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Man allegedly walks into police station to say he killed his wife

Douglas A. Steeves Jr., 50, allegedly confessed his crime to Salem police. His lawyer said he cannot remember all of what happened.KEN YUSZKUS/POOL

SALEM — A turbulent relationship that lasted nearly 30 years ended violently Tuesday when Douglas A. Steeves Jr. allegedly strangled his wife in her home — and then confessed his crime to Salem police, authorities said.

Steeves, 50, was ordered held without bail for allegedly murdering Carmela Saunders, 48, inside her Chandler Street apartment, just hours after a family dinner, authorities said.

Steeves had been living with a friend, but was kicked out and had “nowhere to go,” Essex Assistant District Attorney A.J. Camelio said. On Monday night, Steeves was invited to his daughter’s apartment to take a shower and have dinner, Camelio said.

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But the visit took a violent turn when Steeves received a phone call from a man who told him to “stay away from his girl,” according to a police report filed in Salem District Court. The call sparked a fight between Steeves and Saunders, police wrote.

“She scratched him, and at that point he put his hands on her throat and he strangled her,” Camelio said. “He left her on the bed, covered her body, and left the apartment.”

Around 3:44 a.m., Steeves walked into the Salem police station and told an officer what he did, Camelio said.

Steeves’s lawyer, Raymond Buso, said his client’s mental state at the time of the killing might be part of his defense. He said Steeves cannot remember all of what happened.

Saunders’ death followed years of alleged abuse in a relationship that dated back to her teenage years. The couple married in 1987 and had five children, the youngest of whom is 17, officials and friends said.

Saunders had filed for divorce twice since last September, citing abuse, and received two restraining orders against Steeves, most recently in May. That restraining order was still in effect, records show.

The May order was granted after Steeves allegedly followed her to Salem, N.H., where he “started to harass me, calling me dirty names” in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store, records show. Later that day, he bluntly threatened her.

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“I will take care of you,” he said, according to an affidavit signed by Saunders. “I don’t care what happens to be [sic], but I will get you.”

The other restraining order was issued in 1994 after Steeves allegedly tried to strangle Saunders, Camelio said.

A friend of Saunders said she once told her that Steeves had tried to kill her.

“She told me that, a long time ago, Doug tried to kill her,” the friend said. “She told me he tried to strangle her so she broke up with him. She was afraid of him. She left him and he was a stalker. He stalked her all the time.’’

The friend asked to remain anonymous out of concern for her personal safety.

Lisa Vidinha, 49, who lives near the Chandler Street home where Saunders was attacked, said the couple’s relationship became strained soon after they moved into a second-floor apartment about six months ago.

Saunders moved in with relatives on the third floor, while Steeves was evicted for failing to pay rent, she said.

Even after Steeves moved away, Saunders complained that he would not leave her alone, often calling her and sending her text messages, Vidinha said. Sometimes, Steeves drove by and honked the horn on his blue Chevy Suburban, she said.

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“I told him to leave. ‘You don’t belong here. You got a restraining order. Don’t you know that? I will call the cops,’ ” Vidinha said.

She said she heard screams overnight, but did not know who was in trouble. A police officer told her about the killing Tuesday morning, Vidinha said.

“My heart just like dropped,” she said. “If it was her screams I would have been over here. I know he’s abusive and he’s a bully.”

Vidinha said she last saw Saunders Saturday.

“She was fine,” she said. “She was a loving girl. She would help anybody.”

Saunders’ first divorce complaint was dismissed last November after Saunders said the couple reconciled, court records show. She initiated divorce proceedings again in February.

“Carmen had this thing — she loved him but she hated him,’’ said the friend. “It was like a love hate relationship. But she wanted to slip away, but she just didn’t know how to do it.’’

Steeves, 50, appeared Tuesday in Salem District Court, where he was ordered held without bail for allegeldy murdering the 48-year-old Saunders inside her apartment at 11 Chandler St. just hours after a family gathering, officials and Steeves’ lawyer said.

Saunders and Steeves, according to friends and officials, began dating as teenagers, married and had five children, the youngest of whom is a teenage girl.

But the relationship was haunted by Steeves’s violence, and Saunders twice filed for divorce and twice got restraining orders — the most recent of which was still in effect when he murdered her, records show.

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In court papers, Saunders wrote this May that Steeves followed her to Salem, N.H. where he “started to harass me, calling me dirty names” in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store. Later that day, he bluntly threatened her.

“I will take care of you,” he said, according to an affidavit supporting the order. “I don’t care what happens to be [sic], but I will get you.”

A friend who knew both Steeves and Saunders said that she once told her that Steeves tried to kill her in the past.

“She told me that, a long time ago, Doug tried to kill her. She told me he tried to strangle her so she broke up with him,’’ said the friend. “She was afraid of him. She left him and he was a stalker. He stalked her all the time.’’

Lisa Vidinha, 49, who lives near the Chandler Street home where Saunders was attacked, said Tuesday the relationship became strained soon after they moved into a second floor apartment about six months ago.

After Saunders got the restraining order, she moved in with relatives on the third floor until Steeves was evicted for failing to pay rent from the second floor unit, she said.

But even after Steeves moved away, Vidinha said his estranged wife complained that he would not leave her alone, calling her and sending her text messages. Sometimes Steeves drove by the Chandler Street residence and honked the horn on his blue Chevy Suburban, she said.

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“He just drove by, started honking his horn, and harassing her. I told him to leave. ‘You don’t belong here. You got a restraining order. Don’t you know that? I will call the cops,’” Vidinha said.

She said the victim recently complained to her about Steeves.

“I know he’s been calling her and threatening her. I told her, “Don’t answer the phone,” Vidinha said. “He’s been texting her a lot and threatening her . . . She just told me, ‘It’s my ex and he won’t leave me alone.’”

She said she received a text message from the victim on Monday at 3:30 p.m. while Saunders was shopping at a supermarket. “I told her if she had a problem call me on the phone immediately so I could call the cops,” Vidinha said. “She would not call me.”

Vidinha said she heard screams overnight, but did not know who was in trouble. She said a police officer told her about the murder Tuesday morning.

“My heart just like dropped,” she said. “If it was her screams I would have been over here. I know he’s abusive and he’s a bully.”

Vidinha said she last saw the victim Saturday when they had coffee together at her house.

“She was fine,” she said. “She was a loving girl. She would help anybody.”

Steeves and Sunders married in Peabody on Nov. 14, 1987, and in the past two years, Saunders filed for divorce, citing abuse from Steeves.

But she returned to court in November 2015, saying they had reconciled. And after again filing for divorce this Feb. 24, Steeves and Saunders celebrated another reconciliation with relatives on Monday.

“Carmen had this thing - she loved him but she hated him,,’’ said the friend. “It was like a love hate relationship. But she wanted to slip away, but she just didn’t know how to do it.’’


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.