Jun. 11—A Hibbing man allegedly admitted in a phone call from jail that he tied up his former landlord during a 2017 burglary, leading to the 77-year-old woman's strangulation death.
Prosecutors on Thursday charged Blake Andrew Stangel, 51, by warrant with intentional second-degree murder in the death of Courtney Fenske. The amended criminal complaint replaces a lesser count of second-degree manslaughter.
The complaint states that Stangel, who was released from jail on bond last week, placed several calls to a woman late last month after he was first implicated in Fenske's death based on DNA evidence.
"Five years ago, I was f---ed up," he allegedly said in a May 30 call. "I went to a burglary with someone. I f---in' helped tie someone up."
Stangel went on to state that he did not kill anyone, according to the complaint, but acknowledged that the person "ended up dying from it (because) they couldn't get loose." He allegedly went on to describe the person as "my old landlord."
He apparently did not name any other people who allegedly took part in the burglary, and no one else has been charged in connection with Fenske's death.
The defendant was in custody on unrelated charges when the manslaughter complaint was filed May 27. Court documents reveal that investigators had been looking for Stangel, knowing he was a former tenant of the victim, but they had been unable to locate him until a confidential reliable informant provided the Grand Rapids Police Department with information about Stangel's alleged involvement and location.
Fenske, who lived alone, was found dead in her home at 11072 S. Townline Road, in Lavell Township, on Nov. 28, 2017, after a postal worker reported that she had not been picking up her mail.
Police said she was found to have cotton thermal pants wrapped tightly around her head, covering both her nose and mouth, and knotted in the back. Her left wrist also was tied to her upper-right arm, and her right wrist was tied to her lower-right leg, according to court documents.
A medical examiner concluded that Fenske died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation and smothering.
Stangel was arrested May 24 on other outstanding warrants at the Birch Lane Mobile Home Park in Hibbing. A DNA sample was taken and sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which reportedly confirmed a match to suspect DNA obtained from ligatures, rope and Fenske's body.
St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich filed a notice Wednesday of her intent to seek an above-guideline sentence for Stangel on the basis that the victim was "particularly vulnerable due to age, infirmity or reduced physical or mental capacity" and that she was "treated with cruelty for which the offender should be held responsible."
The murder charge is significantly more serious, carrying a maximum of 40 years in prison, compared to the cap of 10 years for manslaughter.
Stangel is charged in three separate cases with second-degree possession of methamphetamine, theft of a motor vehicle and fleeing a police officer.
Records show that he posted a bond totaling $226,000 on June 3. A court appearance had already been set for Thursday afternoon, but with Stangel out of custody, the murder charge was filed in the form of an arrest warrant.