Dead woman’s diary: How a murdered woman’s blog helped catch her killer
11/11/2016 12:21 pm PST
Tricia Todd's life was filled with intense moments of both love and violence. She wrote in great detail about those moments on her blog.
Investigators described it as one of the most gruesome crimes they've ever seen: A vivacious young mother chopped into little pieces that were found stashed away with her killer's toolbox.
Tricia had a 2-year-old daughter and was married to Steven Williams, a childhood sweetheart she'd known since elementary school.
"They both joined the Air Force. They got together there and got married," said David Todd, Tricia's father.
But after 11 years of marriage Tricia and Steven finally decided to go their separate ways, and they got divorced very amicably.
Tricia left the Air Force and moved with daughter Faith to Hobe Sound, Florida, to be close to her family and become a registered nurse, living with her brother Joshua. Then, less than three months after the divorce, Tricia, 33, suddenly disappeared, in April.
Tricia's family had notified the local sheriff's department Tricia was missing after she failed to show up at the hospice where she was working.
"We went by her house to try and figure out what was going on," said brother Jonathan. "We see her car there, her purse in the seat, and then it was like a 'Twilight Zone.'"
"There was no activity on her bank accounts or credit cards or cellphone," said Martin County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Dougherty.
But cops would soon find this security video showing Tricia shopping at a local grocery store on the night of her disappearance.
"The items she bought at the grocery store were at the residence, the lights were on in the residence, and we had a witness say that he saw her leaving the residence that evening driving her car," said Dougherty.
Cops learned through Tricia's cellphone records that she had gone to see her ex, Steven, who had traveled to Hobe Sound from his air base in North Carolina to spend a week with their daughter. Steven told police Tricia was supposed to have picked up Faith the next morning, but never did, so he left the child with the babysitter and returned to his base.
Lieutenant Mike Dougherty says there was no reason to suspect Steven had anything to do with Tricia's disappearance. Cops say he even agreed to take a lie-detector test, and Steven was a respected career military man with an impeccable record going all the way back to childhood. Tricia and Steven's divorce, less than three months before Tricia's disappearance, was so amicable that Tricia even declined alimony.
Investigators made some surprising discoveries, including Tricia's love for a new man she'd just met in Hobe Sound. She wrote about him in her online journal. But in one of her entries she indicates there could be trouble in her newfound paradise, writing in part:
"This painful love affair. It's a Pisces and Scorpio thing. Are you happy? I've never had a deep blue love affair with a true Scorpio that didn't feel this way."
"She was obsessed with him. She loved everything about this man," said Lt. Dougherty. "So I mean we followed this guy everywhere and we hoped maybe Tricia Todd would show up wherever he was."
But she didn't, and the boyfriend was quickly eliminated as a possible suspect.
"We talked to him several times and he was completely cooperative with us," said Dougherty. "He assisted us in every way he could."
As investigators searched for Tricia's killer, her own words would help them find their man. They uncovered a daily journal Tricia had kept that prompted them to take a closer look at Steven, who appeared to have a dark side even Tricia's family didn't know about.
"We had learned through some of her posts that he was abusive to her," said Dougherty.
As well as her pets which she cherished so dearly.
"That he in the past killed several of her animals, one of them in her presence, and we think it was to show his superiority over her and to scare her," said Dougherty.
Then investigators learn something new about the night of her disappearance.
"They came up with a gentleman who saw Steven Williams driving her car and leaving the residence that night," said Dougherty.
Steven had never told them that.
"And as we keep, as they say, peeling more layers of the onion away, it's getting worse and worse for him," said Dougherty.
Investigators would also find security video showing him driving both Tricia's car, and his own, as well as other incriminating footage.
"We were able to locate a camera by Tricia's house that showed what appeared to be a black male with a very large military rucksack on his back, in what looked like fatigues, and a skull cap, running in the shadows," said Dougherty.
And when confronted with the evidence, Steven folded.
"And finally he admitted that it was him," said Dougherty.
Cops say they also found out Steven took something to calm his nerves to try to throw detectives off his tail.
"He heard about the Neurontin, and he came up out of his chair and said 'That's used to defeat polygraphs,' and that's why the polygraph was inconclusive, which really threw us for a loop," said Dougherty.
Steven went on to say he was trying to dispose of Tricia's body after accidently killing her, telling investigators:
"That he got into an argument with Tricia that night and that he actually did punch her and that she fell and hit her head and died," said Dougherty.
And that he dumped her body in an isolated rural area. But five weeks and thousands of man hours of massive searches turned out to be fruitless.
"There was still no sign of Tricia Todd," said Dougherty.
Steven was charged with her murder and accepted a plea deal of 35 years in prison in return for a full confession of what he did to Tricia and where he hid her body.
"We thought our ultimate goal here is to find her body now, give her a proper burial," said Dougherty.
Investigators believe Steven had actually strangled Tricia before admittedly packing her mutilated remains in a 2-by-3-foot plastic box.
"And he said he dismembered her, he cut her up, put her in the container, filled it with acid and buried her," said Dougherty.
Steven then led authorities to the Hungryland Wildlife Reserve where he buried Tricia, and planted a flag on the 3-foot grave he'd for her.
But even hardened law enforcement veterans like Lieutenant Dougherty and Sergeant Yesenia Carde weren't prepared for the horror that would be unearthed.
"We ultimately dug it up, opened up the container. And that's when we saw her torso," said Dougherty.
But tiny parts of Tricia's body, including teeth and fingertips, that Steven had removed to prevent her from being identified were found scattered around the area.
"And they located them mixed in with the gravel and the shell-rock right here," Sgt. Carde.
Divers also found Steven's mutilation tools lying at the bottom of a canal.
"They found the chainsaw, the reciprocating saw that he had used to cut her up, and in the reciprocating saw was actually Tricia's hair and some remains, some portions of her in the saw blades," said Carde.
Investigators learned that despite Steven's claim that he'd killed Tricia accidentally, it was actually well-planned before he'd even left his North Carolina air base to visit their daughter in Florida.
"Prior to leaving Raleigh, North Carolina, he purchased it up there, he brought the acid up down here with him," said Dougherty.
Tricia's family was devastated. Making it even worse, nobody knows why Steven Williams did it.
"Steven Williams is the only one that really knows why he did it," said Martin County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Dougherty.
Dougherty says if authorities had known at the time what Steven Williams had done to Tricia, they would never have given him the plea deal that spared his life.
"If we knew the drastic measures that he went through, how violent it was, we absolutely would not," said Dougherty. "He would undoubtedly be on his way to death row."
Steven Williams was sentenced to 35 years.
At sentencing, the judge said it was "clearly less than full justice." However, without that plea deal the family may have never known what really happened to Tricia Todd.