Scene of explosion

Steven Pirus, 59, was arrested late Saturday for allegedly killing his wife, Lee Anne Pirus, weeks ago and intentionally blowing up their Madison house as a cover up.

AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

A Madison man shot and killed his wife weeks ago and blew up their Southwest Side house on Wednesday as an attempt to cover up the homicide, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said Sunday.

Lee Anne Pirus, 50, was identified by the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office as the body found amid the rubble of a house at 7806 Stratton Way. Koval said she was shot by her husband, 59-year-old Steven Pirus, “weeks, if not months ago.” He was arrested late Saturday on tentative charges of first-degree intentional homicide, arson and reckless endangerment, Koval said.

“Steven Pirus shot and killed Lee Anne,” Koval said at a news conference. “Steven intentionally blew up this house. He’s as much as admitted it over the course of several days of conversations.”

Koval said investigators are looking into the couple’s past to determine what the motive might have been.

“I don’t want to rule out financials. I don’t want t0 rule out extra-marital issues. I don’t want to rule out anything,” he said. “The suspect himself, soon to be a defendant himself, has vacillated between his motives.”

The death marks the record-breaking 11th homicide in Madison this year. The previous high was set in 2008 when the city experienced 10 homicides.

Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis said natural gas was involved in the explosion, and an investigative task force gathered enough evidence by early Saturday to determine the blast was intentional.

“He would have had to manipulate, physically manipulate, a gas line leading from the dryer to the sub-basement in and around the area where her body was recovered,” Koval said.

The medical examiner’s office informed police Lee Anne Pirus had been dead “conservatively” for weeks, Koval said, but no missing persons report had been filed with the Madison Police Department.

“That never really got onto our radar screen, because no one had ever filed a report,” Koval said. “I would concede that’s unusual.”

Several neighbors told a State Journal reporter they had not seen Lee Anne Pirus in weeks and weren’t sure if she still lived in the residence.

The couple, who had been married for more than 20 years, had no children together, Koval said. They moved into their two-story house with two basement levels right off South High Point Road in 2005.

It was leveled by the blast around 2 p.m. Wednesday. Pirus’ body was found Friday morning.

“By doing something so reckless as he did, he not only attempted to cover up a deliberate, intentional homicide, but he also obviously put innocent third parties at risk,” Koval said.

There had been previous calls for service at the address, Koval said, but he would not disclose the nature of those calls.

Davis said a specialist from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working on the scene to figure out how much gas was involved and what might have triggered the explosion.

The medical examiner’s office will also be conducting further testing to try to determine how long Pirus had been dead, Koval said.

When the state Fire Marshal’s Office and ATF conclude their portions of the investigation, the findings will be handed over to assist the Madison police and fire departments, Davis said.

He said the fire department is almost finished with its “small particle work,” which includes putting the debris through screens to look for evidence.

South High Point Road was scheduled to be reopened to traffic Sunday evening. Investigators had used the roadway as a staging area for several days.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.