He had blood on his hands and his mom’s boyfriend was dead. Police say he was unfazed

Man suspected of killing mom's boyfriend attends hearing

Tyler Thiel appears for an arraignment at the Pierce County District Courthouse in Tacoma on Thursday.
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Tyler Thiel appears for an arraignment at the Pierce County District Courthouse in Tacoma on Thursday.

The day started as a celebration, but ended in death.

Stephen Gale, 52, invited about two dozen neighbors over for a Fourth of July barbecue at his historic Steilacoom house, decorated with miniature American flags.

He had a new grill and pork steaks were on the menu. People ate, drank and watched fireworks.

One of the guests, however, made a few people uneasy.

Tyler Thiel, 23, was disengaged while most people socialized in the backyard. He quietly stared, and became confrontational with Gale at least once over where the soda was kept.

The men weren’t often around each other, even though Gale was dating and living with Thiel’s mother.

By the end of the night, Gale was dead and Thiel under arrest after going to Puyallup.

Neighbor Matt Bender recalls the charismatic nature of Stephen Gale, 52, who was beaten to death in his Steilacoom backyard allegedly by his girlfriend's son after hosting a July 4 barbecue.

When told about Gale’s death, Thiel was unfazed and “maintained that Gale was alive when he left him in the yard of the residence,” according to court documents.

Thiel’s mother called 911 about 11:15 p.m. and told dispatchers she’d had a physical fight with her son and that Gale was “down and hurt” outside their Lafayette Street home, records show.

Officers found Gale in the backyard and performed CPR. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Thiel’s mother told police she’d seen her boyfriend and son fighting inside the house. She said her son hit her in the face during the scuffle, though it was unknown whether it was intentional.

That’s when she went to the porch to call for help.

“The defendant continued to beat Gale,” according to the court records.

Thiel was gone when police arrived. He was arrested in Puyallup about 1 a.m. with blood on his hands and clothes. Detectives noted Thiel seemed out of it, possibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Thiel said he argued with his mother because she “wanted him to stay and he wanted to leave and go home where he lived with his father,” the charging papers state.

That led to a fight with Gale, who Thiel said “grabbed him by the shirt with both hands,” so he punched him several times.

As Gale turned to walk away, “that was when the defendant pushed his head into the door,” records show. The fight continued outside and Thiel allegedly kicked Gale several times while he lay on the ground.

An autopsy showed Gale suffered a broken nose, a serious head wound and facial injuries that indicate he was stomped.

Pierce County prosecutors Thursday charged Thiel with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $1 million bail.

Friends called Gale a typical small town guy.

Friendly and involved, he loved chatting with neighbors and was passionate about preserving Steilacoom’s history. He drew people to him with his big smile and welcoming ways.

“Steve was just proud of what he had there,” said Matt Bender, who met Gale when he moved into the neighborhood. “He told me all the time how much he loved Steilacoom.”

Four years ago, Gale bought a one-story home built in 1861 and began restoring it. He’d proudly walk friends and neighbors through the house, pointing out an addition built in 1930 and talk about his plans to fix the house up.

When he moved into the neighborhood, Gale served on the Preservation & Review Board, which monitors changes made to historical homes in town.

He was a bit of a workaholic, putting in long hours working as a railroad mechanic in charge of keeping the box cars in tiptop shape.

After a 28-year career, Gale hoped to retire in five years or so.

He once played electric guitar in a heavy metal band, friends said. Gale also fancied himself a master griller, though some joked he was better at ordering pizza.

“He was a wonderful man,” Bender said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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