Man charged in shooting death of Taos coffee shop owner

Records show suspect was neighbors with homicide victim, had ongoing feud

Posted

Updated Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.

Following a two-week investigation, New Mexico State Police have arrested the man they believe is responsible for the death of World Cup Café owner Patrick Larkin: his neighbor.

According to a press release sent on Saturday (Sept. 14), 51-year-old Greg Steele has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection to Larkin's death. Investigators say they uncovered evidence to show that Steele used a .45-caliber handgun to shoot and kill Larkin on land Steele was renting in Llano Quemado early the morning of Aug. 27.

According to court records, Steele was living on land adjacent to Larkin's at the time of the alleged murder. The pair had feuded over Steele's dogs crossing into Larkin's property and harassing livestock he was raising there.

Following the fatal shooting, police believe that Steele then stole a .22-caliber rifle belonging to Larkin, though the press release did not make it clear whether Larkin was armed with the weapon at the time of the shooting. Police say evidence shows that Steele discarded both weapons before transporting Larkin's body to Cuchilla Road, where it remained hidden in the sagebrush until members of Taos Search and Rescue found the remains on Aug. 28.

After executing a search warrant on Steele's property and vehicles, investigators say they also found "evidence of Larkin's blood" in a vehicle belonging to Steele.

The 51-year-old suspect is now in custody at the Taos County jail on the murder charge and two additional charges for armed robbery and two counts of tampering with evidence.

Steele's alleged involvement in Larkin's death was widely rumored in Taos County, including by a Taos County Commissioner, Candyce O'Donnell. The information was unconfirmed by authorities until Sept. 13, when Steele was formally charged in connection to the investigation.

Steele flees

Early the morning after Larkin's body was found, Steele was arrested for the first time in August, but not on charges related to the homicide investigation.

According to court records, Taos County Sheriff's Deputy Mauro Rosales was patrolling the streets around Llano Quemado just after midnight Aug. 29, when he spotted a gray Toyota Corolla traveling east on Camino Sur del Llano Quemado Road, a few miles east of where Larkin's body had been found.

The deputy wrote in a statement of probable cause that he became suspicious when the driver quickly turned into a residence and switched off the car's headlights. Rosales knew the home had been unoccupied for some time. He could see overgrown weeds in the driveway.

When Rosales shined a spotlight on the vehicle, the driver immediately got out and fled on foot, hopping over a wooden fence on the east side of the abandoned home.

Supporting deputies arrived and assisted Rosales in searching the area. They found the driver, later identified as Steele, in the back of the residence and detained him. When the deputies asked him why he had run, Steele said he had an open alcohol container in his car.

He was booked that morning at the Taos County jail on one count of possession of an open container and another count for resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

Alleged feud

A Taos Magistrate Court Judge released Steele later that week, but he was quickly rearrested by state police officers, who allegedly found two stolen camper trailers on a property adjacent to Larkin's, where Steele had been living on a part-time basis.

Andrew Jorgenson, a sergeant with the state police investigations bureau, wrote in records recently filed with the case that he had gone to visit the adjacent property to investigate a rumor that Steele and Larkin had clashed over Steele's dogs harassing Larkin's livestock. The visit was one of several state police conducted over the last two weeks as they canvassed the Llano Quemado area in search of leads in the homicide investigation.

The owner of the property said he had agreed to allow Steele to live on his land and consented to have Jorgenson search it for evidence.

While Jorgenson wrote that he found nothing at that time to tie Steele to the homicide investigation, he determined that the two campers Steele had brought to the property were stolen and their VIN numbers had been "chipped off."

After learning Steele was arrested by sheriff's deputies a few days earlier, state police investigators worked with the county agency to locate Steele and bring him to the state police headquarters in Taos to conduct an interview.

According to a summary of the conversation, Steele said he had been living in Llano Quemado after he was "kicked off the pueblo," though court records don't indicate which pueblo Steele might have been referring to.

He told police he had purchased the two trailers from a man in Albuquerque seven years earlier. When asked if anyone else had been living with him at the Llano Quemado property, Steele said he had rented one of the trailers to another person, but refused to give their identity.

When investigators repeated the question, Steele said that he wished to speak to an attorney, according to the complaint.

While prosecutors filed a motion to hold Steele without bond after the second arrest, jail logs indicate he was released from custody again on Sept. 3 on an unsecured appearance bond of $5,000 with the condition that he was not to leave Taos County.

Criminal history

Steele's criminal history in Taos County includes various traffic charges and a misdemeanor aggravated battery case that was filed in 2013 but was later dismissed. He has no cases currently filed in Taos District Court, where felony charges are processed.

Other charges filed under a "Gregg Steele" matching the homicide suspect's birth date can also be found in New Mexico court records. While the spelling is consistent on jail logs, the double-G spelling can be found on Steele's prior case for the trailers allegedly stolen out of Albuquerque. A 2016 criminal damage to property and assault case is also filed under the name.

A 1996 article by George Johnson of The New York Times names a "Gregory A. Steele" from Taos as one of two people who turned themselves in after starting an illegal campfire near Bandalier National Monument that sparked a major wildfire.

The fire burned at least 14,500 acres, according to the article, which also indicates that the two campers were charged with misdemeanors in federal court in Albuquerque and faced possible fines.

Authorities had not confirmed as of Saturday evening whether the Steele charged in that case and the suspect in Larkin's death were one and the same.

What's next

In response to a public information request submitted by the Taos News, a representative from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said this week that it could take at least 90 days for Larkin's autopsy report to be completed.

Steele is expected to appear in court on the murder case early next week in Taos Magistrate Court. Other court dates as of Saturday evening (Sept. 14) had not been set.

This is a developing story.

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