The man charged with killing two Irondale motel owners went back twice and tried to remove their bodies from the crime scene, police said Tuesday during a court hearing.
Steven Richard Mulkey, 28, is charged with capital murder for the September deaths of 77-year-old Ching Kao and his wife, 76-year-old Siumei Kao. Following a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Virginia Vinson bound over the case to a grand jury for possible indictment.
During the hearing, police said Mulkey beat the couple to death with a hammer or pipe and also cut Siumei Kao’s throat with a knife.
The Kaos owned the Siesta Motel in Irondale and police said Mulkey worked as a handyman for the couple.
Irondale police Det. Clint Ballard testified during Tuesday’s hearing. He said on September 21, the Kaos’ daughter hadn’t heard from her parents in several days and went to the Siesta Motel to check on them. Although the motel wasn’t operational at the time, the Kaos still lived there. The daughter said she arrived at the motel office and saw the safe was gone, so she called police.
When officers arrived, Ballard said, they and the couple’s daughter noticed spots of blood on the floors and found Ching Kao’s drivers license, along with a pair of bloody shorts. Ballard said officers knew the Kaos had surveillance video on the property, so their granddaughter pulled the footage for police.
According to Ballard, the footage timestamped September 16 at 6:20 p.m. showed someone, who police identified as Mulkey, talking to the victims in the motel office. The conversation moved to the lounge area off the office, and Ballard said it was apparent Mulkey and the Kaos were arguing. Then, he said, the footage showed Mulkey pull a hammer or pipe out of his back pocket and strike the victims. Ballard said after the beating, Mulkey pulled the bodies into the office and then left the property.
The next day, Ballard said, video showed Mulkey return to the motel office and try to load the victims into a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow tipped forward and “it appeared he might of panicked,” Ballard said. Mulkey dragged the bodies back in the office and left, Ballard said.
On September 18 just after 1 a.m., Ballard said the video showed Mulkey come back to the motel office with a grocery store shopping cart. Ballard said the footage shows Mulkey push the cart into the office and come out with something in the cart, and also get the safe. Ballard said the video was too dark to see what was inside the cart.
According to Ballard, Mulkey then got into the victims’ Chevrolet Impala and left the parking lot. Coincidentally, officers stopped him in the car that same night and were later able to identify Mulkey as being the driver.
The couple’s daughter told officers on September 21 that her parents’ car was missing, and Ballard said patrol officers located that car in the nearby U.S. Economy Lodge parking lot. Mulkey wasn’t staying at that motel at the time, though.
Police searched the car using a spare key left in the Siesta Motel office and found the empty safe in the car’s trunk and noticed spots of blood.
On September 24, Mulkey was arrested by the U.S. Marshals in Virginia. When Irondale police were notified, Ballard said he went to Virginia and interviewed Mulkey.
According to Ballard, Mulkey said he did odd jobs for the Kaos and cut grass at another property they owned on the day of the slayings. Following his job, Mulkey said Siumei Kao picked him up and brought him back to the Siesta Motel. Mulkey met with the couple in the office and asked them for $50 for the job, but the couple refused and said they would only give him $20. Ballard testified that Mulkey said he was “not appreciated for the work he had done,” so he struck and killed the Kaos.
Mulkey said Siumei Kao “fought him way too much,” so he grabbed a knife and also cut her throat.
Ballard said Mulkey also talked about how there wasn’t much in the Kaos safe, other than Korean money. Mulkey said he dumped the bodies in Leeds and pointed out to officers on an iPad map where he believed the bodies were. The next day, Ballard said officers went to Leeds and located the victims’ bodies.
Ballard said he was familiar with the Kaos because they were nice to police and often delivered boxes of shrimp to the police department. The couple had also made calls to police before about suspected drug activity or overdoses at the motel when it was operational. While Ballard said his experiences with the Kaos were positive, he heard they could sometimes be “hard to deal with.”
Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Joe Roberts is prosecuting the case; Christopher Daniel and Kathy Luker are representing Mulkey.