Pennell (1957 or 1958 — March
14, 1992), aka The
Corridor Killer, was convicted of the murders of two
New Castle County, Delaware women and suspected of three
more. He also plead no contest to the murder of Kathleen
Meyer once DNA evidence linked him to the case. He was
executed at age 34 in 1992 by the State of Delaware by
lethal injection. He became the first person to be
executed in Delaware since 1976 when the death penalty
Steven Brian Pennell
The violent murder of Shirley Ellis on November 29, 1987, marked the
beginning of the strange and terrible tale of Steven Brian Pennell's
reign as the state of Delaware's first convicted serial killer. Three
more bodies followed the first victim, and all had been brutally beaten
and sadistically tortured. The body of a fifth woman has never been
State and county police collaborated with the FBI to identify and
hunt down their suspect, forming a task force of over 100 officers and
spending about one million dollars. Through their knowledge and
experience with other serial killers, the FBI was able to make an
amazingly accurate psychological profile of Delaware's serial killer.
After months of around-the-clock surveillance, Steven Pennell was
arrested on November 29, 1988, one year to the day after the first
victim was found. Pennell was found guilty in the deaths of the first
two victims on November 29, 1989, and plead no contest to the murder of
two others on October 30, 1991.
Still maintaining his innocence, he asked for the death penalty so
that he could spare his family further agony. Steven Pennell was
executed by lethal injection on March 15, 1992.
Delaware Carries Out First
Execution Since '46
The New York Times
March 15, 1992
Delaware conducted an
execution today for the first time in almost
half a century, putting to death a man who had
tortured and killed at least four women.
The execution, performed by
injection, was carried out inside a trailer on
the grounds of the Delaware Correctional Center
near this town 15 miles north of Dover. The
condemned prisoner was Steven Brian Pennell, 34
There had been no executions
in Delaware since 1946, but the state had rarely
had a prisoner like Mr. Pennell. Although he
maintained innocence to the end, he fought his
wife's efforts to appeal his sentence, saying he
wanted to die because his continued imprisonment
was causing his family anguish.
In the last two days, Mr.
Pennell's wife, Kathy, made desperate efforts to
obtain a stay, arguing that her husband's
outlook proved that he was mentally incompetent.
But Friday night and early today, state and
Federal courts turned her down. At 9 o'clock
this morning, the United States Supreme Court
issued the final rejection of her petition.
Minutes later, inside the
prison trailer, which was divided into a glass-enclosed
death chamber and an adjoining room for
witnesses, Mr. Pennell was strapped down on a
vinyl-covered gurney. Asked by the acting
warden, Robert Snyder, whether he had any last
words, he briefly opened his eyes and shook his
Technicians then began
injecting him with lethal drugs. After a few
moments, Mr. Snyder closed a curtain to the
death chamber and, over an intercom, announced
that Mr. Pennell was dead. He reopened the
curtain, and a Roman Catholic priest standing
next to the body was administering last rites.
Marlene Simm, the mother of
one of Mr. Pennell's victims, Michelle Gordon,
was among a crowd of 40 death-penalty supporters
and opponents gathered on the prison grounds.
She said she was pleased by the execution.
Mr. Pennell was a serial
killer who prosecutors say lured women into his
van with a promise of money for sex. Once inside,
they were bound with tape, tortured and
He was already serving a
lifetime prison term for the murder of two women
when he was indicted last year on charges of
killing two others before his capture. One was
Ms. Gordon, 22, whose body was found on Sept.
20, 1988, and the other was Kathleen Meyer, 26,
who had disappeared 10 days earlier but whose
body was never found. In addition, Mr. Pennell
was the chief suspect in the murder of a fifth
woman, whose body was found so decomposed that
the police could not retrieve any evidence.
Last October, already
maintaining that he was determined to be
executed, Mr. Pennell pleaded no contest to the
Gordon and Meyer killings and was sentenced to
death. State law requires that a death sentence
be automatically appealed to the Delaware
Supreme Court, where Mr. Pennell represented
himself and urged the court to hasten his
'A Foolish Suicide'
His wife then undertook her
efforts to have him spared. The motions for a
stay were filed for Mrs. Pennell by W. Michael
Jacobs of the American Bar Association's Death
Penalty Litigation Project, who argued that Mr.
Pennell was committing "a foolish suicide" and
an "irrational act and one which Mrs. Pennell
wishes to do everything in her power to stop."
But a judge in New Castle
County Superior Court ruled Friday that Mrs.
Pennell had not shown that her husband was
mentally impaired, and later in the day the
State Supreme Court agreed, saying, "There is
not a scintilla of evidence that Pennell is
The death of
Mr. Pennell leaves five prisoners awaiting
execution in Delaware. He was the 166th person
executed in the United States since the Supreme
Court in 1976 allowed resumption of capital
Steven Brian Pennell, aka "The Corridor Killer," was a monster. Plain
and simple. His crimes shocked the little state of Delaware, not because
it was the first and only case of serial murder in the state's history,
but more so due to the twisted savagery of the crimes he committed. Most,
if not all of Delaware was happy to get rid of Mr. Pennell when he
executed for his crimes in 1992.
Not much is known of Pennell's childhood except that for the most apart,
he appeared to come from a normal and stable upbringing. At some point
he ended up in Delaware and applied for numerous positions in the state
police department. Up until this point he had pursued a career in
criminology, having completed several semesters at the University of
In any event, all of his applications were rejected for
various reasons and he ended up working as an electrician. He married
and settled in New Castle. Life for Mrs. Pennell must not have been the
most pleasant, since her husband took incredible pleasure in controlling
her life and acting as the dominant presence in the household.
Fortunately, the Pennells had no children.
In November of 1987, Steven Pennell began what was to become the most
appalling case of murder in the history of Small Wonder (Delaware).
the next eleven months, Pennell cruised Interstate 40 and 13 in search
of women that he could torture and rape.
He found the perfect victim in
form of a prostitute. Once engaging in a conversation with a local
hooker, Pennell would coerce the unsuspecting woman into his van and
then drive to an isolated spot where he would then procede to subject
his new captive to unspeakable amounts of torture and rape.
van he carried a so-called "rape kit" that contained specially
chosen devices used to torture his victims. Such items included pliers,
a whip, handcuffs, needles, knives, and other types of restraints.
modus operandi varied in every murder which through the police off track.
Sometimes he would simply bind his victim by the hands and ankles while
he raped them and beat their buttocks with his whip, other times he
would hit them with a hammer until they were battered and bloody (and
still alive), and in another case he used the pliers to squeeze the
victim's breasts and cut off her nipples. Eventually he would show mercy
by strangling them to death, then bashing in their skulls with a blunt
object for good measure. Finally, the bodies would be dumped along
wooded areas next to highways 40 and 13.
Pennell was finally caught when an undercover state police officer named
Renee C. Lano posing as a prostitute on route 40, was able to gather
fibers from Pennell's van and submit them to the FBI laboratory for
testing (blue fibers from an automobile had been found on one of the
victims). The results were a perfect match and Pennell was soon arrested.
Due to the police's inexperience with serial murder, the FBI had agreed
to help, mostly aided by the efforts of special agents John Douglas and
Steve Mardigan (Douglas testified against Pennell at his 1989 trial).
Halloween of 1991, Steven Brian Pennell was sentenced to die by lethal
injection aftering have been convicted of two of the five murders he
committed. On March 14, 1992, the sentence was carried out. Pennell was
34 years old. His execution cost the state a grand total of $47,085, a
rather high figure for an execution. Pennell was the first man in more
than 45 years to be executed in Delaware.