The Disappearance of Jami Hagel Sherer
Jami Hagel was a pretty, outgoing 22-year old in 1986 when she first met Steven Sherer. Unfailingly happy and never moody, the only daughter of a family with three sons, she had been a feisty tomboy in her childhood and teens who had loved horses, baseball and climbing trees and was fearless. She delighted in her younger twin brothers and had a very close relationship with her mother, Judy, which never wavered, even into adolescence and adulthood.
The energetic girl matured into a caring and compassionate young woman who retained the bubbly, outgoing, and friendly nature of her youth. She had a serious high school boyfriend, one she began dating during her sophomore years and with for five or six years, remaining friendly with him thereafter. Jami not only kept her bonds with her school friends but with her family as well. Even after moving out of the family home and into, first, an apartment she shared with a roommate and then into her own apartment in Redmond, Washington, less than ten miles from the Hagels’ home in Bellevue, she called Judy four or five times a week and spent most weekends with her parents and siblings. She had a secure job with a computer company and her life was just beginning to blossom in front of her when Steven Sherer entered her world.
The first time that Jami’s parents saw Steve Sherer, he rode up on a motorcycle with Jami. He was proud of the motorcycle as he had bought it from his winnings at the racetrack, as Judy Hagel recalled. The Hagels were less than impressed with Steve. While Jami had previously brought home boyfriends that were polite and took every opportunity to be friendly, Steve Sherer was completely uninterested in Judy and Jerry Hagel and anxious to leave their home. At that time, neither Jami’s family nor friends were overly concerned, feeling that she couldn’t seriously be interested in someone like him.
Steve had been born in California to a 22-year-old father and 17-year-old mother. Like Jami’s parents, Steve’s father David originally came from North Dakota. David was a bricklayer but he possessed business savvy and wasn’t afraid of hard work. He moved his young family that included Steve’s mother Sherri, Steve and Saundra to Washington (youngest daughter Laura would be born there) as the building boom was happening.
Thanks to fortuitous timing and drive, David David started a construction company and bought cheap acreage in what would end up being the Seattle suburb of Mill Creek. Although Steve physically resembled his father, he possessed none of David Sherer’s drive and ambition. They did, however, share a love of alcohol which caused many problems in his marriage with Sherri. In an attempt to wean himself off alcohol and get himself together, in November of 1983 he left their Washington home to head for their Palm Desert, California home (the Sherers also owned homes in Rancho Mirage, California and Scottsdale, Arizona). David was reportedly distraught over the state of his marriage, a fact that was certainly not helped by being alone around the Thanksgiving holidays.
He was apparently intoxicated when Sherri called him on Thanksgiving evening and again, several hours later. David reportedly told her he would be better off without him and stated he had a gun and was going to do something about it. The comment apparently didn’t worry Sherri enough to contact law enforcement; she later said she didn’t believe him. Despite that, she got on a plane to California, arriving around 11 p.m. on Friday, November 25. Arriving at their Palm Desert house, she found David sitting on the sofa, a wound from the blast of a .32 caliber automatic gun in his right temple.
The gun was found on the carpet next to the sofa and an empty shell casing was beside it. Forty-four year old David was already in rigor mortis and his body showed signs of lividity, indicating he had been dead for some time. Investigators from the Riverside County Coroner’s Office discovered a bullet hole in the north wall of the den with blood spatter and what appeared to be bone fragments staining the nearby wall. Other than that, the house was neat and clean.
David himself had been full dressed and had no defensive wounds on his hands. Although he had left no suicide note, his blood alcohol level was .10 percent, legally intoxicated. His death was classified a suicide and his body was sent back to Washington for burial. Although there was no evidence that Steve accompanied his mother to California, rumors would remain that Steve had killed his father.
When he met Jami, Steve was twenty-four, only two years older than Jami, but he seemed completely unlikely to be her type. He stood only five-foot-seven, but still towered over the tiny Jami, who was five feet tall and not even a hundred pounds. What he lacked in height, though, he made up for in personality, which could alternate between charming and abrasive. On first meeting Jami, he turned on the charm, telling her that he was the son of a very wealthy family and his being flush with money seemed to support that. Not that she cared about the money; she was attracted to Steve’s strong personality.
