The twists and turns in the murder-for-hire case of one-time Aryan Nations attorney Edgar J. Steele could come right out of a novel by Danielle Steel.
Since his arrest last Friday, when he was charged with soliciting the murder of his wife and her mother, there have been the following developments in the saga of the anti-Semitic and racist Idaho attorney:
• Steele’s initial federal court appearance in Coeur d’Alene was postponed on Monday after the U.S. attorney’s office in the courthouse received a letter containing a suspicious white powder and was evacuated. Federal offices in Spokane and Bellevue, Wash., got similar missives. In each instance, the powder was harmless, and there was nothing linking the mailings to Steele.
• Early Tuesday afternoon, Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers discovered a pipe bomb attached to the underside of a sport utility vehicle registered to Steele and driven by his wife. The 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor Limited was driven to the shop by a woman described as in her 50s. Steele’s wife, Cyndi, is 54. Nearby businesses were evacuated and a Spokane bomb squad unit detonated the one-foot piece of galvanized pipe with cap screws and two fuses attached to the exhaust system. The same vehicle was targeted in the alleged murder plot, in which Steele is charged with offering to pay an occasional employee up to $25,000 to kill his wife and her mother while making the deaths appear to be the result of a car accident. The scheme was to be carried out last Friday while Steele’s wife was visiting her mother in Oregon, authorities contend. Steele offered to pay an additional $100,000 if an insurance policy on his wife paid out, a confidential witness who allegedly was offered the hit job told federal agents.
• A few hours later on Tuesday afternoon, Steele — acting as his own attorney — pleaded not guilty to the use of interstate commerce in the commission of murder for hire. His wife and son attended the hearing. U.S. District Court Judge Candy Dale denied Steele’s request to release him from jail pending a bail hearing scheduled for next week. “I’m certainly no threat to witnesses or jurors and there’s no evidence — absolutely no evidence — to support that,” Steele said at the hearing, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan disagreed, saying that Steele, 64, is “a substantial risk to the public.”
To Steele’s dismay, the judge not only kept him in jail, but ordered him to have no contact with his wife and mother-in-law. “The United States government is doing everything in its power to try to drive a wedge between me and my wife,” he complained. Cyndi Steele told the judge, “I need to be allowed to talk to my husband — I need to not be stripped of my car,” according to the Spokesman-Review.
Steele’s arrest and jailing comes only seven months after he survived a near-fatal aortic aneurism that he said left him unconscious and on a respirator for nine days, followed by another two weeks in a hospital intensive care unit.
Those health issues severely curtailed his racist musings on his website called “The Nickel Rant.” In his last screed, written on May 21, Steele spoke of having considered running for governor of Idaho, and said that he would be writing again more frequently. “I am back and I am really, truly pissed,” he wrote.
Steele’s next court hearing, to determine if bail should be set for him and in what amount, is scheduled for next Tuesday. If events of recent days are a harbinger, it could be a real page-turner.