By Kathi Bliss
A Uvalde family’s six-year odyssey came to a close in Caldwell County this month.
After nearly six years of searching and wondering, the parents of 22-year-old Jordan Steigerwald were able to bring him home.
Earlier this month, human remains which were found in a Luling-area stock tank and identified as belonging to Steigerwald were returned to his parents, who plan – at last – to hold a memorial service this week.
“It might seem strange that it’s a relief,” his mother, Shelley, said about the discovery and the events that led up to it. “Everyone out there in Caldwell County has been so wonderful since they first found him and the Sheriff’s Office worked so hard to bring him home.”
The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the case since shortly after Steigerwald’s disappearance, which his mother is convinced was a product of his tragic medical conditions and not a result of any foul play.
“Jordan was an insulin dependent diabetic,” she said. “That’s a dangerous condition, and we almost lost him several times during his childhood. I knew that if he didn’t have his medication, he was going to die.”
Despite her fears, Steigerwald and her husband registered their son on several missing persons registries and kept the hope that, if not their son, at least his remains would one day return home.
According to his mother, Jordan disappeared in August 2002 while traveling from his home in Uvalde to a medical appointment in San Antonio. He left his home on Aug. 14, 2002, told his mother he loved her, made two phone calls and was never heard from again.
In addition to his diabetes, Steigerwald suffered from bipolar disorder and may not have been taking medication for that condition at the time of his disappearance. His mother said his last phone calls were “rambling,” and he was “speaking gibberish,” and she suspects he may have been in the throes of a manic episode.
In September 2002, police found a lead in the Steigerwald case, but it quickly went cold.
A car registered to Jordan K. Steigerwald was reported abandoned at the Love’s Truck Stop near Luling. However, when they made the report, employees of the store told Luling police the car had been parked there for nearly a month. His mother believes his mania may have driven him to try to walk to a relative’s home in the McMahan area, a choice she believes ultimately resulted in his death.
“If he had been taking his medication and had his insulin, he probably would have been fine,” she said. “But if he didn’t have his insulin, and we think he didn’t, he could have been dead within hours, with the heat and maybe dehydration contributing to a diabetic coma.”
For four years after his car was found near Luling, the Steigerwald case remained a mystery, with no traces of the young man to be found. Finally, on Sept. 6, 2006, a break came that ultimately led, if not to answers, at least to some closure for the Steigerwald family.
According to reports from Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law’s office, a Luling area rancher called in a report that a human skull had been found in a partially-dry watering tank on his property. His employees, he said, were building a fence around the tank to keep cattle out, and one of them came across the skull, which he originally thought was a rock.
“They said he kicked it because he thought it was a rock, and when it rolled over, he realized what it was and they called it in,” Steigerwald said. “The detectives from the Sheriff’s Office came and picked it up, and they worked with an anthropologist at Texas State University and with the Department of Public Safety, and eventually they were able to identify it through DNA and confirm that it was Jordan’s skull.”
The process took nearly 18 months, but finally DNA collected from the skull was matched to a sample taken from Shelley Steigerwald and the match was confirmed.
“After they found out it was him, [Sheriff Law and his staff] were so wonderful about getting the death certificate finalized and getting the skull back to us,” she said. “We’re kind of disappointed that the skull was all that was found, but the tank is at the bottom of a hill, and it might have rolled down the hill or been moved by an animal, so maybe the long bones are still out there somewhere.”
Steigerwald hopes the property owner will allow her, along with volunteers she hopes to recruit, to return to the property and continue the search for her son’s remains in the future.
For now, though, Steigerwald, her husband and their other four children are satisfied, just to have a part of Jordan coming home.
“Of course it’s hard on us that he’s gone,” she said. “But after six years, at least now we know something.”