Jami and Steve
What Jami’s family and friends didn’t know was that Steve Sherer had a lengthy rap sheet, a nasty temper and an addiction to gambling, alcohol and drugs. He had little respect for women, jumping from girl to girl, much as he jumped from job to job.
Shortly after beginning to date her, he questioned Jami about men she had known before him. He called Jami’s high school boyfriend and threatened to kill him, only stopping once Jami got on the line to apologize for Steve’s behavior. Jami was so young that she believed Steve’s controlling and possessing ways were a sign that he was in love with her. His jealousy, at least then, made her feel secure.
Steve’s run-ins with law enforcement ranged from assault to resisting arrest to malicious mischief and always seemed to stem from alcohol and women. He had a type — pretty, petite blondes with big breasts — and never seemed to be without them, although the relationships would burn out due to his emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, not to mention threats and stalking. Many of the women were smart, educated and confident, like Jami — at least before they got involved with him. He seemed to have a power over them, controlling them and keeping them close long after they should have left.
Even after he started dating Jami Hagel, Steve continued to harass, threaten and physically assault his previous girlfriend, who had gotten a restraining order against him. Unbelievably, both his ex-girlfriend and Jami lived in the same apartment building, something Steve had arranged to make everything more convenient for him. Both women knew about the other and both thought the other was the true problem; neither seemed to realize that Steve Sherer was the real problem. The other woman finally left the triangle after Steve threw a shot glass at her, causing a concussion and deep gash in her scalp, and threatened to kill her in front of law enforcement. He was convicted of second-degree assault. The other woman’s freedom, however, meant that Steve transferred all of his attention to Jami Hagel.
For her part, Jami was determined to marry Steve. As he liked his women very thin, she gave up her favorite candy, M&Ms, to fit his ideal. He liked blonde women and so she dyed her pretty brunette hair blonde to satisfy him. Her personality also shifted, taking her from one a confident and zealous young woman to a nervous, submissive one. A true abuser, Steve systematically distanced Jami from her friends and family, even going so far as to move them to California. (The move also had to do with a residential burglary he had committed in which stereo equipment, jewelry and a handgun were stolen.) Soon, Jami’s entire world was Steve and about making him happy. Judy Hagel had seen purpling bruises on Jami’s arms and legs and she, along with Jami’s other loved ones, hoped that the two would never marry.
Marital Ties and Arrests
In November of 1986, however, the two were engaged, with Steve giving Jami a diamond engagement ring appraised at $13,500. On his suggestion, the couple had the ring insured, along with their other possessions. That same month, Steve called the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to report that someone had broken into their mobile home and stolen a number of their possessions, including Jami’s engagement ring, valued at over $32,000. Despite their uneasiness over the timing of the policy and then alleged burglary, the insurance company paid the claim.
Steve had expensive tastes, however, and the money did not last long, sending the couple back to Washington. While the Hagels were happy that Jami was back in Washington, they were distressed by her appearance — very blonde and very, very thin. Steve had also decided that Jami needed bigger breasts and so she agreed to get implants, a surgery that turned out to be very painful for her. The implants left her very top-heavy and out of proportion for her petite size; Jami soon regretted the decision but Steve was thrilled with the results.
Before their marriage in July of 1987, the two separated several times but always got back together. Steve served a 60-day sentence in the county lock-up in May of 1987 for residential burglary but that didn’t dissuade Jami. Rather than realizing her freedom and regaining her spirit, she was miserable while he was gone and filled with anxiety and terror at the thought that he might break up with her.
Jami had started a new job with Microsoft, something she thrived at and loved. Steve too had found a new love: cocaine. Cocaine fueled many of their fights, particularly when Jami would hide some of his stash from him. Steve would eventually draw Jami’s brothers and Jami herself into addiction as well, although not nearly as deep as his own.
