IOWA CITY, Iowa – Investigators are focusing on a former bank executive who had been charged with embezzlement as they seek answers in the killings of his wife and four children, whose bodies were found in their home.
Steven Sueppel was missing after his family's bodies were discovered Monday morning. However, his van was found wrecked and ablaze on Interstate 80 about nine miles away, and police said they were all but certain that the body in the van was his.
"It's not possible to do an ID short of an autopsy. The fire was that intense," police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said.
He added, however, that "if I was a betting man I would comfortable betting a fair chunk of money" that the body was Sueppel's.
"It fits the time of the accident," he said. "He is the only person unaccounted for."
The Iowa State Patrol's initial crash report on the van said the vehicle "entered median for an unknown reason and struck concrete support and sign pole ..."
Autopsies on the six bodies were scheduled Tuesday.
"This does not appear to be a random crime," Kelsay said. "It appears that possibly it is the work of Steven Sueppel."
Police said the victims were found in the unlocked house after someone called dispatchers, saying officers needed to go to the home immediately and hung up.
Initial alerts said there had been a shooting but Kelsay said that was not yet determined.
"I'm not certain that a firearm was ever involved. Nobody reported hearing any shots fired," Kelsay said.
The victims' names weren't released, but Kelsay confirmed they were Sueppel's wife and children, ages 3, 5, 7 and 10. According to legal documents, his wife's name was Sheryl Sueppel.
Sueppel was indicted last month on federal charges of stealing about $560,000 from Hills Bank and Trust in Johnson County, where he was vice president and controller, court records show.
Sueppel, 42, pleaded not guilty to embezzlement and money laundering and was released on $250,000 bail. His trial was scheduled for April 21.
Sueppel's attorney in that case, Leon Spies, said he had heard of the deaths and called it "an unimaginable professional and personal tragedy for a lot of people," he said.
Nearby resident Roberta Caris said she knew that Sueppel was distraught over the indictment, "but there was no indication that this would happen."
Caris said her two daughters were friends of the Sueppel children. She said "they were great people and they were involved with their kids."
The day before the killings, the Sueppels attended Easter service at St. Mary's Catholic Church, said the Rev. Ken Kuntz. He said Steven Sueppel grew up attending the parish, got married there and had his four children baptized there. He also had been attending adult classes as his son prepared for his first communion.
Kuntz said he did not notice any signs of distress, and neither did relatives.
"That's why it's such a major devastating blow to his family and to the community," Kuntz said.
"I know that Steve loved his family, loved his wife, loved his children," he said. "But personally I would be convinced that he did not do this out of malice."