Longform

Crush Me, Kill Me

Page 6 of 7

Police spoke to women between the ages of 18 and 27 who regularly performed fetish acts for Loudermilk (some his relatives and neighbors), but none of them ever hinted who they thought drove the car over him.

State Attorney Bernard Romero, who prosecuted an animal cruelty case against Stephanie Loudermilk based on the videotapes with her tell-tale tattoo, believes that Bryan Loudermilk had a friend position the car, then left as Loudermilk masturbated. Romero says that Stephanie Loudermilk was cleared early on from any suspicion.

"It was pretty clear she was not to be a suspect of murder," Romero says. "We had enough evidence to believe that she was not behind the wheel."

But Garrison says that's not quite true. "Everyone's a suspect. We just never had any evidence to put her behind the wheel. You don't go to court on suspicions."

Stephanie was charged with two felony counts of animal abuse. Romero told reporters at the time that he was incensed by the videotapes and planned to seek the "maximum penalty" for her.

But after conversations with witnesses and Stephanie's Fort Lauderdale attorney, Guy Seligman, he modified his view and asked the judge to reduce her charges to misdemeanor counts. Instead of jail time, she received two years of probation and 300 hours of community service, as well as orders to seek psychiatric counseling. Seligman refused to comment for this article and said that Stephanie, who now lives on the Brighton Reservation, was also unwilling to talk.

Central to Stephanie's defense was the suggestion that she was the innocent victim of Bryan Loudermilk's perverted desires. A Seminole woman with a rural reservation upbringing whom acquaintances described as docile, she seemed to be a compliant part of Loudermilk's fantasies, dressing up in a genie costume and donning sandals for photos and videotapes. What clinched her innocence for Romero was that witnesses close to the couple suggested that, in addition, Stephanie was abused.

"I was the one that was able to glean from the witnesses that she was allegedly beaten," Romero says. "He had beaten her, forced her to engage. She was not a willing participant. He had beaten her, thrown her against the wall."

In their initial statements to police, however, none of those witnesses suggested that Stephanie was a victim. Police heard of no abuse by Bryan Loudermilk toward any of the women who participated in his fetish. He was a drug user, police were told, but no one described him as a man who hit his wife. Sgt. Garrison, who interviewed Stephanie after the SUV incident, didn't notice any signs of abuse.

"I didn't see no physical marks on her at the time," he says. "She was free to come and go. If it was that bad, she could have left."

And Loudermilk's mother says she had heard the opposite, that Loudermilk had been pushed around by his six-foot-tall wife.

What certainly seems true is that the Loudermilk marriage was disintegrating in 1999. Several of Loudermilk's friends told police that he had begun using cocaine several months before his death. The Loudermilk house was full of strangers partying at all hours of the night, and several sources say that Bryan and Stephanie were fighting about drug use and Stephanie's affair with a friend, known only to investigators as Robert, who was living with them. One friend reported that Robert threatened to kill Loudermilk after being run off his property the weekend before Loudermilk's death. According to Loudermilk's mother, the couple was considering divorce.

A friend, Sarah Ruth McCleod, who was with the Loudermilks the night before Bryan died, reported that the couple seemed happy, "drinking and partying." The next morning, as Sarah left the house, Bryan told her that he was going fishing. Stephanie claimed that she didn't see Loudermilk at all that Monday, remaining in the house with her kids.

According to several witnesses, Stephanie gave her friend Kimberly "Krystie" Medders several photographs the day Loudermilk died. When investigators questioned Medders about the photographs, she initially denied that she had them, then answered that the photos had been destroyed.

"They were probably just some more photographs of her walking on some animals," Garrison says when asked about them.

But that same day, Stephanie handed over boxes of photos and videotapes that showed the Loudermilks' crush activities and implicated her in acts of animal cruelty. For some reason, she held back just a few of them.

After Loudermilk's death, Stephanie cut off contact with his family and obtained a restraining order against Loudermilk's mother after Bailey made attempts to contact her grandchildren.

Bailey hasn't seen her grandchildren since Loudermilk died and is tight-lipped when she talks about Stephanie today. "I don't want her in trouble," she says. "I wouldn't have tried to get her in trouble about nothing like that because she has my grandkids."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julia Reischel