Their wedding was a lovely one and although the Hagels were not happy with their daughter’s choice, they determined to give her the best wedding they could. Steve, only two months out of jail, wore a white tux and had bleached his hair very, very blonde. Although traditional in her choice of china patterns, wedding showers, invitations and all other things bridal, Jami chose a low-cut dress that showed off her enhanced breasts, much to Steve’s approval.
Within months of their marriage and while still in their honeymoon period, Steve was once again arrested, this time for drunk driving. While under arrest and at the Bellevue police station, he leapt at an officer, attempting to choke him with both hands and threatening to kill him. The officer later remembered Steve Sherer’s eyes and the look in them, convincing him that he would have died had another officer not intervened.
Despite being convicted of felonious assault, Steve served little time and walked away with community supervision. He always seemed to have incredible luck in avoiding spending much time incarcerated or serving an appropriate sentence for his crimes.
When Steve wasn’t sober, he was increasingly derisive and cruel to Jami. She knew his faults but she loved him and shifted the blame to others. When confronted by her mother over the insurance fraud they had committed in California, Jami claimed she had not known what was going on until it was too late. She made excuses for Steve when he insisted on Jami accounting for every minute of her day and even called her repeatedly, sometimes as often as every 15 minutes, while she was visiting her parents in Bellevue.
The only area that Jami stood firm on was her job. Steve had cost her jobs before she was hired at Microsoft and joining that company, Jami worked her way up to the human resources department, where she was considered a valuable employee. At work, unlike at home, Jami was confident, outgoing and friendly; none of her coworkers guessed how dire her home life was. She had carefully compartmentalized her professional and private life.
It was around this time she found out she was pregnant. Jami was thrilled at the prospect of being a mother. While Steve was impressed with his own virility, he had little to no interest in putting family first; he was still most interested in gambling, drinking and doing cocaine. When Jami went into false labor at work one day, Steve told her coworker that he was watching something on TV and would come to the hospital when it was over. Although Jami wanted her mother in the delivery room with her when she gave birth, Steve wouldn’t allow it. He told Jami that if Judy Hagel were there, he wouldn’t be. He eventually relented when Jami was in hard labor and did allow Judy to be present for the birth of their son, Tyler.
While Tyler instantly became the center of Jami’s world, Steve proved to be as indifferent a father as he was a husband. If Jami were at work and he had somewhere to go (as he rarely managed to hold down a job for long) and Jami’s parents weren’t available, he would simply take the child with him, even if it were to the racetrack. He also threatened Jami’s parents, telling them if they interfered with the marriage, he would take Jami and Tyler and move out of state. His verbal and emotional outbursts became more frequent and physical, ending in him hitting and punching Jami and even pulling her around by the hair.
On November 5, 1989, police were called to their Bothell, Washington home on a domestic dispute call. The responding officer found Jami, hysterical and holding Tyler, with red blotches on her face and a bloody spot on her scalp where her hair had been pulled out. A long lock of her hair, with the scalp attached, was lying on the kitchen table. Although Jami called her parents to come and get her and Tyler, after several days of phone calls and flower deliveries, she once again returned to her husband. Jami refused to testify against Steve, thinking she was saving their marriage and providing Tyler with both a mother and a father, and so the charges against him were dismissed.
Like many couples on the brink of collapse, the Sherers thought that buying a house would fix their problems. With stock Jami now had at Microsoft as collateral, Steve’s mother agreed to loan the couple the money to purchase a split-level home with a yard in Redmond. Although Jami had initially wanted the house, she told friends that she probably wouldn’t stay with her husband after they moved into it. She seemed to finally realize, in 1990, that neither her marriage nor Steve was going to change. If not for herself, she wanted to change things for her son. In May, they closed on the house; Jami still wasn’t quite ready to leave.
She had suspected that Steve had been unfaithful but there could have been no doubt when, after moving into their new home, he urged her to join him in “swinging.” Although impotent due to the quantities of drugs and alcohol he was consuming, he took ads out in swingers’ magazines without telling Jami. During one of his sporadic periods of work, he had little discretion in talking about his sex life with his wife, even claiming that they hosted orgies at their home.
