Swarming bees kill elderly Texas couple
The species of bee involved in a fatal attack on an elderly couple has not been identified, a Texas paper reports.
April 20th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

Swarming bees kill elderly Texas couple

An elderly Texas couple were killed by bees this week after they apparently tried to remove the insects from a fireplace in a house on a remote ranch, the Valley Morning Star reported Wednesday.

William Steele, 90, died Monday in the house on a ranch outside Hebbronville, Texas, about 100 miles west of Corpus Christi. His wife, Myrtle Steele, 92, died Tuesday after she was flown to a Corpus Christi hospital, the couple's daughter-in-law, Judy Steele, told the newspaper.

Judy Steele told the paper that the bees swarmed when her father-in-law sprayed a hive the insects had built in the small home's fireplace.

Her husband, Richard Steele, was with his parents when the attack occurred, Judy Steele, told the Morning Star. He was also stung but was able to drive several miles to the nearest phone to call emergency services, she said. There is no cell phone service in the remote area, she said.

Jim Hogg County sheriff's deputies responded and told the paper they were able to get Myrtle Steele out of the house.

“We were getting stung in the process, but we were able to place a blanket over her and take her to an awaiting ambulance - we did what we could,” the paper quoted Deputy Reyes Espinoza as saying. William Steele died inside, Espinoza said.

Judy Steele said her mother-in-law was stung more than 300 times.

Espinoza told the paper the species of bee involved in the attack had not been identified and the hive had yet to be removed from the house.

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Filed under: Animals • Bees • Texas
soundoff (379 Responses)
  1. beartug

    Had a hive of wasps just under the outter part of my roof (2nd floor) I noticed it a few days before rather small, but then it got bigger pretty fast. I went to the HW store got a can of wasp spray (the spray is good for about 5-8 ft) not that great of a distance, but still okay.
    I opened a window about 6 ft away from the nest and early morning and gave it a good blast about 10 sec. and quickly closed the window. Sure enough they charged the closed window. Later that day the hive was not active and bunch of dead wasps were on the ground below. Next early AM repeated cycle with no wasps coming for the window and the spray was able to knock the nest down. Later problem was bees getting into the house (prob related to air ducts and such) Glad we moved. BTW this was a new house

    April 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rick

    Bees don't scare me but I'm very allergic...a single honey bee sting will kill me in about 20 minutes. This is serious...would all of you self-taught can't spell or speak idiots please get off the internet?

    April 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Abel

    Sounds like the son in law should have taken the old couple away of the house FIRST and then go call the paramedics. Bees don't attack unless they are molested first. To let the old people inside the house been stung for 3 hours is sure a recipe for disaster.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dick Hertz

    That's why you leave it to the Pros or someone with common sense.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael McCarty

    An unfortunately named story. The bees were probably not swarming but protecting their hive.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sibley A. Catabola

      Maybe they were swarming to build a new hive in the kitchen and they queen was in danger of theing sprayed with poison, so they protected her? Were you there?

      April 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Timehascome

      Correct – protecting the hive. Bees 'swarming' to make a move typically do not sting. I've had honeybees cover my arms from hands to elbows while moving them from their swarm in the yard to a 'home' or 'hive.' Once established, they would (and did) sting when bothered.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chisp

      What a painful way to die... Terrible tragedy.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul Bishop

      Sibley, you don't need to be there to know honeybee behavior and the correct terminology. As a beekeeper myself, I can tell you Michael is right (he may be a beekeeper too). Yes, the bees were protecting the queen/colony, but they weren't swarming.
      "Swarm" is a technical term for when bees leave their colony with a queen to establish a new one. The headline is using the term incorrectly, which is kind of annoying, because there is enough public misunderstanding of bees and beekeeping without making it worse. Many times I've had to calm people down over swarms (which are generally gentle), and saying "swarm" has to them meant "The bees are gonna go bonkers and start stinging people!! GAAA" *sigh*
      I wonder if journalists ever have an expert read over what they are about to publish concerning a given field? I think that would be a good idea.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hunter

      You're right. I've dumped swarms right into hives and never been stung.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hunter

    Also, it was at a Puget sound pumpkin patch, so I am pretty sure they are not afracinized, yes it was near halloween and the bee got in the way of the door that was already closing so don't say that was my fault.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil, Ohio

      Puget sound is in Washington state, this is in Texas. I think you replied to the wrong board.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • S Kyle

      We had the same problem at a farmhouse in North Carolina a few summers back. Solution: Tack up some screen door mesh around the mouth of the fireplace and light an enormous fire. The bees sure were mad, then crispy. The hive turned to ash and the honey melted all over the place, but we got rid of them and had a pleasantly-scented drawing room for the next month... and more importantly, we didn't get stung to death.

