(GALLOWAY, N.J.) — A New Jersey mechanic wracked with guilt over his alleged involvement in the 1990 murder of a 15-year-old has turned himself in to police after nightmares and visions of the teen’s mother haunted him over the past 23 years, according to the man’s close friend.
Steven Goff, 41, has been charged with the May 7, 1990 murder of Frederick “Ricky” Hart, 15, in Galloway, N.J. Goff allegedly stabbed Hart multiple times with a knife in the woods behind Galloway’s Clubs Condominiums, according to a statement from the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office. No motive for the killing has been made public.
Alan Rickel, who befriended Goff 10 years ago, said that Goff has been on edge over the past few weeks, and told him from jail that his guilt-wracked conscience led to his confession.
“He called me from jail,” Rickel told ABC News. “He said he’d been living with this since he was 17, 18, having nightmares. He sees the kid’s mother in nightmares, saying, ‘How can you do this to my family?’ He had a 1,000-pound elephant sitting on his chest. He said that he had to confess, to tell the truth, and meet his maker.”
Hart was reported missing on May 8, 1990, the day after the murder. It wasn’t until over a year and a half later that a hunter in the area discovered human remains, which were later identified as Hart.
Rickel, 62, said that he was having a barbeque at his Ventnor City, N.J., home 10 years ago when Goff, who had only recently been living in the neighborhood, came by. Goff told him he was down on his luck, hadn’t eaten in a few days, and asked for some food.
“From that point on we got friendly,” Rickel said. “I gave him some food. He said he’s a very skilled worker, that his father was an electrical worker. I placed him with local guys and threw him some work.”
Over the years their friendship grew; the two would often get Saturday breakfast together. Rickel, who owns Alan Rickel Plumbing & Heating, said that Goff was a talkative, friendly guy who liked to discuss economics and the stock market. At times, Goff would get overzealous, Rickel said.
“He’d get so wrapped up in politics,” Rickel said. “I’d take him for breakfast, and he’d be told to calm down. He was very enthusiastic.”
Two weeks ago while they were having lunch, Goff was on edge, and he shocked his friend with some ominous news.
“I asked what’s wrong, and he said, ‘Something’s eating at me. Everyone will find out sooner or later. It’s going to shock everybody.’ But he wouldn’t tell me. He walked out the door and said, ‘That’s it, you’ll hear something about me in a couple of days. I’m sorry. That’s it.'”
Rickel went by Goff’s house the following day and found that his truck was gone, along with his Jack Russell terrier, and his apartment was wide open. He didn’t pick up his phone. On Sunday, a still-perplexed Rickel’s phone rang.
“He called, and said, ‘Al, I’m at the border of Canada. I was going to leave the country, but I’m going to come back to meet my maker.'”
Rickel wired his friend $500 for gas, tolls and food so he could get back from the Michigan-Canada border. About 20 hours later, he received another call, this time from the Galloway police, asking him to come and retrieve his friend’s truck and his dog.
“When I got there, the chief came out and said he’d admitted to a murder 23 years ago, and that he wants to face his demons, reality, and to square up with God, his maker, and society,” Rickel said.
Police did not immediately indict Goff, as they wanted to make sure he was not making up his involvement with the case that had gone cold years prior. Soon, though, he started divulging details that were in the sealed file, and police knew they had enough information to indict him.
Rickel said that Goff has been calling him up to five times per day from jail since Monday. He said Goff has apologized to him, and said that he loves him and Rickel’s family, and that he’s sorry that he has let him down. Rickel said he has not discussed his motivation for the crime.
“It’s a sad case,” Rickel said. “Here’s a man who did something as a juvenile, and it ate at him for over 20 years, and he couldn’t take it anymore and turned himself in….He has suffered, and he finally came to grips and turned himself in.”
Goff, who was 18 at the time Hart was killed, now faces one count of murder and one count of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. He has been lodged at the Atlantic County Justice Facility on $1 million cash bail.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ahiza Garcia, CNN
Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, CNN
Lindsey Johnson, KSL.com