Even while working, he still managed to call Jami continuously while she was working and even went so far as to show up on the Microsoft campus and stand outside, watching her windows, as if he sensed that she was slowly inching away from him.
Ironically, it was Steve that put the catalyst into place. Joe Graham*, like Steve, was a cocaine addict; in fact, he was one of Steve’s sources to score the drug and had been for a number of years. He was married but had separated from his wife and so spent many nights sleeping on the Sherers’ sofa. Steve suggested that Joe make up a sexual threesome with himself and Jami, something that embarrassed both Joe and Jami. As Steve was often impotent due to his excessive drug and alcohol consumption, his suggested threesome because a twosome between Joe and Jami that Steve not only watched but filmed. One thing he didn’t consider was Joe forming a relationship with Jami that didn’t include him. Jami eventually confessed to Joe the abuse Steve subjected her to and Joe was disgusted.
By September of 1990, Jami seemed to be optimistic over a new life with Joe and was finally ready to leave Steve. Joe Graham was certainly no catch but he gave her the strength to face Steve and take her life back.
On Friday night, September 28, 1990, Jami visited her parents and left Tyler with her mother. On Saturday, September 29, she spent the day with Joe. She lied to her parents and to Steve about where she was, saying that she was going to a promotional event in nearby Tacoma with a girlfriend. Steve spent part of that Saturday with Jami’s twin brothers, Rich and Rob, who later remembered how angry Steve seemed and how he commented of what he would do to Jami if he ever caught her cheating on him.
Judy Hagel spoke to Jami around seven that night, when Jami called to say she would be a little late in picking Tyler up. Around two a.m., Steve called Judy to ask if Jami was at the Hagel house. Judy answered in the negative but was concerned. It wasn’t like Jami to stay out that late but Judy tried to rationalize that Jami must have stayed the night with the girlfriend she had spent the day with.
At 7:30 on the morning of Sunday, September 30, Steve called Judy once again to say that Jami had come home and was on her way over to pick up Tyler. Judy’s relief turned to elation when Jami showed up and announced to her parents that she wanted to move home. Jami confessed to her mother that she had spent the previous day with Joe, something that Judy did not approve of. Then the phone calls from Steve started.
Jami took one of the calls and at last told Steve that the marriage was over, she no longer loved him and wanted a divorce. Steve begged her to speak to him face to face and she eventually agreed, over Judy’s protestations, and left for their arranged meeting. She soon called to say that she was at her Redmond home as Steve had taken her purse from her and gone to their house; she had driven there to retrieve it and pack some clothes for herself and Tyler. She was going to take a shower and then return to Bellevue. Three hours later, at 11:45, Jami called once again to say she was on her way and would be stopping at Taco Time, her favorite fast food restaurant, to bring food. It was the last time Judy Hagel ever spoke to Jami.
The calls from Steve began at 12:15. Told Jami was not there, he called again at 12:30. However, he broke with his usual pattern of calling every 15 minutes and went silent until 6:30 that evening. Judy assumed that Jami must have been with Steve and might have gone back on her decision to leave him. Steve showed up at the Hagel home, picked up Tyler and took him home. By 9:30, though, he called Judy and asked if he and Tyler could return. Arriving back, he told Judy that he hadn’t heard from Jami all day.
The following day, Monday, October 1, 1990, Judy began calling Jami’s office at Microsoft at 7:30 in the morning. Her concern became full-fledged terror when her daughter did not answer and never showed up for work. She was so frightened that she called Joe Graham’s wife in her search for Jami. Joe’s wife had Joe call Judy; Joe was as unnerved as Jami’s mother. He said he had begged her not to go back to the Redmond house. Judy called the Redmond Police Department and reported Jami Hagel Sherer as a missing person.
Jami’s friends launched searches of their own, with the Hagels’ Bellevue home as grand zero. Microsoft printed up thousands of flyers with pictures of a smiling Jami on them and gave many of their employees paid leave to join in the search for her. Although Steve was staying at the Hagel home, he didn’t join in the search for his wife or distribute the flyers. He played the victim, speaking of how terrible things were for him and how Jami’s disappearance could happen to him. From the start, Steve was the prime suspect but he repeatedly denied any involvement in his wife’s disappearance and unlike Joe Graham, was less than willing to speak to the police.
