Ethan Stacy was born on 22 September, 2005, to parents Stephanie and Joe Stacey. His birth took place at Fort Stewart Army Base in Georgia, and afterward, the family relocated to Florida.
Ethan was a typical little boy, known for his fun-loving nature and his huge love for the Transformers. His father, Joe, reminisced: “He was the best little boy that you’d ever meet. He really was. He was a very loveable child, and that’s all he wanted, was to love on people all the time.”1
His grandmother, Freida Stacy, described him as a loving little boy who was a go-getter and would have been able to achieve anything he set his mind to in life. Ethan was also fond of making people laugh and was known for the funny faces he liked to pull. Amber Llewellyn, a family friend, said: “Ethan was very loving, he loved hugs, and he was a funny kid. He would make you laugh just being himself. He was always happy, and he loved his daddy.”2
Despite being just four-years-old, Ethan was already showing signs of intelligence. Joe recalled how he would show him how to do something, and he’d pick it up practically instantly. Joe stated: “He’s just a very intelligent boy.”3
The marriage between Stephanie and Joe eventually came to an end in late 2009. Joe moved back to Richlands, Virginia, where he had grown up, while Stephanie relocated to Layton, Utah. Ethan went to live with his father after Joe was granted custody. According to the divorce papers, Joe had written: “The mother has abandoned the child, and I’m afraid the mother will come and take him, and I’ll never see him again.”
On April 28, 2010, the divorce was finalized, and subsequently, four-year-old Ethan was sent to live with Stephanie at her Layton Meadow apartment in Layton, Utah, but just for the summer. Though the custody dispute had resulted in this arrangement, Ethan didn’t really want to go. He loved living with his father in Richlands, Virginia. However, due to the court order, he had to spend the summer with his mother in Layton and the rest of his time with his father in Richlands.
In Layton, Stephanie had a new boyfriend, Nathan Sloop, who had been sending threatening and violent text messages to Joe before Ethan’s move. Joe recalled: “I had been threatened over the past six months by him.” The family believed that Stephanie didn’t actually want custody of Ethan; she simply wanted to hurt Joe. Freida commented: “It was like Ethan was just a pawn.”
On 10 May 2010, shortly after midnight, Stephanie called the police in Layton and reported that Ethan had disappeared from their apartment. She stated that he had been put to bed around 11PM, and when she went to check on him an hour later, he was gone. Stephanie claimed that Ethan had previously vanished from the apartment in the middle of the night on five occasions during the ten days he had been living there.4
Detectives arrived at the scene and initiated a thorough search of the apartment and its immediate vicinity, but Ethan was nowhere to be found. They conducted door-to-door inquiries in case he had somehow entered someone else’s apartment, but Ethan was still missing.
During separate interviews with Stephanie and Nathan, detectives noticed inconsistencies in their stories. When confronted with these discrepancies, both of them broke down and confessed that Ethan was dead. Nathan revealed that they had buried him on Powder Mountain, near the Wolf Canyon trailhead on State Road 158 in Webster County.5
As Stephanie and Nathan were taken into custody, law enforcement descended on the area and made a grim discovery – Ethan’s lifeless body. Wrapped in eight plastic bags, he had been buried alongside a broken hammer, a shovel head, and a bottle of lighter fluid. He had died from scalding, blunt-force trauma, aspiration pneumonia, dehydrations, and over-medication. He had suffered burns to 17.5% of his body.6
Stephanie and Nathan were both charged with his murder.
Detectives began delving into their backgrounds to unravel the events that led to Ethan becoming a victim of such a heinous crime. Before their relationship, Nathan already had an extensive criminal record. Between 2000 and 2003, he had multiple convictions, including criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, and drug possession. In 2003, he served a 30-day jail sentence for one drug possession charge and received a six-month suspended sentence for another.7
Upon Ethan’s arrival in Layton, he initially spoke with his father, Joe, every day. However, the phone calls suddenly ceased, and Stephanie always provided excuses when Joe sought to speak to his son. During one conversation, Stephanie claimed Ethan’s jaw was a mess due to an allergic reaction to grapefruit and that she needed to clip his nails as he was scratching at his jaw. Joe grew concerned and insisted on speaking with his son, but Stephanie always refused.8
Unbeknownst to Joe, after a few days in Utah, Nathan began abusing Ethan.
