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News- ‘Forever Family’ six feet under

So it’s taken me about a week to finally get to blogging about the murders in Iowa.

I’m angry and disgusted, and left with more questions than answers.

By way of backgrounder, Steve Sueppel, a former VP of Hills Bank and Trust (one of Iowa’s largest locally-owned banks) was under indictment on federal embezzlement and money-laundering charges. The trial was scheduled for next month. (“Sueppel was charged with one count of embezzlement and six counts of money laundering. The court has alleged that during a seven-year period, Sueppel embezzled $599,040 from Hills Bank. He also allegedly laundered a total of $13,500 from Aug. 23, 2007 to Sept. 17, 2007, according to his indictment.” from Sueppel in midst of legal troubles)

Early last Monday morning (the day after Easter) , he murdered his wife, then tried to kill himself and the four children they had adopted from Korea by asphyxiation in the family’s garage using exhaust fumes. When that failed, he apparently bludgeoned the kids to death with baseball bats.

After leaving a series voice mails, stating that they were now ‘in heaven’ (see Iowa family killer left apologetic note) and leaving a note on the table, he left the house.

Not one to stick around and suffer the consequences of his actions, he first attempted to drown himself in the Iowa River at Lower City Park in Iowa City, failing that, he then drove onto I-80, finally dying in a single car crash running into a concrete pillar supporting an electronic sign. The van’s gas tank ignited causing a fireball.

The methods used may be related to the conditions of his bond, that among other things, he not to carry any firearms.

The couple had adopted four children from South Korea; Ethan, 10, Seth, 7, Mira, 5, and Eleanor, 3 via Holt international (“…dedicated to carrying out God’s plan for every child to have a permanent, loving family”) which says it will only pass along the information to the children’s original mothers if they ask ( see S Korean adoption agency saw no problem with American parents “our agency doesn’t reach out first. Only if they contact us, we will inform them what happened,” Hong said, adding that no phone calls were received so far.”)

“Change a child’s life forever” indeed.

The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon has a brief but useful backgrounder on Holt. Here’s a key paragraph about the underlying attitude towards Korea- “For the Holts, family-making required faith and altruism, not social work or regulation, and they found nothing wrong with the idea of Americans adopting foreign children, sight unseen. American childhood, they assumed, was unquestionably superior to childhood in developing nations. The Holts’ form letter seeking adoptive parents included the following request. “We would ask all of you who are Christians to pray to God that He will give us the wisdom and the strength and the power to deliver his little children from the cold and misery and darkness of Korea into the warmth and love of your homes.” For the Holts and many of their supporters, Korea was a backward country whose children deserved to be rescued.”

From Holt’s blurb about it’s Korean program

“Holt was established during the ceasefire of the Korean War to help orphaned and vulnerable children to have families of their own. While conditions and the economy of Korea have improved significantly since Holt’s beginning in 1956, traditional Confucian values continue to dominate Korean life. As a result, life would be extremely difficult for a single mother and her child in Korea. ”

Also be sure to look over Babies for sale. South Koreans make them, Americans buy them by Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive (this particular copy of the article lives over on the Transracial Abductees site) which covers some of what ‘abandoned’ often mean in relation to ‘Korean orphans’ and the more general overview of Korean adoptions, with some details on Holt, specifically- “Holt International also emphasizes the importance of Christian families. “If you adopt a child through Holt International, you will be asked for your statement of faith, ” states a Holt handbook: Adoption. A Family Affair. “It is our personal desire that these children go into Christian homes. “We want to let these children we serve come to know Jesus.”One out of four persons in Korea is Christian, and the Korean adoption law requires adoptive parents to recognize the freedom of religion of the adoptive child.”

The Sueppels were active members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Iowa City. Holt noted them as churchgoers ( see S Korean adoption agency saw no problem with American parents ) “the American couple were well qualified to adopt foreign children in terms of their finances and relationship. The father was a banker and the mother an elementary school teacher, and they went to church.”) Rev. Kenneth Kuntz of St. Mary’s was quoted after the murders “”They had done a wonderful job of adopting the four children and always appeared to me to be a caring, loving family,” (see Legal woes didn’t portend Sueppel family deaths.)

