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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Math Prof Disappears in Nebraska…

posted by on May 8 at 12:13 PM

…and police in the ranching town of Chadron, Nebraska, don’t lift a finger, don’t search for the missing man, don’t launch an investigation, don’t do a damn thing. Seven months later the math prof’s body is found—burned to death a field. Steven Haataja died of “smoke and soot inhalation,” as well as thermal injuries. So he was burned alive.

“Hm,” say some in Chadron. “Maybe he committed suicide?”

Haataja was tied up when he died—bound and burned to death. Doesn’t sound like suicide, does it?

Others speculate that there might be a reason why Steven Haataja was murdered.

In the fervor, former City Councilman Morgan Muller and others said they worried that Haataja was the victim of a hate crime. Kelen Kahrs said he and other students wondered whether their professor was singled out because of his effeminate mannerisms.

You don’t have to be gay to be a victim of anti-gay violence, you only have to be perceived as gay. And Haataja stood out in Chadron for more than just his effeminate mannerisms.

Haataja, with his large frame and fedora hat, was more visible than most on Chadron’s wide, Western streets for a simple reason: He didn’t own a working car and he walked everywhere from his downtown apartment, including to the college a mile away.

Even if by some chance Haataja’s murder—which is going to be hard to investigate, considering the crime scene has been exposed to the elements for seven months now—wasn’t motivated by anti-gay bias, what do you suppose the odds are that the indifference of the police department in Chadron, Nebraska, was?

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Posted by Sargon Bighorn | May 8, 2007 12:52 PM

I agree with the points Dan is trying to make here, but I think he (and the AP story) are speculating in the absence of any real evidence of who committed the crime or why. It may have been a mob hit for all we know. Or perhaps he was a renegade mormon killed by other renegade mormons. We just don't know, and we shouldn't try to shoehorn this man's murder into our politics unless and until we really do know what happened.

Posted by Providence | May 8, 2007 12:53 PM

pic or it didn't happen

Posted by vincent | May 8, 2007 1:14 PM

Did you not read even Dan's short summation of the article, Providence? The real question isn't "was he killed for being gay?", it's "why the hell isn't anyone interested when a guy from their small conservative plains town is found bound, gagged and burned to death in a field after being missing for eight months?"

There's a hate crime happening in that town NOW, not just eight months ago. I'll bet the folks in town are saying "huh, bubba picked the wrong dude to ask for a blowjob, I guess, huh huh".

If you're a straight man with even the slightest variation from the Western caricature of a male, you should be very concerned. Come to think of it, I'm wearing kind of a fruity outfit today. Better watch my back.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 1:18 PM

Whether or not the victim was gay isn't the point.

The point is that nobody seems to be lifting a finger to solve the crime, nor did they seriously investigate his disappearance for 7 months. If anything, they seem to be intentionally stalling or downplaying the crime. Why? Because he was effeminate? Because maybe he was gay? Therefore the crime doesn't matter?

That kind of institutionalized and community indifference sends the signal: It's okay to kill homos. We won't investigate. We don't care.

Posted by SDA in SEA | May 8, 2007 1:28 PM

I did read Dan's summation. I can see at least 2 alternate explanation for the inaction of the police besides homophobia:

1) The police are lazy donut-eating dumbshits who don't give a crap about missing people unless they're cute little white children. Or
2) They really think it's a suicide.

Look, I'm not saying that there *couldn't* be a hate crime here, I'm just saying it's a long way from being anything other than idle speculation.

Posted by Providence | May 8, 2007 1:33 PM

anti-fedora bias.

Posted by maxsolomon | May 8, 2007 1:50 PM

The question here isn't as much whether the crime was a "hate" crime or not, but the fact that it wasn't investigated properly (making said judgement so difficult) --and these indifferent "public servants" should be investigated and be held accountable for their negligence.

It reminds me of the difference when a young white blond girl goes missing and the country lights up with Amber alerts, versus the missing children of color or other crime victims who aren't as telegenic and who hardly merit a whimper in the media.