      April 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo Di Kapuskasing


      No!!... we don't need an exterminator!!... I'll just bring it down with this here shovel handle...... you tend to the door.


      April 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Empty_Fifth

    i was looking at some honey bees gather pollen the other day and these type of killer bees that did this crossed my mind.. it was undoubtedly the africanized strain that has been spreading across the globe. I dread the day they appear in southern california. maybe they already have and i just havent heard of it.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      They appeared in Socal several years ago. Be careful around any wild bee hives in case they are Africanized, they are extremely agressive compared to honey bees. They tend to be slightly larger, but that's hard to determine without getting too close. I'd be willing to bet the bees in the story were Africanized bees. If you have a wild hive on your property it's best to call a local bee keeper to remove them, most will do it for free since they are acquiring bees to make money off of.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I don't think they're getting honey if they're africanized. They should be exterminated if they are the africanized type.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • K Edwards

      Africanized bees do produce honey. This was a protective response and they should have called a professional removal service or a beekeeper with the ability to vacuum out the colony.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      You are right, they are almost certainly the africanized hybrid honeybee that is so aggressive in its attacks. And, yes, it is already in southern California, and becoming established in most of the southern states.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • stephanie barber

      I sure wish this couple could have called a insect company that deals with this everyday. Their family will be in my thoughts and prayers, Please, if anyone else has this problem, please call the appropriate people to take care of this, and don't try it yourself as you can see what happens/////

      April 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eddie

      Mike is right. Africanized bees produce honey. In fact, they produce more honey than European honeybees which is why they exist in the first place. Some "entrepreneurial" individuals decided they could get the extra honey from African honeybees if they could breed them with European honeybees to settle their temperament. Only the temperament part didn't work out.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • CaEd

      Good news, your days of dread are over.
      Actually they have been over for years.

      Also Fire Ants are here too, just in case you were dreading their arrival.

      However, Cane Toads are still a possibility and I understand that the Giant Squid are moving out of the Gulf of California and moving up the coast.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julibear

      Africanized bees are a myth!

      April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • William_Longfellows

      Anybody call Winnie the Pooh?

      April 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nimrod

      African honey bees are in fact the same species as the common European honey bee that has been domesticated for millennia (Apis mellifera) although a different subspecies. The Africanized or "Killer" bees almost certainly involved in this incident are a hybrid of the European subspecies and the African subspecies. The African subspecies was imported to breed with the European subspecies in an attempt to increase honey production. Some of the African bees escaped and oopsey! bred with some European bees and it was off to the races. I don't believe that foraging Africanized bees are particularly dangerous, it is when you get near the hive that their defense response is triggered and it is a much more vigorous response than you get from European bees.

      April 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • T.G. Reaper


      Aficanized bees are NOT a myth. Read "TexasRN" below... the ONLY recognizable difference between European and Africanized, is that the "Africanized" bee has a meaner looking face. This defining feature is most often realized far too late.

      April 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*Gabe

      Killer bees are spread across southern United States to include Cali

      April 22, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. hurf durf

    This has got to be one of the worst possible ways to die.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebecca

      I know, so sad! At least they went together, and at 90 & 92, no less.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      I'm pretty sure burning is worse but not by much.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barndoor

      Jeffrey Dahmer would be a pretty bad way also....come to think of it, there are lots of worse ways to die.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • you momma

      should be on an episode of "1000 ways to die"

      April 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • greenacres

      why does Everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING BAD have to come OUT OF AFRICA!
      Aids, Eboli, SARS, and now the freagin' HONEYBEE! When oh WHEN will something Positive make its way into the hearts of every man that DEATH & PLAGUE is NOT an AFRICAN THING... always trying to make a bad reflection on a country with highly populated blacks... Why won't anyone praise the fact that peanut butter was invented by a black man, or the traffic light – OR Dryer system or the Chryster 300? Now it's the honey bee lie... WAKE UP PEOPLE...
      DO NOT BELIEVE THE HYPE around the AFRICANIZED honeybee – Help us Jesus. Praise the GREAT contributions of Africans and African-Americans so that there is truth amongst the lies.

      April 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexasRN

      To Mr/Ms Greenacres:

      Africanized honey bees, known colloquially as "killer bees," are hybrids of the African honey bee, A. m. scutellata, with various European honey bees such as the Italian bee A. m. ligustica and A. m. iberiensis. These bees are far more aggressive than the European subspecies. Small swarms of AHBs are capable of taking over European honey beehives by invading the hive and establishing their own queen after killing the European queen.

      The Africanized honey bee in the western hemisphere is directly descended from 26 Tanzanian queen bees (A. m. scutellata) accidentally released by a replacement bee-keeper in 1957 near Uberlândia, Minas Gerais State in the southeast of Brazil from hives operated by biologist Warwick E. Kerr, who had interbred honey bees from Europe and southern Africa.

