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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO: Henry Schmidt (left) and Jack VanHooser Jr., retired law enforcement officials working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, look at a map of the area around Chalamont Park before beginning a search for a missing girl in November 2016 in Little Rock. Ebby Steppach was 18 when she disappeared in October 2015. Her car was found at Chalamont Park soon after she was reported missing. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen B. Thornton)

Days after Ebby Steppach disappeared in October 2015, her friend's mother told police she smelled something decomposing in a storm drain near the spot where the teen's car was found.

Margie Foley called 911 from Chalamont Park, where Steppach's Volkswagen Passat was found, and spoke with a Pulaski County dispatcher, according to dispatch audio recordings dated Nov. 3, 2015. That was four days after police found the car and nine days after Steppach's family last saw her.

"I brought my daughter here who was a friend of [Steppach's]," Foley said in the recording. "And we just started walking around, and I could smell decomposition."

Steppach's body was found May 22 of this year in a drainage culvert in Chalamont Park. Investigators sent robots with cameras into the pipe and found an obstruction. When they dug up the drains, they found human remains.

Authorities searched the park in late 2016, and Foley said she told them about the smell again then.

Steppach's family last heard from Steppach on Oct. 25, 2015. She was 18 and a Little Rock Central High School senior.

The dispatcher Foley spoke with in 2015 called the Little Rock police dispatcher about 5 minutes after the call with Foley ended, according to the recordings. He was put on hold and called back close to 10 minutes after that.

The Little Rock dispatcher asked the county dispatcher if the sheriff's office had sent anyone to the park, but the county dispatcher replied that the park was in the Little Rock city limits.

Foley said she waited about an hour at the park before any law enforcement official arrived. Officers shined flashlights into the drainage pipe. When they returned to her car, they told her she was smelling sewage.

[TIMELINE: The Ebby Steppach case]

"They brushed me off," Foley said in an interview.

Little Rock police declined to comment for this article, citing an ongoing investigation. They have declared Steppach's death a homicide.

Police also declined a request, filed under the state Freedom of Information Act, for their recordings of 911 calls regarding Steppach, again citing the investigation.

Lt. Michael Ford, a department spokesman, said the system that stores emergency call recordings automatically erases all calls every 30 days.

Steppach stayed with Foley and her daughter Kailey for a few weeks in 2015 because Steppach had moved out of her parents' house. She met Foley's daughter when they both worked at Playtime Pizza.

"It just makes me physically ill thinking that the girl that I had in my home, had taken in, was decaying down there and that's what I smelled," Foley said. "And nobody did anything. They just left her there."

Foley said she called police at least three times before connecting with anyone there, and later left phone messages for the investigator who was originally in charge of Steppach's case.

In 2017, the Little Rock cold-case department, a team of four retired officers who work part time, took over the missing teen's case.

"They kept dismissing me," Foley said. "It never sat right with me."

In an earlier interview, Steppach's mother, Laurie Jernigan, cited several examples of what she says were investigative missteps from the beginning of her daughter's case.

They included police telling her family members that they had to wait 12 hours before reporting Steppach missing, even though there is no legal requirement to do that.

For eight months, Steppach's disappearance was treated as a runaway incident rather than a missing-person case, her parents said in earlier interviews.

A security guard at the park reported an abandoned car in the parking lot Oct. 28, but police waited two days to go investigate, Steppach's parents said.

While the car was in police custody, the trunk was left open and a rainstorm swept through, leaving water damage in the car and to many of Steppach's belongings, her parents said.

Jernigan said the new detail of Foley's 911 call is devastating but that she's tired of fighting. She said she needs time to recover from 2½ years of looking for her daughter.

"I thought for a long time she was deceased," Jernigan said. "I was totally shocked and still am shocked that she was there. Just 50 feet from her car. It's heartbreaking. I'm pretty angry about that."

She said she has questions for detectives who first looked into the case, but she isn't sure they will ever be answered.

[IN-DEPTH LOOK: Story, photos, audio on the search for Ebby Steppach]

One of them is: "Why didn't you want to find my daughter?"

Information for this article was contributed by Ryan Tarinelli of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Ebby Jane Steppach

Metro on 05/31/2018

Print Headline: Report of smell dismissed in '15; Days after teen disappeared, police shrugged off pipe odor, caller says


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Archived Comments

  • tdhoneycuttsbcglobalnet
    May 31, 2018 at 5:43 a.m.