Posted by andy niable | May 8, 2007 2:40 PM

As a guy who might be perceived as, umm, "flamboyant", I find this story heartbreaking and too close to home. I spent my youth with hicks, and feel lucky to have made it out alive 25 years ago.

Posted by Kurt B. Reighley | May 8, 2007 2:49 PM

The above comment is mine, not Kurt's... I'm borrowing his computer. Sorry.

Posted by Mark Mitchell | May 8, 2007 2:50 PM

They really think it's suicide? Because a lot of people kill themselves by walking off to the middle (remember, he didn't drive), and will walk off to the middle of nowhere even when they were injured and walking is painful. Then they'll tie themselves up and somehow, once they're tied up, set a fire and burn themselves alive.

Is that how they do it in Nebraska? Because I haven't heard of suicides like that anyplace else.

Posted by terry miller | May 8, 2007 2:56 PM

Shades of The Wicker Man perhaps?

Posted by elswinger | May 8, 2007 3:42 PM

So, is Kurt Reighley flamboyant too, or just you? Or are you both big computer-sharing girls' blouses? I'm twice as big a poofter, albeit a straight one, as most of the gay men I know. That holiday in Nebraska's starting to look a little iffy....

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 3:43 PM

Chadron's a shithole Nebraska town. Dying, like the rest of that shithole of a state, where only the lazy and retarded stay.

Posted by why would anyone go through Nebraska? | May 8, 2007 4:06 PM

Divine punishment for Nebraska's conservative bullshit. Can't you see the signs? I mean, just look what Godô did to that craphole town in Kansas.

And you knowwhat's the matter with Kansas.

Posted by Boomer in NYC | May 8, 2007 6:02 PM

Providence: it's a hate crime. c'mon.

Also, Dan's unstated point is that we need a federal hate crimes law. This case is exactly why. 1) this guy's family doesn't have any recourse if the local jerk off pigs decide not to investigate. If there was a federal HCL, the family could bring in the FBI to investigate the crime and the local pigs. 2) assuming the FBI did get a conviction, the perps would be appropriately punished, because they didn't only kill the fedoral guy, the sent a message to the rest of the queers in that shithole town: leave, stay in the closet, or die.

Finally, fnarf is planning to go to NE?!?!

Posted by Mike in MO | May 8, 2007 6:22 PM

Anti-Finnish bias.

Posted by Andy | May 8, 2007 7:20 PM

Fnarf, you stay away from them Nebraskans, you hear me? They're not nice people. Not nice people at all. The only thing they've got going for them is a football team with a university attached to it.

Although it should be said that Chadron is so far west that it actually should be Colorado.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 8, 2007 7:25 PM

Well, I was all set to spend four weeks there in August, but y'all have talked me out of it.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 8:21 PM

Anti-pedestrian bias.

Posted by Gloria | May 9, 2007 3:54 AM

NEBRASKA in AUGUST? Are you NUTS???? Only January is worse. And when you compare it to Seattle in August.....

Posted by catalina vel-duray | May 9, 2007 9:43 AM

He committed suicide, people. He'd made an attempt last year and had been hospitalized for depression. He had an empty bottle of peppermint schnapps with him and a very high alcohol level at autopsy. I think he hitched out of town, got drunk, doused himself with gas, tied himself up (they said his hands were not tied) and lit a match. In the USA suicide by self-immolation is ~1% of suicides.

Posted by Dr Love | May 9, 2007 7:42 PM


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Posted by caryl | May 16, 2007 2:17 AM

I went to school with Steve in Nebraska, and he was neither lazy *nor* retarded. (Me? That might be out for debate.)

I never actually thought I'd come in and defend Nebraska, but I can say with certainty the local authorities are taking this seriously and have been investigating this case -- which is being regarded as a murder investigation. And they're being careful about it, which is why you're hearing about it now, instead of back in March.

It reminds me of the difference when a young white blond girl goes missing and the country lights up with Amber alerts, versus the missing children of color or other crime victims who aren't as telegenic and who hardly merit a whimper in the media.

There was actually quite a bit of local coverage when Steve went missing - there were two? three? manhunts for him, which were run by the local community.

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Posted by hgnqip hfrwl | May 19, 2007 2:14 AM

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