      ...no racism involved, the term is derived from the geographical origin of the bees

      April 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • T.G. Reaper


      I was on a crowded bus, at the height of rush hour, one day long ago.. when a wee little bee flew aboard [obviously by mistake]...... I almost DIED laughing that day...... I can hardly type right now as I look back on that event... it was MEYHEM !!!!... skirts, shirts, and the works were flying up and about !!.... ROFLMFAO.

      Dying of laughter just might be the most painful way to go.....


      April 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • K Edwards

      TexasRn. Africanized bees cannot "take over" a hive except when the virgin queen mates with an africanized drone swarm. The queen will then lay eggs that have workers with the africanized genetic material and temperament.

      April 21, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lisa

    This story is horrible, but the bees were only trying to protect their hive. I used to play with bees as a child, I've never been stung. Respect nature.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • craig

      What do you mean by you used to play with bees?

      April 20, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikey30

      Your Crazyyyyyyy!!!!!

      April 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      I respect nature as long as its not trying to build a hive in my house.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      These people have probably been around bees all of their life. I'm sure they have dealt with a wide variety of insects before. They probably figured it was no big deal. Unfortunately we are getting an ever increasing array of critters that are resistant to common pesticides. Instead of killing the bees it probably just made them mad. I had the same problem a while back with hornets. I used three different pesticides that just made them angry. Finally I resorted to spray shellac and had a yard full of shiny hornets that could no longer fly crawling around my yard.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Quit "bee"ing retarded.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Killerbeeman

      I use to play with bee's too! I had a fly swatter and plenty of gasoline! now you put the picture together!

      play with bees! Give me a break thats like me saying...... My infant use to play with the tiger!

      April 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • TLD

      Lisa do you think they should have just left the hive in the fireplace? This has nothing to do with them not respecting nature. I am sure that the bees you played with as a child were not the same africanized bees that we are discussing.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      What did you play with them? Battleship??

      April 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enoch100

      used to play baseball with bees. darn good shortstops....

      April 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • gogogrrlo

      There are so many things wrong with the reporting in this article I don't even know where to begin. I'm also a beekeeper and it pains me to read stuff like this.

      Paul is right - swarming is not what bees do when they have a hive and using that term only instills fear of actual swarms which are not aggressive at all. I've never been stung removing bees or managing hives.

      And no, I don't think these people, who some think have been around bees all of their lives ,knew what they were doing. There are easy steps to take to prepare to move bees safely and none of that was done.

      Killer bees or Africanized bees have been used to drum up fear in the public. Every post here mentioning it is pretty much wrong.

      What these people were doing made the bees defend their hive - no matter what kind of bee they were it would be the same result. If you have a hive or see a swarm, please call beekeepers not exterminators. You don't need to fear bees. You really don't. Just leave them alone or get professionals to help you out.

      And do some research!.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      I don't think you all understand what Lisa is saying. Respecting bees doesn't mean letting them make themselves at home on your property. It means taking them seriously as fellow living beings that wont think twice about killing you when you threaten their lives, same as you would.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      I would kiss them with my lips and put them in my ears, they never stung me-I don't know why.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Well by 'play' I meant rescue them from drowning in our backyard pool. They'd climb up my arms, etc,...never got stung!

      April 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. rlsiv

    Sometimes Darwin waits until you are 90+ yrs old..... but if you don't use common sense, he is gonna get ya.

    Its a shame that the elderly couple died, but both they and the younger participants are to blame for not thinking things through and/or seeking professional assistance. You spray a can of Raid into an africanized bee hive, and it isn't going to turn out well..... you'd better be able to make that walker burn rubber.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Busted

      Anyone who lives to 90 is considered "the fittest".

      April 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      If Darwin's theory was so on-the-money then why are you still here?

      April 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ned

      Wrong. Natural selection works before reproduction. People in their 90's with children already would have already been selected 'for' not 'against'. Much like your moron parents had moron you, and now you're posting here. Hopefully, Darwin will select 'against' you before you reproduce and the world will be better for the removal of your ignorance and that of your spawn.

      April 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Webrydr

    OK, so we have a lack of common sense here. Knowing the bees ain't gonna take kindly to toxic sprays, they swarm. A natural reaction to the threat. The unfortunate part is lack of preparation by the couple, and apparently the son, as well. Spray in the evening, when the bees are lethargic and all IN the hive. Or, cover yourself as thoroughly as possible with a couple of layers of clothing, hat, wrap a scarf around your neck and if possible, cover as much of your face as you can. And, most importantly, have an escape route planned that you can close. Grandma and Grandpa should have been outside and the son shoulda been doing the spraying. If attacked, he hightails it out, door is slammed, keeping most bees inside. Takes a few minutes for even the strongest sprays to be effective.

