Earlier this week, "Facebook Killer" Steve Stephens was tracked down thanks to a tip called in by a McDonald's worker in Erie, Pennsylvania, who recognized him in the drive-thru.
Cleveland police had announced a $50,000 reward for information that led to the capture of Stephens, who broadcast his killing of an elderly man on Facebook Live. The tip — as well as stalling techniques employed by his co-workers — directly resulted in police pursuing Stephens, who ended the chase by shooting himself.
So social media naturally wondered if the anonymous worker would get the reward money.
At this point, though, it's not clear if either the employee who spotted Stephens, or the others who helped stall him, will actually qualify for the reward money. The funds were put up by several different federal agencies, and were meant to spur a successful arrest and prosecution — not the suspect's suicide.
Local news site GoErie.com spoke to Vicki Anderson, a special agent with the Cleveland FBI office, who said that $30,000 of the reward was offered by the Bureau. An additional $10,000 was put up by the U.S. Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms threw some into the pot. The rest was given by the non-profit citizen co-operative Crime Stoppers.
The rules of how reward money is paid out, and to whom, vary greatly, and are especially complex for federal agencies.
The three offices that offered money for Stephens' capture all have different guidelines, and are all equally vague in their decision-making process.
In the case of Stephens, a reporter for Ohio station WKYC found that the FBI pays out its rewards only for a "successful prosecution" of a suspect. Does this include a suspect who killed themselves? According to what WKYC found, that decision would involve both the local office and FBI headquarters. The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed to WKYC that they would indeed pay out their portion of the money, while the ATF said it would talk to the other agencies to see what they were doing.
The portion offered by Crime Stoppers falls under a totally different umbrella.
Formed in 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to solve one murder, Crime Stoppers is now an organization with branches around the world. It pays out cash rewards to anonymous tipsters who lead police to a successful capture, and according to the organization's website, it has helped make over 700,000 arrests. It's also paid out $107 million in rewards, all raised through donations.
However, according to a Denver Post article about the organization, Crime Stoppers only pays out for arrests that come from calls to a local Crime Stoppers office, not to the police. Under those rules, the McDonald's employees wouldn't qualify. All told, they might only get a fraction of the overall reward, if any of it is paid out at all.
Even with the social media frenzy, we might never know if the employee was given the money, as the FBI never makes public who gets a reward, or how much.