Steve cashed out Jami’s Microsoft stocks (stocks that would have made her a millionaire had she lived) and began going out to bars with her undergarments tied around his arm and her diamond necklace around his neck, claiming they made him feel closer to her. His sister noticed a red spot on the carpet in the Redmond house and notified the police. A friend of the Sherers said that he saw a shovel in Steve’s truck on October 1, the day after Jami disappeared. It stuck out in his mind because he had never noticed a shovel in Steve’s truck before.
On October 5, police found Jami’s 1980 Mazda RX-7 in a church parking lot in Shoreline, a community just over 20 miles from her home in Redmond. In the car was a suitcase containing some of her clothing but, interestingly, only sports clothes and no underwear. The driver’s seat of the car had been pushed far back, as if a tall person had last been driving. The tiny Jami would not have been able to reach the pedals with the seat in that position. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, it was Steve’s maternal uncle, a King County sheriff’s deputy, who responded to a call about the abandoned car.
The deputy said that Steve had called him and asked him to search for Jami’s car in his patrol area. A rescue bloodhound, after picking up a scent from the headrest of the driver’s seat, tracked it along the I-5 to a bus stop on the off-ramp and then lost it, suggesting the person whose scent the dog picked up got on a bus. At the Sherer home, different bloodhounds were given scent from Jami’s clothing; they were unable to track it. However, when given a scent from Steve’s pants, they tracked the exact same route the first bloodhound had tracked to the bus station.
When Jami’s car was processed, it was found the car alarm had not been set and keys to the car were found in the pocket of the ladies’ leather coat found on the passenger seat. In a small manila envelope secreted under the driver’s side of the console were Jami’s diamond wedding ring and a diamond-studded wristwatch. There was no blood and no fingerprints that might give police any idea what might have happened to Jami and where she might be.
On October 8, Steve allowed police to walk through his house, where they noted the red stain Steve’s sister had been concerned about, as well as a stain near the downstairs door to the garage. A day later, he had the carpets in the home professionally cleaned. He told patrons at a bar later that afternoon that he was happy and “the bitch is gone,” despite having told police the day before he missed Jami.
On October 10, just before two p.m., a 911 operator received an emergency call from the Sherers’ Redmond home. Steve had apparently attempted to kill himself in the garage with carbon monoxide poisoning. Found semiconscious, he had trouble speaking and moving and his condition was determined to be critical. He was airlifted to a hospital in Seattle while detectives determined that Steve had placed a picture of Jami on their wedding day on the seat next to him and had used a cordless phone to call 911 himself. He left a note apologizing for what he was supposedly planning to do and saying that he could not live without Jami. Although he was placed on a respirator, Steve Sherer survived. Detectives doubted he had any true intention of killing himself, as he had called 911 in plenty of time to be rescued.
The following month, in November of 1990, Steve went on a date with a woman, informing her he was a recent widower who had lost his wife in a car accident. Eventually he would tell others that Jami had fallen victim to the Green River Killer or she had been taken away by another man.
Time went on. Jami did not contact her family, she did not use her credit cards or her bank account, nor did she apply for new ones. The flyers throughout the city, tacked on telephone poles and taped to windows, began to fade. Other cases took priority over hers. In June of 1991, Steve got into a fight outside a bar with a man who pulled a pistol and shot him in the forearm. In 1992, he was back in jail for using cocaine and failing to meet with his probation officer, violations of his probation. That same year, he sold the Redmond house, which led to him being sued by his mother for return of the money she had loaned him and Jami toward the purchase.
The Hagels hired private detectives, none of whom could deliver on their promises of finding Jami. They were awarded custody of Tyler and raised him in a loving environment, accepting that Jami was dead. Steve saw his son infrequently and when he did, Tyler was hardly a priority.
In May of 1997, Jami was declared legally dead. A few months before that, a new investigation was begun into her disappearance. Detectives followed leads that led them to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Wisconsin, North Carolina, British Columbia, Germany and even Colombia and spoke to hundreds of people.
