CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — The "action"--as student body president Jim Hardy now calls the bludgeoning death of Steven Newberry--began to unfold with a casual conversation among seven classmates one September afternoon. Jim and his best friends, Pete Roland and Ron Clements, were there, and the talk, as usual, was about killing. But this time, it wasn't just the twisted fantasies of tough teen-agers fixated on drugs, acid rock and violence. This time, it would be self-fulfilling prophesy.
This time, Steve Newberry would die, and with him, the innocence of the Bible Belt town where his killers and a number of his classmates openly dabbled in satanism.
The kids were trying to think of someone to sacrifice. A 14-year-old girl named Angel jokingly nominated Steve, since Jim and his pals were always talking about how much they hated him.
No, Jim decided, they would keep Steve around for his drugs.
If Jim Hardy was the stoners' hero, Steve Newberry was the scapegoat. Overweight and careless about his hygiene, Steve was what the kids called a wannabe. And what he wanted to be was a part of Jim Hardy's crowd.
Steve had started school a year late because of hyperactivity and flunked the seventh grade. In his senior year, he was 19 years old.
'So Eager to Be Liked'
The problem was that Steve just tried too hard. He once falsely boasted to classmates that his mother baked the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Lady Di. "He was so eager to be liked," Marlys Newberry said of her son, "and so easy to take advantage of."
Jim Hardy saw the same trait, and made profitable use of it. When he needed bicycle parts, Steve would give him the hardware his thrifty mother had bought on sale for a rainy day. When Steve got $200 worth of car stereo equipment as an early Christmas present last year, Jim wangled it out of him for $15.
"I had him in the palm of my hand," Jim readily acknowledges. "It's like anything I said, he would do. He practically worshiped me. He really did. He wanted to be exactly like Jim Hardy."
Steve was working part time at a barbecue shack. On payday, Jim would often pick him up and drive to their favorite drug dealer, according to Steve's 15-year-old sister, Cyndi. Steve would use whatever money was left over to treat Jim and Pete to dinner.
Marlys Newberry, twice divorced, with four teen-agers, was well aware that her eldest child, Steven, was smoking pot, but apparently didn't realize that psychedelic drugs, barbiturates, cocaine and amphetamines were also being used by the stoner crowd Steve so ardently pursued. What really alarmed Marlys was the heavy metal music Steve listened to for hours on end. She would go through his tapes with him and throw away the "thrash," telling her indignant son that it would put ideas in his mind.
When they argued, Steve would sometimes stalk out and spend the night with a friend. He always called the next morning to say he was all right and tell his mother he loved her.
It was in October of last year, a month after the idle discussion of sacrifice, that Jim Hardy remembers Ron Clements turning to him in psychology class one day and asking if he had ever really thought about killing a person.
"I said yeah, 'cause, you know, we talked about it a lot. And he said, 'Well, let's kill Steve.' " Jim didn't hesitate. They agreed to include Pete, and the three planned the murder for Halloween night.
Sketch Hinted of Plot
But as they were making their plans, Steve was growing uneasy and his mother suspicious. Steve had seen a disturbing drawing tucked into someone's math book. Lance Owens, a member of Jim's inner circle, was a talented artist who often sketched violent or medieval scenes influenced by heavy metal. The picture Steve saw showed a giant holding up a mutilated man who looked like Steve, right down to the gray Nike shirt he was wearing.
"I think you'd better just stay away from them," Marlys warned. Steve had told her all about the Hardy crowd's interest in satanism and Jim's ultimate goal of killing someone, and she could see how Steve would be the perfect candidate. They knew he had taken off before. Why, the police wouldn't even bother to investigate if Steve disappeared, because of his age.
"Jim's my friend," Steve protested. "He wouldn't do that."
Steve made plans to go out with the boys that Saturday. It was Halloween. Steve had gotten assurances that he was not the mutilated man in the sketch. Lance Owens would later deny the drawing ever existed.
Mother Foils Plan
But Marlys Newberry wasn't reassured, and on the morning of Oct. 31, she woke up four children and ordered them to pack their bags to spend the weekend with their grandmother in neighboring Arkansas.
The killers were forced to make new plans.
In mid-November, they urged Steve to sneak out and get stoned with them. They cruised slowly up and down Blackcat Road three or four times, but Steve never emerged from his small white house.