Scene of explosion

Investigators comb through the remains of Steven and Lee Anne Pirus' home on Stratton Way on Madison's Southwest Side last month. 

AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVES

A man accused of killing his wife and blowing up their Southwest Side home with her body inside it had planned to marry a Russian woman whose picture police noticed was the wallpaper on his cellphone, according to a search warrant filed in court this week.

An analysis of a tablet computer done by a Madison police investigator and a detective found messages between Steven D. Pirus, 59, and a woman named Olga indicating that she was going to come to the U.S. and that they planned to get married, according to the search warrant, filed Wednesday in Dane County Circuit Court but made available Friday.

Pirus is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, arson and first-degree reckless endangerment for the death of his wife, Lee Anne Pirus, 50, whose body was found in the smoking ruins of their home at 7806 Stratton Way two days after the home had exploded on Sept. 13. He is also charged with multiple counts of animal mistreatment, for the deaths of four pets in the explosion and injuries to one other.

Police and fire officials have determined that the house exploded after a dryer in the basement of the home was disconnected from a gas line.

The search warrant, obtained so police could take a DNA sample from Pirus this week, also mentions the discovery of a gun in a storage locker rented by the Piruses.

Pirus, who is in jail on $1 million bail, is scheduled to be in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 1.

A criminal complaint states that Pirus gave police different explanations for his wife’s death, which was found in an autopsy to have been from a gunshot wound to the head. He first said she had been sleeping when he left for work the morning of Sept. 13, then said she had committed suicide about a month earlier. In another version of events he said that he shot her in the head after she begged him for a half-hour to end her life of anxiety and depression.

Police don’t know exactly when Lee Anne Pirus died, only that it was “weeks or months” before her body was found. Friends told police that they had not heard from her recently, either in person or on social media, where she often posted.

A criminal complaint issued last month states that police noticed a photo of a woman on Pirus’ phone, described as being in a “seductive” pose. He told police the woman was Olga, who had been to Madison a couple of years ago and was trying to come back, but was having visa problems in London.

Pirus told police that he communicated with Olga by text nearly every day, but police couldn’t immediately find those messages.

The search warrant states that after that conversation with Pirus, police analyzed the phone and a tablet and found messages between Pirus and Olga, indicating that she was going to come to the U.S. and they were going to be married. While the Piruses were said in the criminal complaint to have been estranged, court records indicate no divorce case had been filed.

The criminal complaint also mentioned finding that Pirus made payments to two foreign websites, and that Pirus had made cash withdrawals in August and September totaling $8,500.

The search warrant also states that police who searched the ruins of the Pirus home did not find any guns. A trailer parked on the street contained many personal items belonging to Steven Pirus, among them a bill dated Aug. 31 for Belleville Mini Storage that was addressed to Lee Anne Pirus.

Police searched the storage locker on Sept. 22, the search warrant states, and found a Glock 22, which is a .40 caliber pistol, hidden in the back of a box of Christmas decorations.

The warrant does not state whether the gun was the one used to kill Lee Anne Pirus.

10
3
3
3
3

Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.