Police: Murder suspect told landlord he killed Taos coffee shop owner

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 9/18/19

Close friends, acquaintances and employees of Patrick Larkin's accused killer, 51-year-old Gregg Steele, described Steele as a man who often seemed to be teetering on the edge between boiling resentments and physical violence …

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Police: Murder suspect told landlord he killed Taos coffee shop owner

Posted

Updated Sept. 18 at 4 p.m.

Close friends, acquaintances and employees of Patrick Larkin's accused killer, 51-year-old Gregg Steele, described Steele as a man who often seemed to be teetering on the edge between boiling resentments and physical violence.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit charging him with 2nd-degree murder and three other felonies connected to the death of the popular Taos coffee shop owner, Steele confessed to crossing that threshold late last month, when he told his landlord that he shot and killed Larkin early the morning of Aug. 27 in Llano Quemado.

The landlord, who said he had rented Steele property adjacent to Larkin's over the summer, told his attorney that his tenant admitted to shooting Larkin twice with a handgun the morning of Aug. 27. He said Steele then confessed to loading the 63-year-old's body into a truck, driving it around Taos for hours and then hiding the murder weapon and a .22-rifle he stole from Larkin, according to the affidavit.

Larkin's partner and their friend, who was staying at their home on the 27th, said Larkin had left sometime before dawn that morning without waking them. A single gunshot – what sounded like the pop of a .22 rifle – startled the guest awake around 2 a.m. He went back to sleep and later assumed Larkin was firing at one of Steele’s dogs, which were known to harass Larkin’s livestock.

When Larkin never returned home, they reported him missing, and investigators found a goat that had been mauled to death in his yard. On Aug. 28, they found Larkin’s body hidden in a bush 1.5 miles away on Cuchilla Road with two gunshot wounds – one to the knee and another to the chest. An autopsy performed by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator later recovered a .45 caliber bullet from his body.

As agents canvassed the surrounding area to speak with neighbors early in the investigation, they found that Steele was the only resident not at home and who would not answer his phone.

A Taos County Sheriff’s Deputy arrested Steele just after midnight Aug. 29 for driving with an open alcohol container and resisting arrest, but Steele was released later that week. With approval from his landlord, investigators searched the area of the property where he had been living. They found that his two trailers were reported stolen and their VIN numbers had been scratched off.

The landlord later told police that he had notified Steele of the search. He said the 51-year-old was on his way home at the time, but quickly changed his route, stating he didn’t want to be involved in any “drama.” In a separate conversation, the landlord told Steele that Larkin had left his home with a rifle before he went missing, which he said Steele somehow knew was a .22-caliber weapon.

As the investigation continued, state police agents interviewed several other people in Taos County who knew Steele and said he could be dangerous.

Steele’s employees said he had told them about previous crimes he had committed in California. They said he had expressed a desire to "burn down houses of those he perceived to have wronged him," according to the affidavit. A clerk at the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office in California confirmed with the Taos News that Steele had a criminal history in the area, including three traffic violations and one misdemeanor charge for unspecified crimes.

A friend in Questa said Steele had asked him to tell police he was away from the Llano Quemado area around the time of Larkin’s death. He said Steele told him he had heared gunshots come from Larkin’s property the night of the incident and had whistled for one of his dogs to return.

Another friend from Embudo said Steele “was known to have a short fuse, and constantly talked about exacting physical revenge on those he perceived to have wronged him,” according to the affidavit.

An ex-fiancé, who separated from Steele in April and filed a restraining order against him late last year, said she had seen him pull a man from a car and beat him during a road rage incident. After they split, she said Steele forced his way into her home. She said she recorded him telling her about wanting to murder another ex-girlfriend and bury her body in the woods. She he described “how little he valued human life,” according to the affidavit.

"In interviews with nearly all of Mr. Steele's friends, and associates, multiple agents were advised that Mr. Steele was unhinged and had a propensity for violence ..." the affidavit also reads.

Following the interviews, state police seized Steele’s green Dodge pickup truck and searched it after obtaining a search warrant. Investigators said they found traces of blood in the truck bed and driver-side door that matched a sample of Larkin’s DNA and that of another unidentified person.

Steele has been known to go by a number of aliases, including Greg, Gregory and Stirling. His court cases in New Mexico are also filed under a number of different names.

People in Taos County, particularly those who knew him as the proprietor of Mountain Heritage Tree Service & Landscape Design, referred to him as Stirling. Steele’s business had been based at the northern entrance to Taos Pueblo until earlier this year, when he was “kicked off” the reservation for unspecified reasons, according to an interview with police.

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. Authorities have not confirmed whether the Steele charged in that case and the suspect in Larkin's death were one and the same.

Steele is currently incarcerated at the Taos County jail pending a no-bond motion hearing in Taos District Court set for Thursday (Sept. 19).

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