In the fall of 1998, Steve, who had moved to Arizona, returned to Washington to surrender on his multitude of drunk-driving warrants and was sentenced to eight months in the King County Jail. Detectives continued investigating him; many people, including his ex-girlfriends of more than a decade, who had been afraid to speak out against him when he was free became more willing when he was behind bars.
By October, prosecutors began presenting evidence and witnesses before an inquiry judge, including Joe Graham, who had moved to Idaho. Steve Sherer was presented as a mean, sadistic individual who had been in run-ins with the law since he was 18 and routinely flouted not only the law but had regularly humiliated women, including his wife. By the time he was released from jail in late May of 1999, Steve knew the clock was ticking on him.
He was arrested once more, in June of 1999 for threatening a police officer and a senior deputy prosecutor, for which he was bailed out, before the end finally came. On January 8, 2000, eight months shy of a decade after Jami disappeared into oblivion, Steve Sherer was arrested on the charge of first-degree murder. His bail was set a a million dollars.
Trial and Conviction
His trial was scheduled to begin on April 17, 2000 but it would take until May 3 before a jury was chosen and seated.
Among the witnesses for the prosecution was a former girlfriend of Steve’s, one who was only sixteen or seventeen when she dated him after Jami’s disappearance. She testified that he admitted to her that he had gotten in a physical altercation with Jami at the Redmond house and had given her a bloody nose. He also told her about the insurance scam in California, where he had taken things from the house he shared with Jami and pretended they were stolen. According to her, he used part of the insurance proceeds to pay for Jami’s breast augmentation. It did not go unnoticed by the jury, when shown photos of how she looked back in 1991, that she bore an eerie resemblance to Jami.
Another witness testified that he had cleaned the carpet in the Redmond home after Jami’s disappearance (and after the police had done a search). He said that an area in the basement by the door to the garage had urine and fecal stains, where somebody or something had evacuated. Steve had blamed it on the dog and eventually had that patch of carpet replaced and primer put down on the flooring underneath. After multiple cleanings and treatments with Kilz, no criminologist could say exactly who or what had lost bodily fluids there.
Compared to the prosecution, the defense had much fewer witnesses to call — Steve had never had many true friends. And so they attempted to besmirch Jami’s image as a loving mother and daughter. Their first motion was to enter into evidence a videotape of Jami having sex with both Steve and Joe Graham, filmed and directed by Steve. With the threat of many court watchers vowing to leave the courtroom if the video was shown, the judge refused to allow it. The defense still did their best to make Jami out to be a woman of little or no morals who had left her life of her own accord.
Most court watchers were waiting to see if Steve would take the stand in his own defense — and were disappointed when the defense rested without the jury hearing from him. Given that Steve was a loose cannon, given to furious outbursts, his attorneys couldn’t afford to subject him to cross-examination.
The case went to the jury on June 1, 2000. The eight women and four men spent nearly seven full days deliberating and examining the evidence. Even without her body, they were all in agreement that Jami was dead. They needed to decide if Steve was responsible for her death. Normally, the longer a jury stays out, the better for the defense. Not so in this case.
On Thursday, June 8, the jury reached its verdict. Steve Sherer was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and guilty of second-degree felony murder. It was one of the only times in Washington’s history that a conviction was won without a body. He was shocked, as he had told several people he expected to be going home that day. He told the jurors that when Jami came back, they could “rot in hell.” The jurors had already been excused when he made his next outburst, this time to Judy Hagel, to whom he yelled “Fuck you, Judy!”
On July 22, 2000, Steve was sentenced to sixty years in prison. The judge said he based his decision on the emotional scars Tyler Sherer, then 12 years old, would have throughout his life, thanks to his father killing his mother. He also cited how much planning Steve likely had done to murder Jami and then prolong her family’s suffering by continuing to insist she was alive and not letting them know where her body was. His lack of remorse also did him no favors. Always a classic abuser, when leaving the courtroom after sentencing, Steve faced Judy Hagel once again and this time, he blew her a kiss.
