13-year-old Thad Phillips Escaped 43 Hours of Bone Breaking Torture
I was surfing the T.V. for something…anything to watch last night. Just as I was about to decide there was nothing worth watching, I ended up finding something on Discovery. It was a series called “Escaped. ” The specific episode was titled, “Torture in Suburbia.”
I guess because of my love of the news and reporting true and weird crime, nothing seems to shock me anymore. It seems someone is always abusing, killing, or hurting someone else. However, this show, “Torture in Suburbia,” managed to shock me. It went beyond any imaginable wrong that one human can do to another.
Chris Steiner, a 14-year-old Baraboo, Wisconsin boy, disappeared from his home on July 4th, 1992. There were muddy shoe prints inside of his home and a slashed screen door. Five days after he went missing, he was found tangled in a tree in the Wisconsin River. An autopsy determined his cause of death to be drowning. It remained unclear if the drowning was an accident or foul play, and with no evidence to point in either direction, the case went cold.
A little over a year after the death of Chris Steiner, another boy went missing. 13-year-old Thad Phillips was taken from his home unbeknownst to his parent’s. Thad would eventually come to know his abductor as Joe Clark, a 17-year-old boy. Joe brought Thad back to his home, where he started what would be a torture of unimaginable proportion. He proceeded to twist Thad’s ankle until it broke. Thad naturally fought back, but was unable to stop Joe from breaking the bone. After the ankle bone broke, Joe had a moment where he grabbed his head, as if he was maybe regretting what he had done to Thad. Thad took this as his opportunity to escape. Thad fled from Joe’s bedroom and hobbled down the stairs, but before he could reach the door, Joe was upon him. Thad says that the escape attempt seemed to infuriate Joe. Joe proceeded to break Thad’s other ankle and thigh bone. As quickly as it had begun….it suddenly stopped. Joe laid down to sleep, after being thoroughly satisfied that Thad was now incapacitated….therefore not going anywhere.
Thad was helpless to do anything, but just hope that Joe would wake up and release him. The moment Joe awoke, he again began to twist Thad’s legs and ankles, breaking bone after bone. Joe repeated these torture sessions over and over. Thad continued to fight back until Joe threw a pillow at him. Joe told him that if he did not be quiet and stop fighting him, he would break his back and neck. Thad mustered his courage, gripped and buried his face in the pillow, and the torture continued without struggle. During the breaks from Joe breaking bones, Thad tried to make conversation. His hope was that Joe would see him as a human and stop hurting him.
Thad asked questions like- why he was doing this and if he had ever done it before? Thad and his family were implants to Baraboo, Wisconsin, and he had never heard of Chris Steiner. However, he is one of the boys that Joe admitted to also torturing. Apparently, Joe had a sick fascination or fetish about the sound that bones make as they break.
Thad says that Joe would also play mind games with him when he wasn’t physically torturing him. For example, Thad begged to call his parents. When Joe handed Thad the phone, he felt as though there might be hope for survival, but then realized that the phone was not connected.
At some point, Thad did hear a phone ring in the kitchen. It was Joe’s girlfriend calling to confirm a date for that night. So, he made mental notes and decided that if Joe ever gave him the opportunity to get to that phone, he would be saved.
Before Joe left for his date, he “worked” Thad over. He jumped, twisted, pulled, etc. Thad’s legs until his knee caps were literally backwards and his ankles were just hanging from twisted skin. Joe left Thad on the 2nd floor in a bedroom when he went on his date. When Thad heard the door close, he threw himself off the bed and used his arms to pull his mangled lower body to the stairs. He was faced with a no win decision. There was no way he could stand to get down the stairs. The only hope was to hurl himself down the stairs and pray he didn’t break his neck in the process. After he hit the bottom of the stairs, he passed out for an unknown amount of time. He awoke and began to drag himself a few inches, pass out, wake up for a few more inches, pass out, and so on. Then, his worst nightmare. He heard Joe open the front door. Thad pulled himself behind a couch. He could hear Joe’s girlfriend. Thad debated yelling out, but was unsure what Joe would do to the girl, or if the girl would even assist Joe in the torture. Joe found him, and a fury was unleashed. It is amazing that Thad’s legs and feet were not separated from his body. Instead, his battered legs begin to swell to the diameter of basketballs. Joe showed no mercy as he continued his rampage at least one session per hour.
Thad was in serious life threatening condition by the next morning. Blood vessels were broken during each torture. These blood vessels were causing Thad to have internal bleeding. He was also severely dehydrated and in agonizing pain.
Joe did not have just an obsession with breaking the bones, he also had an obsession with “fixing them.” This was probably so that he could visualize that he was newly breaking them with each torture session. Joe would meticulously and methodically place Thad’s feet in pristine white socks. Then, of course, resume twisting , breaking, and jumping on Thad’s feet and legs all over again.
It came to the point where Thad was grasping at straws for just a moment’s relief. Thad yelled stop and told Joe that he heard his girlfriend outside. Joe ran to the window, and seemed infuriated when there was no one there. Thad did this several times, even though Joe’s anger about it was manifested in the torture. Thad says that he just needed those 10 second breaks, even if the torture was worse as a result, those 10 seconds reminded him he was alive.
That night, Joe again went out with his girlfriend, only this time he locked Thad up in a stifling hot closet. Thad immediately began looking for something to break the door down. He was still determined to reach his life line- the phone. He eventually broke down the door with an electric guitar. Again, he found himself at the stairs. Thad knew that it was a risk to hurl himself down the stairs. If Joe came home while he was still passed out, he would surely kill him this time. Thad awoke at the bottom of stairs and began dragging himself once again toward the kitchen phone. This time he made it. The elements were in Thad’s favor, as Joe’s phone not only had a long dangling cord, but also had the numbers on the receiver.
The Sheriffs office admits that they thought Thad’s call was a prank. It isn’t like a small town like Baraboo, Wisconsin gets many calls from a kid claiming to have been abducted, tortured, and mangled. However, they arrived to find anything but a joke.
After Thad was treated at the hospital, he told the police about Chris Steiner, but could not remember the name of the other boy Joe claimed to have tortured.
Investigators had to exhume Chris Steiner’s body since there were no long bone x-rays taken during the autopsy. The long bone x-rays were virtually identical to Thad’s. Almost every bone was broken in the exact same spot as Thad‘s. A notebook was also found in Joe Clark’s bedroom with headings: “Get to Now,” “Can Wait” and “Leg Thing.” Underneath each heading were the names of local young boys.
Joe Clark was found guilty of Chris Steiner’s murder and the torture of Thad Phillips. His sentence exceeds any possible life expectancy.
I can not even fathom what these young men were subjected to, much less how Thad willed himself to survive.