MADISON, Wis. – A Wisconsin man accused of blowing up his home to cover up killing his wife sent money to a Russian woman seeking to come to the U.S. and also made payments to online dating sites in the months before the blast, police and prosecutors alleged Thursday.
Steven Pirus, 59, of Madison, was charged Thursday with first-degree intentional homicide, arson and other counts in the death of Lee Anne Pirus, 50. He remained jailed on $1 million bail after his initial appearance in Dane County Circuit Court. Online court records did not list an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
The criminal complaint also said Pirus gave several conflicting stories about his wife's death, first telling police that he last saw her alive when he left for work on Sept. 13, the day the house exploded. Then he claimed she killed herself. Eventually he admitted shooting her weeks earlier, but claimed she begged him to do it, the complaint said.
Pirus was arrested Saturday, three days after the explosion leveled the couple's house in a southwest Madison neighborhood.
According to the criminal complaint, Pirus had a picture of an attractive woman in a "seductive pose" set as the wallpaper on his phone screen. Pirus identified her to a detective as a Russian woman named Olga, whom he said had been in Madison a couple years earlier and was trying to return there. He said they exchanged text messages almost daily, and that she told him on Sept. 12 that she was in London with visa problems and was returning to Russia, the complaint said.
A detective who searched a trailer on Pirus' property found receipts showing recent cash withdrawals and a money order made out to Olga, along with a paper name tag with the same name on the rear seat of Pirus' truck, the complaint said. Pirus' credit union records showed a payment to the online dating site Match.com in May and several payments to foreign people search websites starting in July. Pirus had also made large cash withdrawals in August and September totaling $8,500.
Pirus initially told investigators his wife had a mental health disability but was taking her prescribed medications. He said she had talked about suicide in the past but he was unaware of any attempts. Her psychiatrist told a detective that she denied any suicidal thoughts at her last visit in February.
The autopsy found Lee Anne had a gunshot wound in the head that did not appear consistent with suicide.
Three days after the explosion, Pirus told a detective he came home from work four or five weeks earlier to find his wife dead in a chair after she apparently shot herself. He said he moved her to the laundry room a few days later. He also said he tampered with the gas line to the dryer, figuring an explosion would result. He said he did it because he didn't want people to think she had killed herself.
But Pirus changed his story again after a break, the complaint said. He said he came home to find her crying, and she begged him to help her kill herself. He said that she already had a gun.
"She just finally wore me down and she just kept begging and begging and pleading with me to do that ... And then she gave me the gun and I shot her," the complaint quoted him as saying.