Officials: TRF murder suspect’s story unravels after flubbing answer to key question
THIEF RIVER FALLS — Tanya Kazmierczak was last seen alive talking to Jedidiah Dean Troxel after a party, witnesses say. According to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Kazmierczak, 40, was found dead the next day with multiple stab wounds and a cut throat.
Authorities have linked Troxel, 31, of Crookston, to the spot next to the Red Lake River in rural Pennington County where a resident found Kazmierczak’s body Sunday. Agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Monday night arrested Troxel without incident.
He has been charged with second-degree murder and is in jail in Thief River Falls, awaiting his arraignment early Wednesday.
According to the complaint, he killed Kazmierczak after they both left a party early Saturday morning.
Kazmierczak was the mother of three children and was originally from Crookston, according to her obituary. Earlier this month, she turned 40 and celebrated her 20th anniversary with her husband, Jeffrey.
Her failure to return home that day led her husband to report her missing and prompted a search of the surrounding area. Interviews with fellow partygoers led investigators to single out Troxel as a suspect whose story unraveled after several interviews.
According to Troxel’s Facebook page, he was looking for a party Friday.
“Whos up for partying?” read a post attributed to him on his profile on the social networking website.
On Sunday, the image of a flier asking for information regarding Kazmierczak’s disappearance was posted on his Facebook page, again attributed to him.
Troxel and Kazmierczak were linked as friends on Facebook. Later that night they were at the same party in Thief River Falls, according to a statement of probable cause for his arrest.
The statement, released Tuesday by Pennington County Sheriff Ray Kuznia, detailed the steps that led to Troxel’s arrest:
Troxel told authorities he saw Kazmierczak leave the party with another woman five minutes before he left to return to his mother’s home in Crookston.
Witnesses, however, told authorities they saw Kazmierczak talking to Troxel while he was in his car after they both left the party, between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.
In a second interview Saturday, in Crookston, Troxel repeated that he left the party five minutes after Kazmierczak, adding that he stopped at the Pennington Main store to buy a bottle of Mountain Dew before leaving town. He also showed them his purple 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse, which he drove to the party. Investigators also noticed a pair of black work boots with wet mud on them.
On Sunday, Thief River Falls Deputy Police Chief Craig Mattson watched surveillance video from Pennington Main that showed Troxel did not visit the store between 5:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. Saturday.
The sheriff’s statement added more details:
At 11:30 a.m., a “concerned citizen” found Kazmierczak next to the Smiley Bridge on Pennington County Road 7. BCA crime scene investigators reported that she was partially nude. She had been stabbed and had her throat cut. They also found a “unique footprint” with a specific logo in the earth beneath her body.
A preliminary autopsy found multiple stab wounds and ruled her death a homicide.
A witness in a follow-up interview said she had seen Kazmierczak talking to Troxel, who was in his car, after the party. Investigators met with Troxel in Crookston again Sunday.
During that meeting, they took Troxel’s boots and found their tread was similar to the footprint at the crime scene.
Troxel repeated that he did not see Kazmierczak after the party, but investigators pressed him, telling him of the similarity between his boots and the footprint.
He told them, “I was not at Smiley Bridge.”
Authorities had not told him yet she was found at the bridge.
Troxel also claimed he wore tennis shoes, not the work boots to the Friday party. However, surveillance video of Troxel at a Thief River Falls liquor store that night showed him wearing black boots.
Authorities received two reports Monday from area residents who said they saw a car at the boat landing next to the crime scene between 6:45 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. Saturday. One report described a car that matched Troxel’s, the other could not identify the vehicle’s type.
Troxel will make his first appearance in Minnesota District Court on Wednesday morning, when he will hear his rights and prosecutors and his defense will argue the amount of his bond.
Pennington County Attorney Alan Rogalla said Troxel had a lawyer representing him.
Rogalla said the Minnesota Attorney General’s office will be co-counsel in the case. He requested the office’s help as an added resource in a small-town homicide investigation.
Besides the BCA, local authorities were assisted by several agencies in Minnesota and North Dakota in the search for Kazmierczak.
According to Minnesota court records, Troxel has been convicted of two felony counts of selling drugs and was sentenced in 2008 to two years in prison, but was given 15 years of supervised probation instead.
Days of worry
On Tonder Street where Kazmierczak lived, neighbors recalled a weekend of worry. A rumor that a second body had been found near St. Hilaire, Minn., circulated in the region Tuesday, but authorities said it was not true.
Neighbor Rob Rux said it was out of character for her to not return home.
Rogalla said that led to the quick mobilization of the search for her.
“Five years I’ve been here. She was the first one I met,” Rux said. “She was a kind, wonderful person. Good mother, good wife, good everything.”
Sheriff Kuznia said Kazmierczak’s family would not make any statements regarding her death until later.
The Rev. Aaron Zuch, who will officiate at her funeral at St. John Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls on Sept. 1, said they are being helped by extended family.
“Obviously, it’s a very tough time right now,” he said.