Vrabel and Susan Clemente were an unmarried couple living together with their daughter, Lisa Clemente, in a Struthers, Ohio apartment that the family rented from Susan’s sister and brother-in-law. On March 3, 1989, Vrabel went into the Miller Rod and Gun Store in Youngstown to purchase a gun. He selected a gun but when asked to produce his driver’s license for identification, Vrabel was told he could not make the purchase because his license had expired. Later that afternoon, Vrabel returned to the gun shop with a valid Ohio ID card to purchase a Jennings .22 caliber Semi-automatic pistol and ammunition, later telling police that he always wanted a gun but for no particular reason. When he returned to the apartment he loaded the gun and put it in the hallway closet. He then began drinking beer heavily and smoking marijuana. Vrabel maintained that without any prior confrontation he retrieved the loaded gun and pointed it at Susan as she was walking to the kitchen. He fired one shot at Susan’s head and she fell face down, moaning. Lisa began “freaking out.” Vrabel then thought to himself that he did not want Susan to suffer, so he shot her in the head again as she lay on the kitchen floor. While trying to calm Lisa, Vrabel surmised that since Lisa’s mother was dead and her father would now go to prison, Lisa would be better off dead. He fired one shot at Lisa’s head and “felt that she died immediately.” Vrabel then left the apartment with the gun and checked into a motel in Liberty Township where he spent the night. The next morning he drove Susan’s 1976 Plymouth to Wheeling, West Virginia, and left it there. He then took a Greyhound bus to Columbus, Ohio and spent the night at a hotel near the Ohio State University campus.
The following morning Vrabel took a bus back to Wheeling, picked up Susan’s car, and drove 90 miles back to his apartment in Struthers. Vrabel poured floor stripper over the bodies because they smelled and slept in the apartment that night. The next day Vrabel wrapped the bodies in blankets and sheets. He emptied the refrigerator and put Susan’s body in the refrigerator and Lisa’s body in the freezer compartment. He also put two of Lisa’s favorite stuffed animals in the freezer with her. Vrabel then tried to clean the blood off the floor with several household-cleaning agents. He cut out a bloodstained portion of the hallway carpet and disposed of it in the apartment dumpster. During the rest of March 1989 Vrabel continued to live in the Struthers apartment. Susan’s sister, Linda Aey, attempted to visit Susan at the apartment several times in order to collect the March rent. On one occasion Vrabel opened the back window and told Linda that Susan and Lisa were not feeling well. Another time Vrabel told her that Susan and Lisa were at the grocery store. On each occasion Vrabel seemed “fine” to Linda.
On April 4 Vrabel again checked into a motel in Liberty Township. The following night he stayed at a motel in Austintown, Ohio. Meanwhile Linda’s husband, Michael Aey, went to Vrabel’s apartment in the early evening of April 5 to collect two months’ rent. As he went up the apartment stairs, Michael noticed a smell of cleaning fluids, and when he entered the apartment, he saw that it was “messed up.” Before he left he opened the refrigerator and discovered Susan’s body. Since there was no telephone in the apartment, Michael went home and then to the police. On the morning of April 6 Vrabel was driving Susan’s car to Parma when he heard on the radio that Susan and Lisa’s bodies had been discovered and that police were looking for him. Vrabel then went to St. Charles Catholic Church in Parma, Ohio and approached the pastor, Father John T. Carlin. Vrabel told the priest that he had been involved in the homicides of his wife and child and asked if he would accompany him to the Parma police station.
Parma police first informed Struthers police that they had Vrabel in custody after which they advised Vrabel of his Miranda rights, which he waived. Vrabel gave an oral statement that was then reduced to writing. He admitted shooting Susan and Lisa but claimed he did not know why he had shot Susan. Vrabel stated that the gun used in the shootings was in a gray duffel bag in the back seat of the Plymouth that he had parked outside the station. Police obtained a search warrant and found the gun where Vrabel said it would be. Struthers police also advised Vrabel of his Miranda rights, which he again waived, before giving a statement. When asked what caused the incident, Vrabel responded, “Sometimes when I drink, things happen.”
Following Vrabel’s 1989 indictment for two counts of aggravated murder, the trial court appointed mental health professionals to evaluate him. Vrabel was found competent to stand trial, after which a Mahoning County jury found the self-represented Vrabel guilty of two counts of aggravated murder. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence 4-3. Vrabel did not pursue any federal appeals and did not request clemency. On July 2, 2004, the eight-member Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended that Governor Bob Taft deny clemency to which the governor complied. Psychologist Nancy Huntsman found Vrabel incompetent to stand trial. Vrabel was then committed to the Timothy B. Moritz Forensic Center in 1990 where he remained until 1994.
On August 30, 1994, the Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital notified the prosecutor that Vrabel had no active mental illness after which Vrabel was reindicted. At his initial appearance, after reindictment, Vrabel stated, “As character witnesses I need to go to Korea where many women will testify I never laid a hand on them”. Vrabel also filed a motion “for a change of venue—preferably to the ‘spirit world’ or if not permitted—North Korea, Vietnam, or any anti-American Islamic nation” and listed the “Queen of Hearts” on a list of prospective witnesses. Following his reindictment, both the State and defense agreed to have Dr. Otto Kausch, a psychiatrist at Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital, examine Vrabel to evaluate his competency to stand trial. At a November 3, 1994, competency hearing, Dr. Kausch testified that based upon a reasonable medical and psychiatric certainty, Vrabel possessed the capacity and willingness to assist in his own defense. Dr. Kausch concluded that Vrabel was feigning mental illness and was not mentally ill.
At a February 7, 1995 hearing, the court again declared Vrabel competent to stand trial and Vrabel moved to withdraw his insanity plea. At a March 21 hearing the court ordered Vrabel’s competency to stand trial reevaluated. At a March 24 hearing the court admitted the report of Dr. Brian Sullivan who concluded that Vrabel was competent to stand trial and found that Vrabel “was able to understand the charges against him and participate meaningfully in his defense.” Also at that hearing Vrabel acknowledged that his motion to change venue to the spirit world was “meant as a joke.” Subsequently, Vrabel entered another plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Difficulties arose because of Vrabel’s refusal to cooperate with mental health professionals who were appointed to evaluate his state of mind at the time of the crimes. Eventually Vrabel cooperated with two professionals. In his August 24 report Dr. James Giannini stated that Vrabel “is capable of participating meaningfully in his own defense.” In his August 29 report Dr. Douglas Darnall concluded that Vrabel “did not know the wrongfulness of his act” at the time of the murders, but “he is capable of working with his attorney and aiding in his defense, though his cooperation will be erratic.” On July 14, 2004, Stephen Allan Vrabel was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
- October, 15, 1956
- July, 14, 2004
- Lucasville, Ohio
Cause of Death
- execution by lethal injection