    I would ask the paper why so few details about this drainage pipe, and no picture? How would an individual get inside this pipe, or be placed inside the pipe by someone else if there was no access? From reports, a robot had to be sent up the pipe to discover an obstruction, and then great effort expended to dig out the pipe to recover Ebby's body? How did the body get there if there was that amount of effort to retrieve her? These seem basic questions that should have been asked immediately.

  • GOHOGS19
    May 31, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    great questions Tom i've seen nothing about that either

  • GeneralMac
    May 31, 2018 at 9:47 a.m.

    Tom........if it was a drainage pipe, a lot of sediment can build up in a pipe over 2 years from when the body was put in.

    Same with culverts.
    They can be wide open when new or recently flushed but half plugged with sediments after 2 years later.

  • Murphy01
    May 31, 2018 at 9:55 a.m.

    It's just a standard drainage pipe. Can't be more than 2-2.5 feet in diameter. A person would have to remove the "man hole" cover and get in, then push the body in the pipe opening. I don't see any physical way for a person to slide another persons body more than arm's length into the pipe. My guess is the body was a few feet in and decomposed over time allowing it to wash down to where remains were found.

  • GeneralMac
    May 31, 2018 at 10:27 a.m.

    Murphy01..........logical explanation .

  • ZeebronZ
    May 31, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    So...I get from this report that the police didn't actually check out all the possible leads they received? Wonder why not?

    May 31, 2018 at 12:54 p.m.

    I have always been proud of our police department and I know they have a lot to deal with, but the way they handled Ebby's case from the beginning is a complete shame. Thank goodness the cold case team was able to put the pieces together and find her. I can't help but wonder if the original investigators handled the case so poorly on purpose (maybe they had something personal against the family). I just have a hard time believing that they kept mishandling so much, over and over, by accident. I just feel horrible for the family and all they have gone through for nearly 3 years, when this case could have probably been solved the first few weeks after she disappeared. The original investigators owe this family some major apologies.

  • Foghorn
    May 31, 2018 at 2:21 p.m.

    I’m guessing because she was 18yrs old and not living at home (she had moved in with her brother,) authorities assumed she was ‘voluntarily’ missing and chose to ignore evidence to the contrary. I’m guessing her killer would be somewhere in the case file - had they bothered to compile one. Does anyone know why she would move out while still in high school? She wanted to be on her own for a reason. What was that reason? It likely had something to do with this.

  • Foghorn
    May 31, 2018 at 3:05 p.m.

    I just read an extensive article in something called PressReader dated Oct last year. It goes into great detail as to what Ebby was up to in the months and days leading up to her disappearance. She had even called LRPD twice on the day, neither of which they have any record of, yet the calls are on her phone. She had also been sexually assaulted at a party by 4 men who had allegedly video’d it. There were texts on her phone with those men in which she threatened to turn them into police if they didn’t give her the video. She disappeared immediately thereafter. If the information is accurate, I can’t imagine how someone hasn’t been arrested for this long ago. This is a massive failure by LRPD if true. Link: pressreaderDOTcom/usa/arkansas-democrat-gazette/20171029/281513636409490

  • Quackenfuss
    May 31, 2018 at 9:51 p.m.

    Things sometimes aren't what they seem to be, and this could well be the case with the Little Rock Police's handling of this girl's disappearance, but honestly this doesn't look very good. I know the police make logical choices about things like disappeared people, knowing that in most cases the person will turn up later, and can't be found at the moment because they don't want to be found. However, there is enough troubling information here that the Little Rock Police Chief needs to step over the natural reaction of cops to hunker down and tell everyone "Nothing to see here, folks." He needs to step up and make a very public investigation into the conduct of the department and if it is found negligent, he should take the appropriate actions against personnel who may not have done their job right, and he should do so swiftly. This case will damage the public perception of the quality of the LRPD, and if there is fault to be assigned, the chief needs to get to it quickly and openly in a fully public way. I know how I would feel had this been my child, and it isn't particulary forgiving. Again, I am not wanting to jump to a conclusion, but I am unwilling to watch the police turn away requests for information and make no effort to answer these questions. Such behavior on their part rightly leads people to believe they are trying to cover their ass rather than serve the public.