On Easter Sunday in 2017, a man who earned the reputation as the Facebook killer filmed himself driving through the streets of Cleveland. He described the sorry state of his life before murdering Robert Godwin, Sr. The killer, Steve Stephens, then uploaded the video to Facebook, where millions of people saw the senseless death of a 74-year-old man who was walking home from his son’s house.
Who is Steve Stephens, and what was going through his head before he took a human life? His Facebook videos offer some insight into his thoughts, but as police discovered, Stephens wasn’t completely honest: in his videos, he alleges he's killed previous victims, which police fortunately couldn't find evidence to support. It’s no mystery that social media has increased our desire to gain infamy, but it’s upsetting to think Stephens potentially killed a man just for the views.
On April 16, 2017, after posting a series of videos explaining his loose plan, Stephens recorded himself murdering 74-year-old Robert Godwin, Sr. In the video, Stephens told his audience he was going to kill "that old dude" before exiting his car and approaching Godwin, who was walking with a plastic bag full of aluminum cans. Stephens confronted Godwin and asked him to say "Joy Lane," the name of Stephens's ex-girlfriend. Godwin repeated the name, and Stephens said, "She's the reason this is about to happen to you."
Stephens shot Godwin in the face and ran back to his car. It's uncertain how long Stephens waited to upload the video of Godwin's death to Facebook. Many people believe the video was live when the murder occurred, but that was not the case.
On Easter Sunday in 2017, Stephens drove around Cleveland, OH, and posted several Facebook Live videos. He filmed one of the more chilling ones outside of the building where his ex-girlfriend worked. In the video, he filmed the door before turning the camera on himself. He explained he was depressed and "lost everything" to gambling. Stephens told his Facebook audience they had four minutes to stop him from committing murder.
Stephens said he planned to kill someone random, and that after the first murder of the day he would begin shooting other people. It's unclear if any of Stephens's friends responded to the videos, or if he was even keeping track of his social media engagement.
The video of Robert Godwin, Sr.'s death stayed on Facebook for over three hours. It's unclear how many shares the video had before Facebook removed it, but Cleveland.com states that a repost of the video received 1.6 million views in just a few hours. Aside from users sharing the video on social sites, the news media reported heavily on the crime, turning the manhunt for Stephens into a national sensation.
The discussion around the video became an echo chamber about how violence is perpetuated by social media. Godwin's family members asked people to stop sharing the clip.
Prior to murdering Robert Godwin, Sr., Stephens filmed a video in which he claimed he killed more than a dozen people. According to local authorities, there was no proof Stephens committed other acts of violence, particularly murder. His claims were possibly an attempt to create a more interesting backstory for himself and gain the attention of his Facebook audience.