It's aggravating, Ivy Stevens explained, not to be able to remember someone happily because of the way they died. Painful, even.
There were the usual weekends fishing for dolphin out the boat and the nights sitting in the garage with her dad, John Stevens III, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon. He’d have a cigar, maybe Michelle was dancing because it was Friday, and they’d be headed to The Square Grouper soon with friends and family. Her dad would be cooking whatever they caught that weekend, and Michelle would be there to give advice.
It was the routine she had grown accustomed to before Aug. 15, 2016. The routine her father and his wife lived for 14 years in that home before they were beaten to death. Life before Austin Harrouff.
“My hope is that one day, when I think of them, I can veer my focus off the brutality of their murders and have happy memories instead,” she said in a recent interview with The Palm Beach Post, the first she has given since the incident. “But I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.”
Two years later, both the Stevens and Mishcon families remain waiting for a trial. Harrouff, now 21, sits in the Martin County Jail without bail, charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
This month, the Mishcon family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Harrouff, saying it knows "the wheels of justice move slowly" and that it needed to make its own move before the two-year statute of limitations expired.
The ‘most hilarious person I’ve ever known’
For Ivy Stevens, she remembers her dad as “the true epitome of what you would think a retired Florida fisherman would be.” With a cigar in his mouth, he’d always be out either fishing or on the water. He was always tanned and was the “most hilarious person I’ve ever known.”
Though Mishcon was her stepmother, she said she’d known her for nearly all of her life, and the bond they had was so much more than that.
“She was truly my best friend,” she said. “She was my parent, she was my advice-giver, my financial adviser and my confidant.”
Even with those memories, it’s still hard to get past what happened to them at the home the three of them shared.
“I think it’s nice for people to say, ‘Remember the good times.’ But when your parents die in such a manner, it’s almost impossible.”
On Aug. 15, 2016, authorities say Harrouff made his way to Stevens and Mishcon’s home on Southeast Kokomo Lane along the Palm Beach-Martin border. There, in the garage they spent 14 years entertaining guests, Harrouff beat and stabbed Mishcon to death.
A neighbor, Jeff Fisher, heard the screaming and ran over to see what was happening. He attempted to intervene but was attacked by Harrouff and fled the scene, bloodied. Then, Stevens, who the family believes was out walking his dog, returned to his home and was fatally attacked by Harrouff until deputies arrived and found the then-19-year-old on top of his bloodied body, biting his face.
Ivy Stevens, 28, said she can’t escape thinking about what went through her father’s mind in his final moments. It’s a reality she replays in her head every day.
“(He was) out walking the dog and thinking he was just coming home and then to see this monster in his garage. How do you react?” she said. “(He would have been) in a total state of shock. And then suffering for so long.”
Initially, investigators believed Harrouff was high on a synthetic drug such as flakka during the attacks, but tests later showed there were no designer drugs in his system, just traces of marijuana and alcohol. Later, Harrouff’s father and his defense attorneys said he suffered from an unknown mental illness.
The story made international headlines and the Dr. Phil McGraw syndicated television talk show referred to Harrouff as “the frat boy cannibal killer,” a nod to his time in a fraternity at Florida State University.
Ivy Stevens said there’s nothing that can change what happened.
“It’s been over for me since that night. There’s no win,” she said. “The state could put him to death, he could get two life terms in prison and nothing will bring closure.”
‘A really hard truth to imagine’
Stevens was there at the house on Southeast Kokomo, just north of Jupiter, hours before her father and his wife were killed.
In the garage, Mishcon sat on a couch, like the family would most nights to relax, reading her Kindle. Stevens’s dad was inside painting. The couple hoped to downsize from their five-bedroom home to something on the water, somewhere they could keep the boat, so he was preparing the home to be sold.
Stevens had just moved out two weeks before and was there to bring food for Bebe, her now 6-year-old American bulldog. She originally planned to have Bebe stay the night, but her dad insisted she bring her to her new home in Palm Beach Gardens so she could acclimate. Stevens said she knows she could have been there when Harrouff arrived.
“Timing is really funny sometimes, you know? Terrible,” she said, remembering the conversation with her dad.
As she left, Ivy Stevens told Mishcon she loved her and that she would see her in the morning. She didn’t go inside to say goodbye to her dad. She thought she’d see him first thing in the morning, like she planned.
“To this day it is unbelievable. It’s a really hard truth to imagine,” she said.
Though she initially moved out of the region because she couldn’t take the memories in the year after their deaths, she made her way back to the Jupiter area because she loved it and knew her dad and Mishcon loved it, too. She said she knew that they would want her to be there.
Though she keeps busy working as a stylist in a West Palm Beach salon, working out and spending time at the beach, the depression still hits in waves.
“One day I’m fine, and then I see a fishing video on Facebook or something I would tag my dad in or show him, and I can’t do that anymore,” she said, choking up.
On some of her sadder days, she said she heads out to the Jupiter Inlet just to be out in the water where the families spread her dad’s and Mishcon’s ashes.
As much as it’s hard to be reminded of them, everything that was theirs is sentimental to her, she said. In her living room are her dad’s fishing poles. In the half-dozen hats hanging off those fishing lines is Michelle’s fishing visor with her name written across it. On a table are her dad’s portrait from the Air Force and a little photo of her dad and Mishcon on their honeymoon in Maine, where they went “to eat lobsters, their favorite thing,” after they eloped, all smiles. In a wooden bookshelf shaped like a boat is a small rectangular cross-stitch reads: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”
When cleaning out her parents’ home with her brother, John Stevens IV, after their deaths, she “hit the jackpot” in a guest room closet.
Now sitting near the entryway of her Tequesta apartment is a white chest of memories. On top: knicknacks and a canvas portrait of her father and Mishcon that used to hang in their home. Inside: years of photos. Some from Mishcon’s teen years, others of costumes Ivy and her brother wore on Halloween in the 1990s, many of neighbors outside the garage and others with her dad tanned and holding a freshly caught fish. She pauses on some photos, smiles, then laughs. Then she quickly flips through or places them back down
“To look at pictures is very sad still,” she said. “I hope there’s a day I’ll be able to smile when I look at their pictures instead of focus on what happened.”