A trapeze artist with the Ringling Brothers Circus, Steele left the tour and returned to Boston after arguing with his partner. Soon afterward, the 37-year-old aerialist's marriage to wife Jenny, 28, dissolved under the strain of his jealousy and uncontrollable fits of melancholy. On January 31, 1915, the acrobat had not lived with his estranged wife and their two young children for 17 months. As was his custom, Steele picked up the older child every Sunday morning so the boy could spend the day with his grandmother.
While in the 4th floor apartment at 1366 Washington Street that his wife shared with her mother and three grown brothers, Steele took exception with the manner in which she was caring for their 20-month-old son, David. After making a few insulting remarks to his wife, Steele whipped out a homemade blackjack from his pocket and struck her three times in the head. A scuffle broke out between the acrobat and two of her brothers, but Steele wrenched himself free and, scooping up his infant son, stepped out of the window onto the ledge of the apartment building. Moments later, he tossed the child to the street below in full view of a crowd of worshipers leaving church after mass. Steele, brandishing a hunting knife, re-entered the apartment long enough to threaten, "I've got rid of one of them, and now I'll get the other," before retreating back onto the narrow ledge. When a policeman attempted to move toward him, Steele dropped the knife, put his arms to his side, and dove headfirst to his death. Remarkably, both mother and child survived.