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Defendant in Steingasser murder case changed story, detective says

A retired North Tonawanda detective testified Monday that Joseph H. Belstadt changed his story about where he went after he allegedly dropped off Mandy Steingasser on a street corner on the night of her disappearance in 1993.

Prosecutors believe both of Belstadt's versions are false.

Belstadt, 43, of the Town of Tonawanda, is scheduled for trial July 1 in the death of Steingasser, 17, whose body was found in Bond Lake County Park in Lewiston the month after her disappearance on Sept. 19, 1993.

Belstadt, in his first statement to police on Sept. 22, 1993, said he picked up Steingasser at Oliver Street and Fifth Avenue in North Tonawanda early on Sept. 19, according to retired detective Thomas Snopkowski.

Belstadt, then 18, said he dropped her off at Oliver and First Avenue after parking with her for about five minutes in front of a music store at Oliver and 15th Avenue.

In the Sept. 22 statement, Belstadt said he drove to Canada after dropping off Steingasser.

But five days later, on Sept. 27, he turned up unannounced at the police station and said he wanted to alter that account, according to Snopkowski.

Belstadt said that he didn't go to Canada. He went to Dickie's Donuts at Broad and Seymour streets in the City of Tonawanda.

"After I went to Dickie's I went home and I went to bed," Snopkowski read aloud from Belstadt's second statement. "I go there all the time. The waitress should remember me. ... I thought I needed a witness as to where I was that night."

Another retired detective, Glenn Gardner, testified that in the first statement, Belstadt said he met four other people at Dickie's and went to Canada with them.

Snopkowski also testified that he took part in a search Sept. 30, 1993, at the home of the late Josephine E. Bronson, Belstadt's grandmother, at 325 East Ave., North Tonawanda. Belstadt was living with her at the time.

Snopkowski said Bronson, who was also Snopkowski's godmother, signed a form allowing police to search Belstadt's bedroom and her car, which Belstadt had been driving the night Steingasser disappeared.

"(Belstadt) was very upset that we were there, wanted us out of there, swore at us," Snopkowski said.

He said police took a box of letters from the bedroom and a baseball bat and one boot from the car. They also towed the vehicle to a service station for a more detailed search by forensic experts from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. Snopkowski was not asked about the results of that search.

Retired North Tonawanda Police Chief William Hall testified that after Belstadt was arrested for driving with a suspended license on Sept. 30, 2003, he offered new information.

Hall, who was chief of detectives at the time, said Belstadt offered to give him the names of "four or five drug dealers" because he was worried his traffic arrest might constitute a parole violation. In 1996, Belstadt had been sentenced to three to nine years in prison for torching a stolen car.

After Hall said he couldn't help Belstadt, "He said he wanted to give us information about Mandy Steingasser."

Hall said Belstadt gave him the names of two Tuscarora Indian Reservation men whom Belstadt thought should be questioned and said a third man also might have been involved. Belstadt said Steingasser "was at a party out on the Indian reservation and it got out of hand."

The girl was at a party the night of her disappearance, but it was in North Tonawanda, police have said.

After Hall again declined to help Belstadt, he said Belstadt commented, "I let you guys search me. I let you guys search my house. I let you guys search my vehicle. I didn't do it."

Also Monday, current North Tonawanda Chief of Detective Thomas Krantz recounted a visit to Belstadt's home Sept. 11, 2017, when he hand-delivered a letter from District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek offering Belstadt a pre-indictment plea to first-degree manslaughter.

Krantz said the timing of the visit was tied to a letter to the District Attorney's Office three days earlier from Daniel J. Oliverio, Belstadt's former attorney, announcing that he no longer represented Belstadt.

If Belstadt had a lawyer, Krantz said, he wouldn't have been able to talk to Belstadt that night.

Belstadt rejected the plea offer, which The Buffalo News disclosed last May.

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