her in order to achieve those dreams is certainly not typical of her age group.

All you have to do is Google “Runaway Devil”, and you will be flooded with information in regards to the case. There is no telling how much of this information is fact, fiction, personal opinion, or a combination. Only two people truly know what happened in that house. They are the only two who can be held responsible for these murders, and they are the only two who can tell the whole truth. As has been evident, this isn’t going to happen any time soon.

This was a sensational case that rocked the very core of Canadian criminal law. It called into question the fairness of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and outraged citizens of Medicine Hat who feel she “got off easy”. Cases like these are chilling. Cases involving young offenders often leave off with a feeling of “unfairness”. This is normal. What is abnormal is a 12-year-old girl planning and executing a triple murder in her own home. Here’s to hoping all her treatments and rehabilitation aren’t for naught.


~ by Aubrey Smith on July 15, 2013.

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