Family Remembers Life of Murdered Woman
From: the Camas-Washougal(WA) Post-Record, January 25, 2000.
By Janet Leister
I think of her now the same way I think about a pasture blooming with wild flowers. Despite lack of care and nurturing, they grow on their own, depending on no one. Stephanie Leister Shinn was more than a shadow behind a sad headline. She was my niece, and this is how I see her life.
I remember when she was a baby she had a smile that could light up even a cloudy Vancouver day. Her hazel eyes, identical to her father's, would beam at you and make you wonder what sly secrets she was keeping. Storm clouds blew in when she was a toddler as alcohol, violence and divorce ripped her family apart.
Her aunt Terry remembers on one occasion hearing Steph's little 5 year old voice shouting "Dog lips! Dog lips!" Terry discovered her mastiff Moosie licking her face and Stephanie convulsed with giggles.
When Steph was about 7, my mother brought her to my apartment in Portland. We have a cute picture of her red corduroy overalls valiantly holding her baby cousin Chris -- who was at least half of her 50 or so pounds.
While she lived with my mother she did normal kid things: sleepovers, skating, daydreaming. Inheriting her father's fast metabolism and skinny build helped make Stephanie a natural athelete. She enjoyed soccer and was really good at it.
In the summer of 1987, a friend and I made tie-dyed t-shirts and sold then at Portland's Saturday Market. One weekend Stephanie came with us. She relished her chance to be our model and the warm, sugary elephant ears from another vendor. That year at Halloween she dressed up in one of our shirts, added a beak and was one happening chicken.
At about 14 she moved to her father Steve's home on the Washougal and Steph finally had a chance to be big sister to her brother Logan -- born on her birthday in 1987.
She bristled when Steve's girlfriend Leah tried to discipline her. But because Stephanie had never stayed in any given family situation long enough to really feel a part of it, she felt no need to stay. Faced with the ultimatum to follow the rules or leave, she left.
She moved in with Terry and seemed happy for a while, but eventually friction developed and Steph moved again. She got a job at A&W and moved into a Hazel Dell apartment with some friends.
She got a bank account as soon as she was old enough and applied for financing to buy her Lebaron. I remember her proudly driving over to Mom's house to show it off. I was jealous because at 18 Steph had a better car than I did at 36.
Mom and I went to get root beer floats one day and Stephanie told us about a guy who came to the drive-thru window in a Grand Am, finally asking her out. Because she was still so young and Joe seemed kind of old for her we didn't think it was serious. They got married in June 1993 and it wasn't long before their son, Austin, came along.
Her involvement with Joe seems now to have been one of the better decisions she made in her life. I don't know what went wrong in the marriage, but they remained friends after divorcing and Steph had visitation with Austin often. She knew he was better off with his father. The girl who had learned all the wrong lessons about love turned out to know what it was all about.
Steph got other jobs, dated other guys, and eventually became involved with Bryan. There wasn't anything to indicate the violence that was to come.
Stephanie Leister Shinn was essentially a little lost girl who, at the time of her murder, was just beginning to find her way. After the falling out with her father, Steve and Stephanie had made amends and were closer than ever.
It is still surreal to think that on Christmas Eve she would be found murdered in her Lebaron, not far up the Washougal from where she had lived on the river. Abducted and killed by the guy she had just left.
The next time you drive past a meadow or a field, and you see the flowers unattended and reaching out on their own for the sun's rays,think about Stephanie and remember how fragile life is. What promise and potential there is in the unknown, and what sorrow can lurk behind the next page.
Copyright 2000, J.K. Leister