The Horrifying Story Of The Boy Who Survived The Bonebreaker Killer

On July 29, 1995, 17-year-old Joseph Clark abducted 13-year-old Thadius “Thad” Phillips from his home in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Later known as the “Bonebreaker Killer,” Clark kidnapped fellow teen boys and systematically broke their bones. During his captivity, Thad endured days of physical and psychological misery. Clark—in between feigning as if the teens were friends—would snap Thad’s leg bones and then crudely tend to the wounds. He left his captive imprisoned in a closet when he left the home, believing Thad was incapacitated. 

After a total of 43 hours, Thad managed to descend a flight of stairs, find a phone, and call 911. He survived, having sustained permanent injuries, and authorities then uncovered other crimes Clark committed against teen boys. Based on the manner in which Clark wounded Thad, investigators linked Clark to the 1994 murder of another Wisconsin teen—14-year-old Chris Steiner. Clark attempted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but the courts found him fit to stand trial. The “Bonebreaker” received a 100-year sentence for his crimes against Thad and a subsequent sentence for Chris’s death. 

  • Clark Had Previously Killed A Local Teen

    Thad testified that he asked Clark during his imprisonment if the captor had done this before. Clark reportedly admitted to harming two other boys. Investigators were able to identify one of the victims. In 1994, 14-year-old Christian Steiner disappeared from his Baraboo, WI, home. 

    Authorities believed someone kidnapped the teen, but there were no known suspects at the time. Upon the initial discovery of the boy's body, medical examiners determined the cause of death as drowning. After Clark's arrest, authorities exhumed Chris's body and found injuries on his ankles identical to Thad's - determining that his mangled legs had prevented him from swimming. Clark was then tried for homicide.

  • Thad Stayed Locked In A Closet Whenever Clark Left

    While Thad remained imprisoned, Clark went about his life and daily routine as he usually would. During the day, he would leave to go out and run errands, see friends, and visit his girlfriend. While he did this, he would take Phillips and lock him in his closet upstairs.

    The closet had no light, food, or water - which investigators proposed would cause the captive to become weaker and easier to overpower during maltreatment. Thad would fumble through the dark, trying to find a way to free himself. He eventually uncovered a wooden guitar, which he used to break down the door. 

  • Thad Required Numerous Surgeries To Walk Again

    By the time police came to Thad's rescue, he was in bad shape. His twisted feet had skin reminiscent of rubber, and his toes were pointing the wrong way. His thigh had snapped, his ribs were bruised and broken, and his arms had been bent and twisted.

    When he entered the hospital, Thad had serious, potentially life-threatening internal bleeding. Doctors said he was possibly hours away from passing. He received immediate medical care, but to repair his legs and hope to save the boy's mobility, he required many surgeries over several years. 

    While rushed into the hospital, Thad managed to tell police Clark had confessed to doing this before to other victims, which helped police link him to Chris Steiner.

  • Clark Was Planning To Do This To More Boys

    Authorities arrested Clark while he was at a party with his girlfriend, and from there, they began to search his house. Police looked for any indication of previous victims, but they found evidence suggesting Clark intended to capture and torment more boys.

    In the house, police located a school notebook, which listed names of over a dozen local boys, including some Thad knew. The boys' names were in different columns, detailing whether or not Clark could kidnap them soon or later, and what he wanted to do to them.

    Part of the list included a column titled "The Leg Thing," suggesting he intended to mangle his future victims with the same methods used on both Chris Steiner and Thad Phillips.