MAYS LANDING — As he wiped away tears with his handcuffed hands at his first hearing in court, the accused murderer in a Galloway Township cold case admitted to the crime.

Steven L. Goff, 41, of Ventnor, turned himself in to Galloway police at 6 a.m. Monday, confessing to a 23-year-old case of a fatal stabbing of a teenager.

“I’m prepared to enter a guilty plea,” Goff said Tuesday in Atlantic County Superior Court. Goff cried softly as Judge Michael Donio read him the charges.

“I did the crime,” Goff said. Donio interrupted him, advising that any statements made could be used against him.

Goff, who was 18 at the time of the killing May 7, 1990, is charged with stabbed Frederick “Ricky” Hart, 15, multiple times with a knife in the woods behind the Clubs Condominiums in the township, police said. The next day, Hart was reported missing.

In December 1991, a hunter discovered human remains in the woods, but the cause of death was undetermined at the time, police said.

Alan Rickel, of Ventnor, was having lunch with his best friend, Goff, on Friday, and he knew something was wrong.

“He seemed so distant. There was a very far off look in his eyes. I knew something was wrong,” he said. “He said ‘I’m going to do something that will shock everybody.’”

At the end of the meal, Goff turned to his buddy of 10 years and told him he wouldn’t see him again.

“He said, ‘Al, I’m going to meet my maker. I’m going to square up with what I did wrong. I’m going to make my peace with God.’”

Rickel said that throughout the 10 years he had known Goff, he had never heard him talk positively about religion. In fact, Rickel said, he knew Goff to be an atheist.

The next time Rickel heard from Goff was Sunday morning, when his buddy told him he was between Marysville and St. Clair, Mich. Goff told his friend he was planning to run to Canada but his conscience made him change his mind and come back. Goff said Rickel would soon know what he did.

Rickel said he sent him money so he could drive back home. But at 8 a.m. Monday, he said, he received the phone call from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I know Steve had some serious problems. This was just the problems coming out,” Rickel said. “He always told me, ‘You’re my best buddy, but there are things you don’t know about me.’ He just couldn’t live with it anymore”

A search through The Press of Atlantic City’s archives revealed Goff had prior arrests. In February 1990, three months before the killing, Goff was arrested at age 17 and charged in Galloway Township with possession of stolen property, possession of steroids and possession of steroids with intent to distribute, police said at the time.

Donio advised Goff in court Tuesday afternoon that it was only the first hearing and he would have to wait until the indictment to enter a plea.

Goff said he could not afford a lawyer and waived his right to a public defender, adding that he wanted to do “what it takes to expedite this.”

Hart’s family was notified and they told the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office that “they were very appreciative” of Goff coming forward, Rickel said. The officials also told Rickel that they did not immediately charge Goff.

“They said as they kept going through the evidence (on Monday) and the file, there were things in there that would have only been known to a perpetrator,” Rickel said.

Goff was charged with stabbing Hart to death and being in possession of a knife to use it unlawfully.

“He is the exact opposite of what he did,” Rickel said, in describing his best friend. “He’s the kind of guy — if I went to war, I would want him beside me.”

At the time of the killing, Hart was a freshman at Absegami High School and Goff was a senior. Hart was described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 150 pounds with shoulder-length blonde hair in a June 20, 1990, Press article. In a 1991 Press article, neighbors and schoolmates had described Hart as “different from the kids around here.”

Rickel said Steven Goff’s father, Fred Goff, was a former inspector for the city of Margate, and Steven Goff also worked for the city for a few years.

Goff worked for local plumbers and electricians. He was originally from Egg Harbor City and lived alone in a basement apartment on North Hillside Avenue until it was flooded out from Hurricane Sandy. He then moved into another house on the street. The family there declined to comment.

Goff could often be seen walking his 10-year-old dog Biscuit, a white Jack Russel with brown spots.

News of the arrest spread through the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon.

“It tells you, you don’t know who your neighbors are,” said Hillside Avenue resident Aaron Schwartz.

Yesenia Concepcion said she got goosebumps when she heard the news.

“This is really shocking. It’s crazy,” she said. “It must have killed him inside for so long. What kind of life do you have?”

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

609-272-7247

Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

Contact Joel Landau:

609-272-7215

Follow Joel Landau on Twitter @landaupressofac