    Unfortunately for all concerned, this all comes down to lack of foresight and planning. I've taken out dozens of wasp nests, in the evening, and never been nailed. As with most tasks, preparation is 90% of the effort and thought, and the actual act of spraying is about 10%. My condolences to all concerned, but the truth is, they created a deadly situation inadvertantly, due to just not thinking it through.

    Be talkin' to you....................Webrydr

    April 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil, Ohio

      You don't spray bees to begin with, Bees are dying off. You call a bee keeper, the county Agriculture office or maybe even a local college for info.
      The story doesn't say if they were African bees or not.

      April 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I agree, Phil...don't spray the bees. There has got to be a better way to kill the intruding bees than to spray them yourself. Call a professional exterminator. Yes, the bees need to die, but there are better ways to handle this. Good call.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      Since smoke makes bees go dormant (sort of) why not just start a fire in the fireplace? After prolonged smoke exposure the bees will relocate.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sully

      It's true. You can even take down a bees' nest with nothing more than a stick if you do it in the middle of then night.

      But like many people have said... this was poor planning. Taking out bees is always a gamble. You need an escape route.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • gogogrrlo

      Don't spray at all. That was the mistake Get a beekeeper to remove them. DO NOT SPRAY.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bluidshay

    My condolences to the family. I am a beekeeper from New England. There are a lot of misconceptions about bees. Killer bees are more prevalent in the southern parts of the country (it's entirely possible that this hive that killed the couple was indeed African), but they have proven intolerant so far of the colder climate, although since most of our queens in the north are actually bred in the south, it's possible to get a queen that is AfricanIZED (meaning that although it is not a pure killer bee, it does have some genetic relation to them, and is likely to be more aggressive and mean). As a beekeeper, even I would probably call for help if there were bees in my chimney rather than trying to take care of it myself. Removing bees from your property can be messy and dangerous. These bees were likely not a swarm, they were probably an established colony that attacked the couple while trying to protect their queen and their brood (babies). Personally, I'd rather be up against a nonAfrican honeybee hive than a yellowjacket's nest. Hornets and wasps (including yellowjackets) are infinitely more aggressive than your garden variety honeybees and can sting more than once, while bees cannot. Our hives are right in our back yard, and the kids can play and we can mow just inches from the hive with no problem whatsoever.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brad

      I saw a, I shouldn't be alive, episode where a woman was mowing her lawn, she had the same set up as you, hives in the backyard. They never had a problem before, but for some reason, on that day, as she was mowing, they swarmed her. Point is, around animals, you just never know, you are always taking a chance that you might do something wrong, and then they turn on you.

      April 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      My husband was mowing and unknowingly ran over a yellow-jacket's nest (hole in the ground)...well, it didn't take him long to know it as he started running while being stung...mean lil buggers!

      April 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    It is hard to say if these were "Killer Bees" as they have hives that average about 4000 bees and the number of stings would likely be greater than 300. They are everywhere in the Southwest and starting to adapt to colder climates. While this story is very sad and I offer my condolences, I fear there will be continued occurrences of these kind. Africanized Bees are very aggressive and while it was the belief of some scientist that they would become less aggressive as they mated with our domestic honey bees the result is proving the opposite. Some believed the expense of eradicating them was to high and of course bees are needed to pollinate. It is worth the time to research the topic: however in any case, for the sake of your safety, it is best to call professionals before trying to remove a hive on your own.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      You have a good point. They may have been anything from hornets to yellowjackets to even wasps or bumblebees. The general public and the media have a tendency to call "bees" anything that flies and stings.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul Bishop

      Yeah... good points.

      To me, the most hopeful solution to the africanized bee problem is more management from beekeepers. When we allow our colonies to make their own queen and mate with any random drone, Africanization is a real possibility. Buying new queens from supliers that are bred with gentleness traits in mind and putting them in our colonies anually would really help. The problem is, many beekeepers cannot afford this. The company I work at only requeens 1/3 of its colonies a year, and most of that is because of splitting really. Even that much helps, but occasionally we run across a colony, or even a whole yard of colonies that is super mean.

      April 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JB007

    Wow, to make it through 90+ years of life only to be killed by bees.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa


      April 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • T.G. Reaper


      yep.. we all got it coming..... how & when is the only question.


      April 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bassbalz

    It's really awful when someone dies so tragically. I'm afraid these africanized bees and spreading quickly the same as wild hogs seem to be invading more and more states. The hogs we can do without the bees we rely on to pollinate the flowers,fruit and vegetables we love so people need to be aware of the danger that bees can become africanized and let a professional move them.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
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