BELVIDERE, IL–Though the overall rate of Stemke-family violent crime decreased only 10 percent in 1999, the Stemke murder rate has dropped to its lowest point in 20 years, Belvidere law-enforcement officials announced Monday.
"Stemke-family homicide is still a concern, but, as these new statistics show, we've come a long way," said Belvidere police chief Lloyd Mortensen. "I don't think we'll see another 1979 again."
Belvidere residents are cautiously optimistic about the news.
"There's been a lot less killing since old Dale [Stemke] passed on, that's for sure," said Belvidere-area homeowner and real-estate agent Robert Dortmund. "But I still don't know how safe it really is."
Winnebago County district attorney Gerald Fort attributed the decline to demographic shifts.
"There are fewer 17- to 25-year-old Stemke males–the Stemkes most likely to commit homicide–than ever before. You just wait a couple years, when Bobby and John Lee get a little older."
The Stemke-family murder rate hit an all-time high in November 1979, when, during an argument over Bill Stemke's drinking, Betty Stemke was hit on the head with a frying pan and died of massive brain hemorrhaging. In April of that year, Bud Stemke fatally stabbed brother Pete Stemke while arguing over the ownership of a hunting dog. Less than a month later, Paula Stemke shot sister Sue Stemke-Braunschweig after finding her in bed with Paula's fiancé, Earl Harris.
"Our top priority has been to safeguard our citizens–Stemke and non-Stemke alike–from Stemke-related incidents in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods," Mortensen said. "When I became chief of police, I immediately began working to enact bold new initiatives to meet that challenge. Winnebago County is a safer place to live now because of our policies that get tough on Stemkes and keep violent Stemkes behind bars and off our streets."
Figures kept by the Belvidere Police Department support Mortensen's claims. Since early 1999, there has been only one Stemke-family murder, in which Sophia Stemke beat her son Edward to death with a .22 rifle while reportedly attempting to "get him off his sister Bethany." Sophia was eventually able to plead her case down to second-degree Stemkeslaughter.
Despite widespread excitement over Monday's announcement, some caution that the low figure is misleading. Jill Echols, president of the Stemke Community Action Coalition, said upwards of 40 percent of all Stemke-related deaths may go unreported each year, and that at least three of the nine unsolved homicides in Belvidere since 1976 are suspected of having some Stemke involvement.
"Don't lose sight of the fact that Stemke crime did not decrease appreciably last year," Echols said. "There was a Stemke arrest for assault and battery once every three weeks last year. Domestic-disturbance calls, DUI arrests, and indecent exposure are up significantly, as well. We can't afford to relax."