On May 5th, Nathan brutally beat Ethan in his bedroom. When Stephanie saw the injuries, she chose not to seek medical help, fearing Nathan’s arrest for child abuse. The following day, Stephanie and Nathan got married, but Ethan was kept locked in his bedroom, away from the ceremony, to avoid suspicion.9
Upon returning home, the abuse persisted, with Nathan resorting to even more brutal measures. He scalded Ethan with boiling water, causing burns to 17.5% of his body. Ethan was then forced to drink large amounts of water and Kool-Aid over two hours, along with medication to ease his facial swelling.10
Over the next few days, Ethan displayed signs of head injury or brain swelling, including lethargy, vomiting, and an inability to eat. Nathan admitted to frequently abusing Ethan, slapping and punching him, while Stephanie joined in verbally abusing him. Blood spatter on the walls of Ethan’s bedroom was discovered during the investigation.11
On May 7th, Stephanie returned home from Walmart to find Ethan suffering from severe burns. Nathan claimed it was an accidental bathtub burn, but Stephanie was doubtful. Despite the seriousness of Ethan’s condition, they still refrained from seeking medical help, with Stephanie expressing fear that Nathan would harm her.12
As Stephanie examined Ethan’s injuries, she made a disturbing discovery – there were faeces inside his mouth. She pushed him into the bathroom and brushed his mouth until his gums were bleeding. During the investigation, Nathan admitted to stuffing faeces in Ethan’s mouth, but he claimed that Stephanie had done the same. Moreover, evidence indicated that Ethan’s genitals had been subjected to abuse, to which Nathan offered the explanation that he had sat on the toilet seat incorrectly, causing the injuries.
Stephanie’s account of events on May 9th was equally disturbing. She claimed that she left the apartment to go to the store, and upon returning, Nathan informed her that Ethan was dead in his bedroom. Shockingly, Stephanie once again chose not to seek help. Her reason for not seeking assistance this time was that Nathan had threatened that he would go to prison due to the horrific injuries inflicted on Ethan.
In a horrifying turn of events, the couple collaborated on a plan to dispose of Ethan’s body and deceive detectives. Nathan took a hammer and repeatedly smashed Ethan’s face, disfiguring him and knocking out his teeth. Simultaneously, Stephanie brought two cans of lighter fluid, intending to burn Ethan’s body before burying it to further conceal his identity. Nathan stated to detectives: “Stephanie was worried about his dental records.”
Nathan then drove Ethan’s body out to Powder Mountain, where he buried him. Afterwards, he took Stephanie to her son’s gravesite, so that she could say her “last goodbyes.” The couple then returned home and continued life as though nothing had happened. They sent one another sexually charged text messages, and then went for a meal together. The following day, they reported Ethan missing.13
Over the course of the investigation, detectives had found grim photographs of Ethan on Stephanie’s cell phone which depicted Ethan’s worsening condition, beginning more than a week before he was found dead. According to detectives, these injuries resulted from Nathan “engaging in a systematic and progressively more violent pattern of abuse toward Ethan.”
In one chilling video, Ethan was wearing pajamas. He turned to the camera and said: “I’m having fun with Nathan. He’s not scary anymore.” In the video, Ethan’s cheeks were red and swollen. Nathan then repeatedly asked Ethan whether he wanted to stay in Utah or return to Virginia. A crying Ethan then replied: “My mom, my mom, my mom.” In another recording, Ethan looked bruised as Nathan said to him: “Tell your daddy how much you don’t like him.” Ethan quietly responded: “I don’t like you.”
In the aftermath of Ethan’s murder, questions were raised regarding the judge’s decision to allow Ethan to go and live with his mother for the summer. According to Judge Smith, no arguments had been made in court regarding the possibility that Ethan would be in danger in Utah. However, if a background check had of been conducted on Nathan, it would have revealed he had abused his previous wife, Jennifer Freeman. He had also made threats to kill her and her new boyfriend.
Both Stephanie and Nathan Sloop ultimately pleaded guilty to Ethan’s murder. Stephanie was sentenced to 20 years to life, while Nathan was sentenced to 25 years to life.
- The Salt Lake Tribune, 12 May, 2010 – “I Just Wanted Him to Grow Up”
- Associated Press, 13 May, 2010 – “Divorce Case of Slain Boy”
- The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 May, 2010 – “Friends Say Ethan Stacy Was Mom’s Pride and Joy”
- News & Politics Examiner, 11 May, 2010 – “Amber Alerts”
- The Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May, 2010 – “Missing Boy Found Dead”
- Salt Lake City Examiner, 11 May, 2010 – “Body of Missing 4-Year-Old Boy Found”
- Salt Lake City Examiner, 12 May, 2010 – “Authorities Release Details Surrounding Abuse”
- The Salt Lake Tribune, 12 May, 2010 – “Documents Detail Ethan Stacy’s Horrific Final Days”
- The Deseret News, 13 May, 2010 – “Affidavit Reveals Disturbing Details of Ethan Stacy’s Last Days”
- The Deseret News, 14 May, 2010 – “History of Abuse Emerges in Ethan Stacy Case”
- News & Politics Examiner, 15 May, 2010 – “Ethan Stacy Update”
- Associated Press, 28 May, 2010 – “Mother, Stepfather Charged in Boy’s Death in Utah”
- Associated Press, 28 May, 2010 – “Mother, Stepfather Charged in Boy’s Death in Utah”