Every now and then someone commits a crime that is so barbaric and shocking it defies explanation. No crime is acceptable, of course, but most can be explained with some kind of rationale, albeit twisted and faulty. Others leave us so-called civilized types scratching our heads and wondering whether Cesare Lombroso was right when he posited in the late 19th century that criminals were some sort of atavistic throwback to an earlier stage of evolution.
When confronted with the crimes of the murderous father and son team of Clyde and Nathan Rutherford, and their accomplice Steven Stahler, there doesn’t seem to be any other theory that fits except that these three men, who beat a 19-year-old family friend and buried him alive are simply inhuman.
The Honorable Justice Wolfson, presiding over their appeal before the Appellate Court of Illinois Court, succinctly expressed the viewpoint of the criminal justice system:
“Accepting an invitation to stay at the Rutherfords can prove fatal,” the justice wrote in his introduction of the opinion for a unanimous court in upholding their lengthy prison terms in 1995. He concluded the decision by stating, “this was managed slaughter.”
In 1991, Stanley Brown, 19, was living at the Rutherford home on the north side of Chicago. It wasn’t unusual for Nathan Rutherford to invite troubled friends to stay with him and his family.
It was March when Stan showed up to live at the house in the 4500 block of Christiana. He was the second waif taken in by Nathan; 16-year-old Steven Stahler was already living with the Rutherfords, but Stan’s presence created no apparent problems.
In April, Stan went missing. In June 1991, police officers, aided by construction workers with a backhoe and shovels, found Stan’s body, lying beneath the dirt in Schiller Woods. His hands were tied in front of him and he clearly had been beaten to death.
The first indication that something was wrong occurred early April 1991 when Stan failed to show up at a regular Alateen meeting that he attended.
On April 18, Clyde drove Nathan to visit the teen’s former girlfriend in Wisconsin. When she greeted Clyde, Nathan and Stahler, she asked where Stan was. Nathan showed the girl a stained baseball bat and indicated, “Stan’s there.” Nathan claimed the brownish splotches on the bat were made by Stan’s blood.
The next week, Clyde picked up the girl and brought her back to Chicago. While she was in the Rutherford home, Nathan showed her a cognac bottle that contained a substantial amount of “brownish” liquid. Nathan again said the liquid was Stan’s blood.
On Mother’s Day weekend, Nathan, Clyde, Stahler and the girl went to Nathan’s grandmother’s house in Salem, Wisconsin. As they were leaving, Nathan and Stahler waved out the window and shouted, “Bye, Stan.”
The girl asked them what they were talking about. They pointed out a swampy area near the house and told her, “Stan’s there.”
In reality, Stan wasn’t really there. At least not all of him. His corpse was buried in a shallow grave at Hidden Hill in the Schiller Woods Forest Preserve.
In the middle of May, Stan’s mother filed a missing persons report. Nathan’s girlfriend was also troubled by his strange comments and the odd way that Stan had simply dropped out of sight. She talked things over with a friend who convinced her to go to the sheriff.
The Kenosha County Sheriff took the baseball bat the girl had been given as a gift and analyzed the brown stains. The tests showed that the bat was stained with human blood.
Armed with that evidence, the authorities got a warrant and started looking around the marsh near the grandmother’s home. They found the bottle with about 3 ounces of human blood in it.
Chicago Police and the Kenosha County sheriff’s department were already talking about Stan’s disappearance. The Chicago authorities brought the three men in for questioning. Clyde was the first to break. On June 1, after about 2 hours of questioning, he told detectives his version of how Stan died and where he was buried. On June 2, 1991, the Chicago Police contacted the sheriff to let them know that Stan’s body had been discovered.
The autopsy the next day revealed, although there was evidence of lacerations on both sides of Stan’s badly decomposed head, he died of asphyxiation. There was dirt and gravel in his mouth, esophagus, trachea, and lungs. He had been buried alive.
That same day, police executed a search warrant on Clyde’s residence and truck. Clyde had voluntarily consented to the search and accompanied Sanders to the residence for the search.
Police recovered a piece of plywood and a piece of particle board, both containing brownish stains, a guitar, on which the markings “S.D. 4-2-91? were written in a brownish substance, a metal baseball bat, a wooden bat with nails driven into it, a pair of blue jeans, and a Metallica T-shirt.
Later, a criminalist for the Chicago police department testified that her tests revealed that human blood was present on the plywood board, the baseball bat, and in the brown glass bottle. Also, the phrase “S.D. 4-2-91? was written on the guitar in blood.
Clyde refused to provide police with a written or recorded confession, but in his interrogation he blamed Stahler for the killing and said he and Nathan had dropped Stahler and a badly beaten Stan off at the woods (Stahler had a shovel and Stan was carrying a car battery) and later Stahler joined the two Rutherfords in delivering newspapers for the Sun-Times.
According to Clyde, when Stahler joined up with the father and son brain-trust, he was alone and without the shovel. Where’s Stan, Clyde reportedly asked.
“He got scared and ran off,” was what Stahler allegedly told him.
Stahler and Nathan told a different, more gruesome tale.
According to Nathan’s confession, late in March 1991, Nathan discovered that a misprinted $5 bill he owned, valued at $600, was missing. After Nathan kicked Stan in the face and broke his nose, Stan admitted taking the bill and agreed to return it. Unfortunately for Stan, he had damaged the bill and ruined its value, sending Nathan into a violent frenzy.
A day or two later, Stan threw a beer bottle at Nathan as he was entering his graffiti-filled bedroom. Nathan took the beer bottle and hit Stan on the side of the head with it, causing a deep cut that bled profusely. Nathan continued to beat Stan with his fists, kick him, and throw objects at him. Stahler joined in pummeling the victim and later started beating Stan with a wooden handle from a toilet plunger.
According to Nathan, after a 10-minute assault Stan was “very out of it.” As Stan sat leaning against a wall of Nathan’s room, Stahler collected blood from the cut on Stan’s head into a bottle. Nathan admitted that he took a baseball bat and rolled it in Stan’s blood as a souvenir of the incident.
They threw the nearly unconscious victim into a shower and then discussed “how to get rid of Stan” when they realized he was probably going to die without medical help. The teens knew that taking Stan to the doctor would result in their arrest, so they quickly discarded that option.
It was approximately 11 p.m. and time to begin Clyde’s paper route, so the boys decided to take Stan with them and bury him in the woods.
They helped him downstairs and with Clyde’s approval, loaded the dying teenager into the bed of Clyde’s truck. Clyde drove them to the woods where Stahler took Stan into the woods and buried him. All three of the conspirators confirmed that Stan was forced to carry a car battery which Stahler had intended to use to help destroy his body.
The only defense witness during the Rutherfords’ trial (Stahler pleaded guilty to murder and received a 45-year term) was Nathan’s mother who testified that she had 10 other children and that some of her other sons had “contributed to the graffiti on the walls of Nathan’s bedroom.”
Clyde’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, but he was subsequently convicted on retrial. He received a 27-year term, while Nathan received a 42-year term.