Eight years after his wife’s murder, a Michigan man led police to her body in exchange for an Xbox and gave a local TV interview confessing to the crime.
Douglas Harrie Stewart, 37, led authorities to a wooded area in Kalamazoo County on Monday, in return for the gaming console and other prison privileges. State police confirmed on Tuesday that the remains belong to Venus Stewart, Doug’s wife and the mother of his two daughters.
Venus vanished from her parents’ home in April 2010. The case caught national attention, including a Dateline special called “Deadly Game,” which elaborated on the couple’s use of Xbox Live, where Doug met the alleged accomplice in his wife’s slaying.
A local TV station was present as Doug revealed his wife’s burial site. The bespectacled killer, who has a shaved head and beard, told WWMT that he choked Venus, 32, after tricking her to come outside of her parents’ home. “I sat there for a minute, maybe two, staring at my best friend passed out in my lap,” Doug said. “I didn’t have a plan.”
Doug, who is serving life in prison for his wife’s murder, said he drove Venus to a secluded area, where she regained consciousness. They argued before Doug fatally struck her and buried her in a shallow grave. He told the Kalamazoo station that he has confessed so his daughters and Venus’ family can have some peace.
“I just can’t believe I did it,” Doug said. “I couldn’t believe I did it.”
A year after Venus disappeared, Doug was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder.
But Venus’ remains were never found—until Doug’s quid pro quo, which includes an Xbox without internet, and the ability to attend his parents’ funerals.
Chuck Christensen, Detective First Lieutenant with Michigan State Police, said the excavation was the culmination of police visiting Doug for the last five years. “It feels good, in that our hope was always just to give her a proper burial and provide some comfort to the family,” Christensen said. “The criminal case was done. There’s nothing more that was gonna happen. But we felt we needed to do this... to finally close out this case.”
Doug led police to some wooded private property where he’d worked as a teenager, in an area he said he’d marked with three tree stumps. Authorities discovered a spot of disturbed soil with two stumps, Christensen said.
Christensen said he and Detective Sgt. Todd Peterson visited Doug two weeks ago, and “that was the first time either of us had seen any emotion from him.” The cops picked Doug up at 8 a.m. Monday, and they all talked on the three-hour drive to the burial site.
“He told us he was nervous,” Christensen said. “He said he hadn’t eaten the day before because he was so nervous and anxious about the situation.”
During the drive, the killer and the detectives spoke more about the case to ensure “he could bring us to the location, because things change a lot in eight years in the woods,” Christensen said.
“It is not a location that is well-traveled by people at all,” the detective added. “Farmers will drive in there just to plant their crops. Other than that, it’s pretty desolate.”
Christensen was one of the investigators that worked Doug’s case and helped to put him behind bars for life.
Among the prosecution’s evidence was a plastic wrapper for a blue tarp, which was found outside Venus’ parents’ home and included a partial fingerprint that cops say matched Doug’s left little finger, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported.
The day before the murder, Doug bought the tarp, along with a hat, gloves and shovel, from a Walmart in Van Wert, Ohio—about 114 miles southeast from Venus’ Michigan residence. Employees of the store testified that they remembered Doug because of his flashy Hawaiian swim trunks.
On Monday, Michigan State Police detectives found a tarp matching the one Doug had purchased, WOOD TV reported.
Doug and Venus had a troubled relationship, and Venus had filed for protective orders from her husband in the years before she died. “I am scared to death and every day I live in constant fear and I am constantly looking over my shoulder wondering when he will appear again,” she wrote in one 2008 petition, saying that Stewart was abusive and threatened to take their kids.
The Stewarts moved to Newport News, Virginia for a fresh start, but Venus returned to Michigan in February 2010 with the couple’s children. According to the Dateline episode, Doug was more interested in video games than finding a job.
Doug began plotting the murder from Virginia, where he purchased burner phones and used one of them to call her parents’ home around 7:17 a.m. the day of the killing. He also used the prepaid cellphones to communicate with his accomplice: Ricky Spencer, a 21-year-old Delaware man he met on Xbox Live.
While Doug drove to Michigan to kill his wife, Spencer acted as Doug’s impostor in Virginia. In an attempt to seal the alibi, Spencer wore Doug’s clothes, slept at his apartment, and used his credit cards around the time of the slaying.
At trial, Spencer testified that Doug asked for help because his wife was allegedly abusive toward their children and she was trying to get custody of them.
After the crime, Doug told Spencer he was able to ambush Venus by calling her and pretending to be a mailman with a package for her at the front gate. Venus vanished in her pajamas that morning while walking outside to get the mail. Her little girls, about 3 and 5 years old at the time, were inside the house. According to Spencer’s testimony, Doug claimed he put Venus in a headlock and abducted her.
Christensen told WOOD TV that investigators and one news outlet have kept in contact with Doug for years since his conviction. One year ago, the convicted killer admitted to murdering Venus but didn’t reveal where he dumped her body. The prison privileges apparently helped to crack Doug’ disturbing secret.
Spencer, the accomplice, served only eight months in jail after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit manslaughter in a plea agreement.
“I fully believe without Ricky Spencer, Doug Stewart would be walking the streets today and more than likely would have custody of (his two daughters),” St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough said in July 2011.
Until now, Doug has publicly claimed he had no involvement in his wife’s death.
At an April 2011 sentencing hearing, Venus’ brother Dustin Jasper begged Doug to disclose where his sister’s body was buried. “It’s not too late to do the right thing,” Jasper said.
“All I have to say is I’m innocent,” an emotionless Doug told the courtroom. “I did not do these crimes.
“I ask police to continue looking for my wife. If not for me, my children need to know what happened to their mother.”