Article Thumbnail

In Cold Blood: The Icy Rise of Snow-Shoveling Murders

Poor winter etiquette isn’t just bad manners. In some cases, it’s life or death

West Bergh Street is the sort of two-lane road that’s hardly wide enough for two cars moving in the opposite direction to pass each other. Not even a quarter-mile long, the narrow strip of asphalt splits its residents into two classes of homes: those with a large grassy front lawn and an elevated driveway, and those with little of either. On the morning of February 1st, the 72 hours prior had left this tiny strip of Plains, Pennsylvania — a township with nearly 10,000 people in it — muted in more than two feet of snow, climate not atypical of Plains this time of year.

At approximately 8 a.m., 47-year-old Jeffrey Spaide was shoveling all this powder to clear out his driveway in preparation of his 45-minute morning commute to the Lackawanna River Basin Sewer Authority. Spaide, a veteran, had enlisted in the Navy in 1993 to help pay for the education he’d need to become an environmental engineer with the Waste Water Authority. His former employers describe him as “congenial,” “well-liked” and “a good guy.” Single, with no kids, Spaide enjoyed spending time with his nephew on the weekends.

Directly across the street from Spaide’s brick veneer home, James Goy, 50, and his wife, Lisa Goy, 48, woke up and were tasked with the same arduous process of digging their cars out of the snow. They put on their coats and boots and stepped out into the 24-degree chill of deep winter, unaware that they were about to embark upon a series of events that would end in their death.

In December, a similar snowstorm had dumped nearly 15 inches of snow on Plains. This would mark the first time that the Goys and Spaide would be involved in a snow-shoveling dispute. According to Edward Lewis, a local reporter with The Times Leader, the discord allegedly began when the Goys were shoveling their driveway and throwing excess snow onto Spaide’s property. There was yelling, and the Goys allegedly hurled insults at Spaide. But there were no court filings or citations filed by either party. The cops weren’t called. Instead, the neighbors retreated into their homes, the bad blood left to simmer.

The dispute on February 1st began no differently than the one in December. At a little before 9 a.m., the Goys were again allegedly shoveling excess snow from their cars onto Spaide’s property. According to leaked footage from the Goy’s security cameras overlooking Bergh Street, the exchange between Spaide and the Goys flared up when Spaide asked them to stop — which they did, but only so that James Goy, with his fist cocked, could throw his snow-clearing tool in Spaide’s direction.

Because the snowstorm had blanketed the street in small, powdery hills, the acoustics of the neighborhood were especially discernible that morning. James Goy’s voice in particular could be clearly heard yelling, “You’re a pussy! Pussy! Pussy! Pussy!,” in the direction of Spaide as the Navy veteran marched back up his driveway.

Neighborly conflicts over property issues such as the one between Spaide and the Goys are hardly a rarity. According to a study from 2016, more than one-third (36 percent) of the 2,000 people polled from across the country admitted to being involved in full-blown showdowns with their neighbors — and a quarter of those showdowns were long-running.

Case in point: In 2015, a snow-shoveling dispute took place in a suburban Cleveland neighborhood. There, a man identified as Will Immke volunteered to clear off his elderly neighbor’s sidewalk. Around the same time, another neighbor, Larry Myers, was using a snowblower and began blowing snow in Immke’s direction. “Myers was in the driveway with the snowblower, and pushes it directly at him,” neighbor Fred Verdone told the local NBC affiliate. “Not just once or twice, but several times.” Immke is said to have told Myers he was simply clearing the sidewalk for kids getting off the school bus. To which Myers responded — they can walk in the street. When Immke asked Myers if he was stupid, Myers grabbed Immke’s throat and face and shoved him backward, earning Myers a misdemeanor assault charge in the process.

For Spaide and the Goys, however, their verbal confrontation was merely the beginning. Before long, Spaide reappeared from his home with a handgun pointed in the direction of the Goys, who continued shouting at their neighbor despite the presence of his firearm. The first two rounds Spaide fired appeared to miss both of them. But the third hit James Goy, whose body was violently flung in the direction of his own home. Unaware that her husband had been shot and was bleeding, Lisa Goy — her fingers curled into a ball and her middle finger waving in the air — continued to shout at Spaide, who fired the next two shots into her torso. From his front steps, James Goy can be heard yelling for someone to “call the cops.”

Two years earlier, a similar kind of snow-shoveling rage had taken place in Crockery Township, Michigan. A long-running property dispute between two next-door neighbors ended the day after Christmas when, after an arctic snowstorm, one of them saw the other using a snowblower to clear their shared driveway. The side-by-side homes of Wendell Earl Popejoy, 63, and Sheila Bonge, 59, were surrounded by farmland. But on the day of Bonge’s death, the heavy lake-effect snow dumps of the western Michigan township had coated the barren fields in fresh powder. According to court records, Popejoy admitted in his statement to police that he “made the decision” to kill Bonge when he saw her blowing snow onto his driveway. Popejoy retreated to his home to grab a gun before going out to the easement where Bonge was standing. Per the court records, Popejoy stated that he went up behind Bonge and shot her in the back of the head.

The Detroit News reported that if Popejoy had snapped, “it was years coming.” Court documents show the police had been called at least two dozen times over a three-year period — some 13 times alone in 2016. In every case, Bonge was cast as the aggressor. “Deputies on various occasions described Bonge as ‘seething with anger,’ ‘extremely hostile’ and ‘irrational and hard to understand,’” the paper wrote. During one of those calls in 2015, the deputy on the scene wrote of the incident, “Not sure if she remembers why she called 911.” After her family reported Bonge missing a few days later, her body was found in the woods behind Popejoy’s house under a blue tarp.

These incidents, according to Mark A. Reinecke, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, appear to be a lot like road rage. “We’re driving down the road or we’re shoveling our driveway and somebody behaves in a way that we perceive as threatening, malignant and intentional,” he says. “So the notion then is, ‘I have to defend myself.’”

“There are stresses and pressures that test our resilience, that stress our coping at every level,” Reinecke continues. Making matters worse is the high level of stress, anxiety and frustration in society writ large right now. “COVID isn’t making it any better and the isolation that comes with that,” Reinecke explains. “The snow in the driveway was just the spark that set it off.” (Along these lines, it’s also worth noting that among the names the Goys hurled at Spaide was “queer,” based on town gossip that he was closeted.)

The Goys were still alive when Spaide disappeared into his home to retrieve a semi-automatic AR-15-like rifle. Trekking back down his driveway, rifle in hand, Spaide can be seen pointing his gun in the direction of two neighboring kids, who quickly ran away and would later tell police that they initially thought Lisa Goy had tripped and fallen before seeing her blood sprayed across the snow. “You should have kept your fucking mouth shut,” Spaide can be heard telling her, before firing two more fatal rounds at her.

Laying on the ground between two cars and steps away from his front door, James Goy mumbled incoherently before Spaide took a final shot at him as well. The attack lasted approximately 80 seconds. Afterward, Spaide crossed Bergh Street one final time, climbing back up his driveway and into his home, where according to neighbors, he was seen pacing back and forth in front of a window.

The police arrived on the scene a little after 9 a.m. By that point, though, Spaide was dead, too. He had taken one last life — his own.