Steve’s mother told the gathered reporters that she did not believe her son was guilty and the “injustice” would be appealed, at which time “it will all come out then.”
Life Following Lockup
Like Mark Winger, Steve Sherer’s story did not end with his incarceration. He was sent to the Washington State Prison near Walla Walla to serve his sentence. In May of 2001, he paid $80 for a “pen-pal” ad on prisonpals.com, submitting three studio portraits of himself from 1998. He claimed “my main goal for doing this is to meet a companion or very close friend.” Adding he’s “a sun and outdoor type of guy” who loves sports and his son, he was seeking “an attractive and honest woman who isn’t very religious” and with “no sexual hang-ups.” If such a woman was “willing to take a chance and look past the charge I’m being held for, which I did not do,” Steve was happy to have this woman write to him and see “where this goes.”
As his mother had promised, he filed an appeal, stating that the evidence presented against him was insufficient to warrant a claim of premeditated first-degree murder. He also claimed that the jury should not have heard self-incriminating statements that were provided by witnesses, nor his history of violence against Jami; he had attempted to block those during the trial but the trial court had denied his motions. He also felt the trial court had erred in allowing witnesses to testify they had seen him assault Jami. The appeals court sided with the trial court in all matters and denied his appeal.
News broke in the spring of 2003 that in December of 2001, while he was preparing his appeal, Steve had approached a cellmate and asked him to set fire to a house in Bellevue — the home where Jami’s mother and Steve’s own son lived. The cellmate would be paid for the arson with $17,000 in jewels that Steve said were buried beneath a Mill Creek house. The motive seemed to be revenge for Judy Hagel’s testimony during his trial. Police had received a tip on the arson plot at the end of 2001 and found it credible enough to begin listening to Steve’s prison phone calls and bugging his cell. When the cellmate was released in February of 2002, police searched him and found a book with Judy Hagel’s address and driving directions. He admitted he had agreed to burn down the house in exchange for the jewelry and cooperated with police rather than be returned to prison. He told law enforcement the entire arson plan, as well as Steve wanting him to show proof that he had burned down the house.
Even more amazing was that arson wasn’t the only thing on Steve’s mind. He had wanted the people in the house killed, although he never disclosed to his cellmate who the people were who lived in the house. His former mother-in-law and his own son weren’t the only people he wished to eliminate. Steve also wanted his cellmate to kill Marilyn Brenneman, the attorney who had prosecuted him, and her four children. He had offered the Brenneman hit to a former cellmate but that cellmate had wisely chosen not to accept.
The Bellevue Fire Department, working with the police, staged a fire at the Hagel home, generating enough smoke to make it look like the house was burning. A local newspaper, who also was lending a helping hand, reported that the house could have been targeted. That article was then mailed to Steve, who responded by mailing his former cellmate directions to his mother’s previous house in Mill Creek. At that location, according to Steve, the cellmate would find jewelry buried in a crawl space. The property was searched but no jewelry (or cash) was found.
Steve was charged and convicted of solicitation to commit arson; that jury needed less than two hours to find him guilty. As it was his third conviction under Washington’s persistent offender law (the other two being his conviction for Jami’s murder and a 1987 felony assault charge), Steve was automatically sentenced to life in prison.
Inmates at Washington State Prison have reported that Steve Sherer repeatedly told them that he strangled Jami because she was going to leave him and he hid her body. Judy Hagel believes that Steve did indeed strangle her daughter at the top of the stairs and Jami fell down them, leaving the stains on the carpet below.
Steven Sherer is currently incarcerated at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center on the Olympic Peninsula in the western part of Washington, where he serves his sentences alongside nearly 900 other inmates.
Jami’s father Jerry died in 2016 at the age of 75, following a battle with cancer. A memorial to his daughter was added to his headstone, complete with Jami’s picture, which reads: “Deeply missed, forever loved.”
Tyler Sherer, who was two years old when his mother vanished, is today 33 years old, older than his mother was when she died. She has been gone more years than she lived.
Jami Hagel Sherer’s body has never been found.