Online Exclusive

Sheriff: Double Murder 'Tragedy for Many'

Members of the Dane County Sheriff's Office are trying to "make sense out of nonsense" after a recently retired sheriff's deputy allegedly killed his wife and sister-in-law, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Sunday.

Andy Steele was arrested for the murder of his wife and sister-in-law, Fitchburg police announced late Saturday night. He has not been charged.

Ashlee C. Steele, 39, and Kacee M. Tollefsbol, 38, were the victims of a double homicide at the Steeles' Yarmouth Greenway Drive home on Friday, according to the Dane County Medical Examiner's office.

"This is an overwhelming tragedy for so many, particularly for the family of Ashlee Steele and Kacee," Mahoney said in an interview.

Ashlee and Andy Steele have two children, and Tollefsbol, who lived in Lake Elmo, Minn., just southwest of Stillwater, was a married mother of four, Mahoney said.

"There are many deputies who are struggling with what occurred and trying to bring a resolution in their minds to what could've resulted in an end like this, and it's very difficult to do -- to make sense out of nonsense," he said.

The Sheriff's Office is providing resources to its staff, Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the women's grandmother died the same day they were killed. "So their father was struggling with the loss of his mother and two daughters," he said.

The Sheriff's Office has not been involved in the criminal investigation, which is being led by the Fitchburg Police Department.

"Fitchburg has led an outstanding investigation and we have full confidence in their ability to bring this to a successful resolution," Mahoney said.

Fitchburg Police Lt. Todd Stetzer would not say how the sisters were killed. On Friday Stetzer said officers found both women shot in the home.

"The medical examiner has released 'homicidal violence' as the cause of death. And that is their arena as far as giving the specific cause of death," he said Sunday.

Stetzer said Steele was injured and that his injuries were consistent with a suicide attempt but couldn't confirm Steele tried to take his own life.

"We're still in the process of trying to gain more information from him," Stetzer said.

Steele did not shoot himself, Stetzer said, adding that he could not release the type of injury he sustained.

"I can't release specifically what the wounds were," he said. "We're still working with the medical staff to see what all would be there."

That information will likely be released in the criminal complaint when charges are filed, probably early this week, Stetzer said.

Andy Steele's injuries were not life-threatening, and Stetzer said he was asked not to disclose the medical facility where Steele is being treated but said he is not in the Madison area.

Different time period

The murders happened in a different time period than when Steele was injured, Stetzer said.

"What we are trying to determine is how much of a time frame may have been in between," he said. "At this point the investigation is still continuing to get the timing of all of the different events."

Stetzer said he couldn't disclose whether either of the women tried to call 911.

Police are meeting with family members and friends to determine what Tollefsbol was doing in town and how long she had been here.

The Steeles' two children, Jack and Rachael, are with family members out of state, Stetzer said.

Stetzer said he can't yet release what led to the killings. "That's all part of what the detectives are still working on," he said.

Diagnosed with ALS

Andy Steele, 39, was diagnosed in June with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, and took a medical retirement from the sheriff's office. His wife began raising money in a campaign called "Tough as Steele/Taking Down ALS" for her husband's upcoming care needs through a website called Give Forward.

As of Friday, nearly a third of their goal of $75,000 had been raised through 257 individual donations. Sunday, the Steeles' account could not be accessed on the website.

Ashlee Steele used a recent photo of herself embracing her husband as her profile picture on Facebook. In recent days, she had posted dozens of videos and photos of friends and family members -- including Mahoney -- doing the ALS ice bucket challenge, a fundraising and awareness campaign that has taken over the social media site in the past week.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval also took the challenge in solidarity with Andy Steele and officers in his department whose family members have been affected by ALS, he said Sunday. He didn't know Steele personally but said there is a lot of "cross-pollination" between departments.

"Like all of us, we are completely devastated and don't even know how to begin to form the words to try to fathom what an unspeakable sort of thing this is in terms of its tragic consequences for the entire family and their friends," Koval said.

Fitchburg police asked for mutual support early in the investigation until they realized what the perimeter of their crime scene was, Koval said.

Once it was determined that the crime scene wasn't as extensive as originally thought, and that there was not an unknown suspect at large, Madison police involvement was dialed back considerably, he said.

Seven on case

Seven Fitchburg detectives were actively working on the case Sunday, Stetzer said.

He wouldn't say whether Andy Steele has been cooperative with detectives who are interviewing him.

"It's all a work in progress," he said. "There are investigators and detectives present with him."

Stetzer said investigators are trying to determine what led to the killings.

"Obviously somebody, in my opinion, who did something like this snapped, or for whatever reason isn't thinking mentally straight," Stetzer said. "ALS is obviously a very debilitating disease."

Mahoney said his staff has close ties to the couple and are struggling with a lot of emotions.

A number of Sheriff Office employees had been working with the couple during Andy Steele's medical struggles.

Some had spoken with them the night before the incident and were supposed to meet with them later Friday, Mahoney said.

Copyright 2014 - The Wisconsin State Journal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service