On their wedding day, Steve and Judy Schneider were “the all-American dream couple,” a relative said — good-looking, eager, thoroughly normal.
If there were cankers, they festered far beneath the bright and beautiful surface. Steve was clean-cut, personable, smart. Judy was talented, industrious, radiant.
“Two outgoing, super friendly, winning personalities,” a family member observed.
For their garden wedding near Green Bay, Wis., Judy wore a dress she sewed herself, and she told her friends that July day in 1981 was the happiest day of her life.
Steve had taken 10 years to commit to marriage. He had a running bet with a cousin that he would he would be the last of the pair to marry, and he won.
Meantime, Judy had become impatient. On their marriage license, taken out five days before the wedding, she signed her name “Judy V. Schneider.”
The wait had only made her love Steve more, it seemed. As a family member declared, “I’ve never seen a girl so nuts about a guy in my life.”
Judy’s blind devotion worried her mother.
“I liked Steve,” she said, “but he was pretty controlling. He led Judy around.”
Judy followed willingly, and ultimately she would follow him to death. The Schneiders are believed to be among the Branch Davidians who died in the Mount Carmel inferno April 19.
The blaze marked the end of a 51-day siege that began with a shoot-out Feb. 28, as agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approached the compound to serve warrants on the group’s leader, Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Judy’s 2-year-old daughter, Mayanah, also is thought to have died with the group April 19. Though Steve had insisted she was his child, published reports suggest otherwise.
Celibacy was required of men in the Branch Davidian compound. The single exception was cult leader Vernon Howell, who chose Judy in 1989 as one of his “wives.” He told former cult members in February 1990 that Judy Schneider was pregnant with his child.
Judy Schneider was pregnant with Howell’s child in early 1990 said cult members interviewed by the Tribune-Herald for its series, “The Sinful Messiah,” published in late February and early March.
“The gist of what he (Howell) said was that Steve and Judy had been happily married, but Judy could see the truth of what he was saying,” a former cult member told the Tribune-Herald. “She agreed to be his wife, and he was very happy she was pregnant.”
Schneider told another former cult member that he gave up Judy because of “what they were going to accomplish in the kingdom.”
In negotiations with the FBI during the standoff, Judy Schneider Koresh, and she was the person reportedly typing Howell’s manuscript about the Seven Seals. When he finished the manuscript, he said, he would leave the compound and the standoff would be over.
After the fiery end to the Waco standoff, the grief of those close to the Schneiders was compounded by their anger at the FBI and by their inability to comprehend Howell’s hold on the Steve and Judy they once had known.
Steve was too intelligent, too self-assured, too self-protective, they said.
Steven Emil Schneider was born in Merrill, just north of Wassau, Wis., on Oct. 16, 1949, the second child and only of son of Emil and Patricia Howe Schneider. He is survived by his parents and three sisters.
By all accounts, the young Steve Schneider was a typical boy who loved animals, sports and good times. By the time he graduated from Wisconsin Academy, a boarding high school run by Seventh-day Adventists, he had also acquired a deep love for the Bible.
He was not fanatical about religion, his family said.
Steve craved adventure, a relative said, and shortly after high school he left on a scuba-diving trip to Hawaii, traveling in Hawaii and California for some four years.
He met Judy Violet Peterson in 1971. Judy, a Lutheran and a senior prom queen from the tiny town of Poynette, Wis., was immediately smitten.
Judy was “a sunny girl — sweet, always smiling and cheerful,” said her mother. Shirley Puttkammer, a part-time bakery worker. Judy’s eyes were her best feature, she said: “Deep violet blue, and so beautiful.”
By the mid-1970’s, Judy’s plans to study fashion design were on hold as she traveled with Steve to Hawaii.
Years later, in 1978, the couple moved to the island so Steve could attend the University of Hawaii. Judy worked two jobs to put Steve through school. He graduated in 1986 with a degree in religion.
It was there that the couple ran into Marc Breault, recruiter for the Branch Davidians. Sources say Breault swayed Steve with descriptions of symbolic dreams and visions — dreams and visions Breault would later disavow.
Timing also played a crucial part. Steve was at loose ends. He hadn’t found a job.
“He had a calling, but he didn’t want a church where his time would be taken with weddings and funerals,” a family member said. “Steve wanted evangelize.”
The Branch Davidians gave him that chance. He would rise to become second in command under Howell.
Judy confined to her mother that she hadn’t wanted to become involved with the Davidians — that it was Steve’s idea. Her mother kept in touch by phone but said Judy’s words were guarded — as if she feared being punished for saying the wrong things.
“I thought I was going to get them back,” said Judy’s mother, her voice breaking. “After all this time, I thought I was going to get them back.”