With exclusive video of the interview
Steven Goff hadn’t slept in five days.
The guilt over the life he took nearly 23 years ago was “overwhelming.”
On May 7, 1990, in the woods behind Galloway Township’s Clubs Condominiums, he stabbed his 15-year-old friend Frederick “Ricky” Hart to death. Goff left the teen there and never went back.
Nineteen months later, a hunter tripped over the remains.
Goff was already in prison by then, serving a five-year sentence on burglary and drug charges. He said he wasn’t worried about getting caught. He knew he was the only one who could testify to what happened.
And — more than two decades later — he would, walking into the Galloway Township Police Department on Monday and saying: “I killed this kid 23 years ago.”
In an exclusive jail house interview Wednesday with The Press of Atlantic City, Goff told the story of how he has lived all this time knowing what he did, and how “disheartening” it was for people to tell him he should have kept quiet about the crime he had gotten away with for all these years.
“You had this beat,” he said they told him. “What does that say for humanity? We’re screwed. If that’s humanity, we're screwed.”
They were also wrong.
While he may have avoided arrest, Goff thought about his friend Ricky for years. Especially 17 Decembers ago, when his own son was born.
Goff wasn't there for his son. He tried to reach out, but the boy — who lives in Delaware with his mother and her husband — didn’t want anything to do with him.
Goff said he believes his son sensed the evil he was hiding.
Then, right before Easter, the now-17-year-old boy reached out in an email.
It was just a brief, “Hi, how are you doing?” Goff said. But it made Goff happy, and caused him to think about what he had done. And what it could mean if the teen found out the now-41-year-old plumber who had reinvented himself as a well-respected Ventnor businessman was a killer.
“How horrible would that be?” he asked.
Confessing brings relief
So, on Monday, Goff confessed.
It was April Fool’s Day. At first, the police thought it was a joke. He had to convince them, detailing the crime. The case was definitely cold, he said: It took three hours to find any paperwork.
That night, in a jail cell, he slept well for the first time in a long while. The relief was powerful.
Goff didn’t want to talk about the details of the killing. That, he said, is for a future date in a courtroom when he’s allowed to plead guilty.
“I was just selfish,” Goff said repeatedly. “He didn’t have to die.”
He tried to plead guilty during his first court appearance Tuesday, but the judge told him he first needs a lawyer.
So, Goff has applied for a public defender, and once indicted, said he will go to his arraignment and tell what he did so that Ricky's family can have closure.
“I just can’t imagine not knowing,” he said. “They’re entitled to that.”
Victim’s relative reacts
For Ricky’s older half-sister, the confession makes it feel “like it just happened again.”
“You think you have closure and it’s been such a long time, but it still feels new,” said Kathy Fonash, reached by phone Wednesday at her home in Chester Springs, Pa.
Fonash’s own daughter was 18 at the time of the killing — three years older than her uncle, which was a running joke in the family.
Ricky had run away from home at least once before, but by 1990, he had been doing well, Fonash said.
“When he went missing, it was really shocking and a surprise,” she said. “We knew something was wrong.”
Ricky had been in trouble at that time, Goff said. The two were co-defendants in a series of burglaries, and also were found with steroids on them in 1990. A story about it at the time puts Goff’s unnamed juvenile accomplice at 17. But Goff said the juvenile was Ricky, a sophomore at Absegami High School, where Goff was a senior.
“We were dumb kids who got in trouble,” he said.
Police questioned Goff after the body was found, Goff said, adding he convinced them he wasn’t involved.
But he didn’t convince everyone.
Case haunted officer
Retired Galloway police Chief Keith Spencer was a detective on the case, and said he instantly suspected Goff had something to do with Ricky’s disappearance.
“I worked hard to try to get him charged,” said Spencer, now 56. The case “cost me a lot of sleep.”
There was evidence suggesting Goff's involvement, he said, but it was “not something I could prove. But there was enough that led directly to him.”
Spencer said he was “instrumental in putting (Goff) in jail (for the burglaries and drugs) ... but never for this one.”
Police knew that the two knew each other, and that they hung out from time to time, Spencer said.
Until his retirement in 2007, Spencer said he frequently remembered the case and “it was one of the last cases I was concerned with.”
While the case haunted the former detective, it haunted his suspect as well.
Remorse came later
Goff said he’s not usually an emotional person, but at various times during the interview Wednesday, he put his head down, covering his eyes with his handcuffed hands. There was no sound. No sobbing. But the tears came. He rubbed them away, his face red.
Raised Roman Catholic, Goff recently re-affirmed his faith, which began growing up on church property in Egg Harbor City, with a convent next door and rectory across the street.
He's not sure he had a conscience when he killed Ricky, he said. “But I have one now.”
“I didn’t develop compassion and remorse until I got older,” he said, but the guilt did come. “It tore into me. It tore into me like razors.”
But at 17, “I was a strung-out kid on steroids,” he said. “I'm not making excuses for my actions, but I do think they played a part of it.”
Not the only part. His father is a horrible man, Goff said. He’s one of the people who told him he was stupid for coming forward.
His mother, however, “was a saint.” When Nancy Goff died on Sept. 19, 2010, he said he knew she went to heaven. And now, she knew her son was a killer.
“I couldn't tell her when she was alive,” he said, as the tears came again.
Goff said he lived a good life in the years after he got out of prison. He met with his son’s mother, and built a business with his best friend, Al Rickel. He even saved some lives, he said, although he wouldn’t detail what he’s done. He doesn’t believe that’s for him to say.
He could have done more, he said, if not for his previous incarceration. That kept him from serving in public office or fighting for his country. It didn’t stop him from getting educated. His first time in prison, he even acted as a teacher. He plans to do that again.
He said he is sorry to the friends who may feel betrayed that the man they “trusted most in this world,” that they trusted with their house keys and their children, is a killer.
He has a passion for children, he said, probably because he took the life of one himself.
“I know how great a child’s life can be,” he said. “It’s untold.”
Ricky “could have been the kid who cured cancer. This could have been the kid who saved the world, and I took that from them.”
“I’m going to suffer the rest of my life for this,” he said. “As well I should.”
Staff writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.
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