I think it’s pretty obvious that the Sueppels were deemed to be an appropriately christian family by Holt, and thus were able to adopt the four kids, but there are still plenty of questions here.

For example, the homestudies- certainly on the last two kids adopted the Sueppel’s financial assets and expenditures perhaps should have led to some serious questions, as it was during that period he was embezzling from work. Shouldn’t the homestudy have raised questions of where all the money was coming from?

For that matter, there is still no clear explanation of where exactly the money went. Initially Steve Sueppel claimed it was for “cocaine” but as you’ll see in the links below, the cocaine story appears to have been completely bogus. My question is, was the embezzled money used either for the adoptions, or to enable to family to afford to live with the four kids? When Sheryl Sueppel left her job as a teacher in 2000 to become a full time homemaker/mother (see Dad apologized before killings) they lived off Steve’s VP at the bank salary, but apparently he (they?) felt that was insufficient as the alleged thefts began on July 26, 2000.

Will anyone other than the occasional blogger (see “Adoption and its triad”- When will the agencies be held accountable for their actions in these children’s deaths?) even begin to ask the hard questions about the role of Holt, and more generally the role the adoptions may have played in all this?

For that matter, is it really down to people like me to say all “christian forgiveness” aside, is is REALLY appropriate that the four kids murdered by this asshole be buried with him and alongside him? “Forever Family” indeed! Forever family 6 feet under!

What role did the adoptions play in the embezzlement, which in turn appears to have led to the eventual desperation that precipitated the murders?

Had the couple not been on the treadmill of needing money for the four adoptions would he not have embezzled the money? What were the final costs involved in the four adoptions?

Just how much desperation for children was in the midst of all this, and did that lead to the series of events that eventually lead to killing the very people he had worked so hard for/perhaps even stolen for? Did infertility or feelings of inadequacy play a role in the psychological mess that led to the murders?

Perhaps more details will come to light as the investigation continues, but in a culture wherein adoption is ALWAYS viewed as positive thing, if not the ‘Lord’s work’, my guess is there are some avenues that will not be explored.

As for the kids? All we know are their adopted names and the back stories the agency provided the adoptive parents with. The realities of their lives and the circumstances by which they came to be available for adoption remain unquestioned and unknown.

Their original families aren’t even going to be notified of their deaths. If you were the original mother, would you want your child buried next to their murderer? But they’re ‘just Korean birthfamilies’ so why would their opinions matter to anyone? Right?


So, here are some links with a few interesting details I’ve rounded up this past week-

Harlow’s monkey- “Korean response to Sueppel tragedy”

Complete Gazette coverage (many articles)

Remembering Steve Sueppel An Iowa City Press Citizen piece that included this “At that time I’d heard only of the financial burden the family faced because of adoption expenses and various other obligations.” from a writer familiar with the family- “I’ve known the Sueppel family for many years. I went to school with most of the Sueppel cousins, and Steve’s brother was my high school boyfriend.”

Police: No proof Sueppel bought cocaine

Police: No Sueppel drug connection

Sueppel friends family: ‘I never imagined anything like this’ Which contains the apparently false cocaine story, but also contains this- “The last adoption was finalized just months ago, Downer said.”

Which doesn’t line up with the dates given in this article- Four Korean Adoptees Murdered in U.S. “The children were adopted by the Sueppels in different years — Ethan in 1998, Seth in 1999, Mira in 2002, and Eleanor in 2005.”

The time period on his embezzling activities appears to overlap with the final two adoptions, see Ex bank official pleads not guilty “Wednesday’s arraignment was Sueppel’s first court appearance since a federal grand jury indicted him last week. The indictment, which followed an investigation by the FBI and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, says the alleged thefts began on July 26, 2000, and continued until Sept. 12, 2007.”

