Teen Missing After Decade-Long Manhunt for Mom Ends in Suicide

It has all the trappings of a best-selling mystery novel -- murder, suicide, lovers on the run.

But the story of Tina Loesch and Skye Hanson is horrifyingly true.

After nearly 10 years on the run and being fingered in the death of Loesch's mother, Loesch and girlfriend Hanson turned up dead on an Arizona road last weekend, hours after "America's Most Wanted" ran a segment on their 1999 disappearance.

Now police are searching for Loesch's 18-year-old son, Kristopher, who was nine when the two women, who were dating, disappeared and took him with them.

Lt. Greg McLean of the Post Falls Police Department in Idaho, where the story began, said Kristopher Loesch is not wanted for any criminal activity but could be in danger.

"He's just vanished," McLean said of Kristopher, who has only been seen a handful of times since, using different names. "We don't know if we've potentially found another homicide."

Loesch, 37, and Hanson, 44, had been dating for about three years before Loesch's mother, Barbara Loesch, was killed in January 1998. McLean said Loesch's father, Gary Loesch, had been murdered in 1996 with a gunshot wound to the head while working as a newspaper deliveryman, and that Loesch had taken that opportunity to get closer to her mother.

But, he said, her motive for bonding wasn't grief.

"It was just purely money, from what we've found," McLean said. "Tina started to get closer to her mother and talked to her about getting this life insurance policy for the benefit of the children."

Eight months before Barbara Loesch was found dead in her hot tub with a television set thrown in, she had taken out a $530,000 life insurance policy with her daughter named as the beneficiary.

McLean said Post Falls police were called to Barbara Loesch's home in January of 1998 after family members became concerned that they hadn't heard from her. As they canvassed the house, police made their way to the back porch and "when we looked down the steps ... you could see Barbara floating in the hot tub down there," he said.

"It was made up to look like she was electrocuted."

Getting Away With Murder

At the time, police had no reason to suspect foul play. Barbara Loesch's death was ruled accidental -- the official cause of death was drowning -- and the insurance money was paid out to Loesch, who promptly signed it over to Hanson, who ran a home-improvement business.

"They hung around for a while because, at that time, they thought they had pretty much fooled us," McLean said.

Still, nagging questions remained, such as how the cord for the television set had gotten unplugged by the time police found Barbara Loesch's body. Did the force of the electrical current pull it out of the socket? Or did someone unplug it before leaving the body?

Then, in 1999, Bradley Steckman, a friend and employee at Hanson's home-improvement business, was arrested and charged with the murder of Dorothy Martin, an elderly woman living in Washington state.

McLean said that Steckman was Hanson's "thug" and that he told police she had requested he break into the woman's house to steal a diamond ring she had seen while working there. But Martin surprised Steckman and he smothered her to death.

While being interviewed by police in Washington, he told investigators that he had been involved in Barbara Loesch's death -- that his job was to rig the television to expel as much energy as possible and then assist Loesch in drowning her mother after she was stunned by the jolt.

McLean said Steckman pleaded guilty to Loesch's murder and was given a concurrent sentence with that of Martin's murder in exchange for his testimony against Hanson and Loesch. Without elaborating, McLean said police believe Steckman may have had knowledge about the death of Gary Loesch, but the convict isn't speaking.

Other than Steckman's statements, police had no physical evidence to connect Hanson and Loesch to Barbara Loesch's murder, and the lovers took off shortly after Steckman's arrest with then-9-year-old Kristopher in tow.

McLean said police were careful in their negotiations with Steckman because or their belief that he may know about Gary Loesch's death. Steckman had been also concerned about the safety of his son, given the publicity surrounding the two murders.

Chuck Loesch, Tina Loesch's brother, said the last time he saw his sister was at their mother's funeral. He had no idea at that time that she had anything to do with the death, calling her "one hell of an actress."

He hasn't seen Kristopher since he was a small child, maybe 2 or 3 years old.

Tina Loesch, he said, "was always mixed up with the wrong crowd, always causing trouble."

When police notified him Monday afternoon that his sister and her girlfriend had been found dead, it came as a surprise -- only because the family assumed all these years that at least one of them was dead and that they may have fled the country. They also assumed the couple wasn't even together anymore.

"It does bring a sigh of relief in a sense that we don't have to go through a trial and sit through years and years of torment," he said.

But there's still so many unanswered questions -- including whatever happened to Kristopher, who may not even know he has an uncle.

Life on the Run

Police know Kristopher Loesch was left shortly after his mother's disappearance with Spokane, Wash., attorney Julie Twyford and her husband, Steve Cassel. In 2004, police learned that in 1999 Kristopher Loesch had been sent by Twyford and Cassel to an old family friend's house in Seattle to spend Christmas with his mother and Hanson.

The boy had been enrolled in school under the name Christopher Hanson at that time.

During the years, as the search for Loesch and Hanson grew cold, Post Falls police enlisted the help of anyone they could. They continuously checked for new car registrations, passport applications, credit card purchases -- even the Internal Revenue Service got involved.

"When it started to die down, we pushed harder," McLean said.

But without formal warrants, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service would not get involved.

Earlier this year, with mounting concern for Kristopher and bringing the women to justice, a new prosecutor agreed to issue warrants for the arrests of Loesch and Hanson on murder charges to get things moving again. Filed on Oct. 10, the warrants were based on Steckman's statements and the knowledge that the women had once researched offshore accounts.

With the warrants in place, Post Falls police contacted "America's Most Wanted," which agreed to run a segment detailing the long, winding story.

Around 11 p.m. on Nov. 15 -- hours after the segment aired -- the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Tucson, Ariz., responded to a report of two possibly deceased women in a white Dodge Durango parked along the side of the road in a rural part of the county.

Inside, police found Loesch and Hanson, both dead from single gun shot wounds to their right temples.

The medical examiner ruled the cause of death a murder-suicide, but Pima County Sheriff's Department Deputy Dawn Barkman said two suicide notes found in the car -- one from Loesch, one from Hanson -- made it clear the women had a suicide pact.

Loesch said he was told that it was his sister who shot Hanson, then turned the gun on herself.

Uncovering Secrets

Police from Post Falls and Pima County are now continuing to piece together the women's lives in Tucson.

Hanson had apparently started another home-improvement business, McLean said, but was unlicensed and did not pay taxes. They had not changed their names legally, but were known in town by different first names -- Loesch was Dawn and Hanson was Katie.

McLean said neighbors in Tucson told Post Falls investigators that Kristopher had been living with his mother in 2002, but she told them she had sent him to live with his father because he was too much to handle.

Neighbors told police -- who do not know who Kristopher's biological father is -- that Loesch said he was being sent to live with his father in Spokane.

McLean said Post Falls police are looking to interview Twyford and Cassel, who they believe have information about Kristopher's whereabouts or his life in the past decade.

Phillip Wetzel, Cassel's Spokane-based lawyer, said his client hasn't seen the boy, "not for many, many years."

A message left with Twyford at her law practice was not returned.

McLean said the U.S. Marshals Service are now involved with the search to find Kristopher.

Chuck Loesch, living in Gearhart, Ore., said family members have been trying to connect the pieces that made up his sister's life in the past decade. Looking back, Chuck Loesch said he's now convinced that his sister and Hanson were directly involved with the murder of their father in 1996. No charges have been filed in the death of Gary Loesch.

"I think it's brought our family closer together," he said of the ordeal. "Each family member has heard different stories."

Anyone with information about Kristopher Loesch can call the Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or Post Falls police at 208-773-3517. Anonymous tips may also be submitted via the Post Falls Police Department Web site.

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