Exclusive: Missouri trucker ‘snapped’ before killings, brother says Exclusive Missouri trucker ‘snapped before killings brother says

Exclusive: Missouri trucker ‘snapped’ before killings, brother says

An ongoing custody battle over his 9-year-old daughter caused a Missouri truck driver — who was a suspect in four homicides — to “snap,” his brother says.

In an exclusive interview with FreightWaves, Steven Nagy, 55, of Las Vegas, describes his youngest brother, J.T. McLean, 45, of Fulton, Missouri, as “a really quiet guy who loved his daughter” but says he was distraught after running out of money to pay his attorney’s fees in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife over visitation rights to see his daughter.

“I never believed that something like this could happen and that my brother could do something like this,” Nagy told FreightWaves. “I don’t know why he flipped out so badly. He was paying lawyers to try to get visitation and he ran out of money and couldn’t do anything, so he snapped.”

Following a 19-day manhunt, McLean was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound on Sept. 8 in a hotel parking lot in South Dakota, a few hours after two homicide victims, identified as relatives of his ex-wife, were discovered in Miller County, Missouri, near the Lake of the Ozarks.

Law enforcement in three jurisdictions is working the case, but what may have triggered McLean’s alleged killing spree has not been established, according to Capt. Brian Leer of the Boone County (Missouri) Sheriff’s Office.

“Unfortunately, all of the people that were directly involved are deceased, including Mr. McLean, so we are unable to get any kind of statements as to conversations or motives or anything like that directly from them,” Leer told FreightWaves.

Prior to his death, McLean and his eldest brother, Jani Nagy, 58, of Fulton, worked as long-haul truckers for Steven Nagy’s Las Vegas-based trucking company, Challenger Express.

“We are really lost, we are really down and we are really shocked,” Steven Nagy said. “In a million years, we never believed something like this could happen. We feel sorry for the people who were killed.”

Steven Nagy told FreightWaves his family has hired an attorney but didn’t give the firm’s name and declined to say anything further about the ongoing investigation. 

Leer said investigators are still piecing together where McLean was hiding during the lengthy manhunt.

“There were several days between the homicides and the death of Mr. McLean, so we are trying to figure out a timeline,” Leer told FreightWaves. “It’s been a huge obstacle and I don’t know if we will ever be able to account for those days — where he was or what he was doing.”

What happened?

Around 8 p.m. on Sept. 8, the Miller County Sheriff’s Office announced it was investigating a double homicide at the home of Daniel Stephan, 74, and Pamela Stephan, 64, of Kaiser, Missouri. 

Authorities have released few details on how the Stephans died but say the Stephans had been dead for a few days before the sheriff’s office was called to do a wellness check on the couple. The victims were relatives of McLean’s ex-wife, Kendra McLean.

McLean may have returned to the central Missouri area in a vehicle belonging to the Stephans, Leer said, after license plate reader technology pinged the couple’s vehicle in neighboring Callaway County during the time frame when family and friends had not heard from the Stephans.

“At that time, the vehicle wasn’t entered as lost or stolen so there was no alert entered,” Leer said. “There’s also no way to see who was driving the vehicle at the time.”

Hours later, the Union County Sheriff’s Office in Elk Point, South Dakota, deployed a drone and found McLean dead in a vehicle belonging to the Stephans.

The manhunt for McLean had started Aug. 22 after Boone County Chief Prosecutor Daniel Knight charged McLean with two counts of first-degree murder, three days after Boone County deputies found the bodies of his former girlfriend and her 11-year-old daughter. McLean’s ex-wife, Kendra McLean, and their daughter went into hiding after his former girlfriend and her daughter’s bodies were found, investigators said. 

Exclusive: Missouri trucker ‘snapped’ before killings, brother says Allison Abitz Jozee Abitz homicide victims 2 1
Allison Abitz, 43, a second-grade teacher in Fulton, Missouri, and her daughter, Jozee Abitz, 11, were found dead in their home by Boone County deputies on Aug. 22. Photo: Facebook

Allison Abitz, 43, a second-grade teacher at Bush Elementary School in Fulton, was found lying on her bed, and “bruising around the area of her neck suggests she was strangled,” according to the probable cause statement.

Jozee Abitz, who was set to start sixth grade in Fulton in mid-August, was found submerged in a bathtub filled with water.

Both were wearing their pajamas, according to court documents.

According to the probable cause statement, investigators believe the victims were killed between 11:22 p.m. CDT on Aug. 21 and 10:15 a.m. on Aug. 22, based on a witness statement and video footage.

Investigators say McLean was the last person in contact with Abitz and her daughter. The three were at the house of a witness until around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 21, according to the statement, then were later seen together on video footage entering and exiting a Hy-Vee grocery store. A Hy-Vee receipt was found at the scene, according to the statement by Columbia Police Officer David Wilson.

Court filings state that McLean’s vehicle was later found at a residence he is known to stay at in Callaway County, Missouri, according to the probable cause statement. Investigators also found a smoldering burn pile in which two Android phones were destroyed, according to court filings. 

Court documents show two orders of protection had been taken out against McLean since 2017. He was on probation for violating one of them with his ex-wife in 2018. However, Leer said the protective orders did not involve Abitz or her daughter. 

Leer said the investigation is ongoing as all of the lead agencies are continuing to analyze and submit evidence for testing.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns at this point, but we have to remember that there are three families that are heavily impacted by all of this,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

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