‘Blunt force trauma’ involved in deaths of Iowa City family

Adoptive Father kills Children, Wife and Himself (contains some biographical info)

Dad kills Four Korean-Born Children (The Korea Times)

Sueppel family was well-liked by friends

Remembering the Four Sueppel Children

Korean source offers additional details about adopted Sueppel children

“We help you cry” He recalled Ethan’s arrival from South Korea 10 years ago as the first of the couple’s four adopted children, and compared the moment with his own daughter’s birth. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” he said. “I think we need to send a letter of apology to the Omaha airport, because I think every window in the entire place had either snot or fingerprints all over it. “It was that emotional, and that exciting.” and “Kuntz called Eleanor “the little princess.” She was remembered for her courage facing medical problems.”

Obit- Sueppel, Sheryl (Kesterson), Steve, Ethan, Seth, Mira, and Eleanor

Family: It was easy to forgive Steve

Search Warrents reveal evidence taken from Sueppel home which contained this- “A portfolio of assorted papers was found in the family minivan at the crash site. The papers included social security cards that were partly burned and a permanent resident card and passport from Korea for Jinhee Choi, according to the search warrant.”

The Wikipedia article, includes a timeline

Finally, just when you thought you’d had enough, (see Protest planned at Sueppel funeral) naturally, Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church just couldn’t resist.

7 Responses to “News- ‘Forever Family’ six feet under”

  1. Baby Love Child Says:

    Just wanted to add two more links;

    Deaths of Sueppel children add to adoption debate in Korea

    Which points up the historical importance of the murders-

    “The deaths last week of Ethan, Seth, Mira and Eleanor Sueppel set an unfortunate milestone in Korean adoptions, officials at the family’s adoption agency said — they were the first Korean children to die at the hands of an American adoptive parent.”

    and for the first time puts forwards the idea that the four kids may have been “siblings” which would contradict Holt’s earlier claim that they each had separate mothers-

    “However, several English-language South Korean newspapers ran an article Thursday by the Yonhap News Agency quoting an unnamed Holt Korea official as saying after-adoption reports showed the Sueppels “had no problems.” The four children may have been siblings, according to the article.”

    Also, once again Holt cites the family’s “religious beliefs” as being a core part of their qualifications as an adoptive family-

    “The Sueppels were “well qualified” to adopt foreign children in terms of their finances, relationship and religious beliefs, the article said.”

    The article is for most part Holt covering its ass claiming “”confidentiality concerns.” Clearly Holt can’t even get its story straight on where the kids originally came from- 4 mothers or one.

    Also a quick mention of “Looking in at Iowa”- an Iowa local blog did a piece on the murders, and (surprisingly!) quoted a paragraph out of my blog entry. (Thanks!)

  2. Baby Love Child Says:

    Another link to add to the pile-

    A Korean view of the Sueppel murders from
    Arrested Developments Eastern Iowa’s crime blog

  3. Marley Greiner Says:

    This is great work, BLC! Holt’s reaction gets curiouser and curiouser. More horror stories on international and what does the industry decide to harp on. A McDonald’s commercial which features talking french fries and a French parfait.

  4. Yours Truely Says:

    Another “forever” family “forever” dead!!!

    Is there anyway you can make the posts on this site bigger?

    I wear glasses and had to strain my eyes reading.


  5. Baby Love Child Says:

    In most browsers pressing “Control” and “+” will enlarge text. (“Control” and “-” restores the view to the original.)

    You can also press it multiple times (hold down “control” then hit “+++”) to enlarge further.

  6. Greg Hanson Says:

    In early news footage flames were not just coming out
    of the cabin of the crashed van, they seemed to “jet” out.
    At least one report indicated he had stopped at a gas station.
    A fuel tank below a vehicle’s floor usually doesn’t make
    massive jets shoot out of the cabin even in a bad wreck.
    (It did not seem to be squashed like an accordian.)

    I suspect he bought jerry cans of gas to immolate himself.

  7. Baby Love Child Says:

    Interesting, Greg.

    Could you provide links to any coverage along those lines? That’s a detail I hadn’t seen anything about.

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