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Missing student might have died from meth: Suspect in case will be charged with concealing location of her body

STARBUCK -- The man who was last seen with Laura Schwendemann of Starbuck will be charged with gross misdemeanor charges for concealing the location of her body, which was found in a Douglas County cornfield near Alexandria on Oct. 26, 12 days af...

Laura Ann Schwendemann
Laura Ann Schwendemann

STARBUCK -- The man who was last seen with Laura Schwendemann of Starbuck will be charged with gross misdemeanor charges for concealing the location of her body, which was found in a Douglas County cornfield near Alexandria on Oct. 26, 12 days after she was reported missing.

Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said the man, identified as 21-year-old Nickolas McArdell of Starbuck, will not be prosecuted for causing Schwendemann's death because the evidence doesn’t support it.

The medical examiner’s office was unable to determine a cause of death or the date and time she was injured. The autopsy revealed that Schwendemann had not sustained any traumatic or abusive injuries prior to her death, Larson said, and she did not suffer from any life-threatening natural diseases.

However, toxicology revealed a significant presence of methamphetamine and THC in her system, Larson said, adding that meth use is associated with sudden death.

The autopsy results, Larson said, were consistent with McArdell’s final version of events.

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Larson said the punishment for the gross misdemeanor – up to a year in jail – was “woefully inadequate.”

“I will be lobbying for legislative change in that regard following the conclusion of the case,” Larson said.

According to the news release issued jointly by Larson and Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen:

Schwendemann was last seen alive during the evening of Oct. 14 at a gas station in Alexandria accompanied by McArdell.

Investigators interviewed McArdell multiple times in the ensuing days. McArdell initially stated that Schwendemann had gotten into a vehicle with "a couple of guys” that he didn’t recognize near Kensington.

McArdell later admitted that he had lied to the investigators, Wolbersen said. He then stated that he and Schwendemann had been driving around rural Douglas County on the evening of Oct. 14 and that both he and Schwendemann were injecting methamphetamine.

McArdell stated that he "blacked out” and could not remember what had happened or where Schwendemann was, Wolbersen said.

When a farmer discovered Schwendemann's body in a cornfield about 14 miles southeast of Alexandria, McArdell was being housed in the Douglas County Jail for a probation violation related to his previous admission of methamphetamine use to investigators, according to Wolbersen. McArdell is also on probation for felony domestic assault.

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After hearing of Schwendemann's discovery, McArdell requested to speak with investigators. At that time, he said that Schwendemann had overdosed on methamphetamine while they were driving. He admitted that he had panicked and he had concealed her body in a cornfield, according to authorities.

“It certainly appears that meth has dealt us another blow,” said Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson. “This case presents me with numerous questions which I direct to meth dealers and addicts alike: How many lives must be taken? How many parents must bury their children? How many kids must lose hope? How many souls must be rendered unfeeling and chasing only the next high? Have you no ability to value human life?”

Larson said that it was “extremely unfortunate” that McArdell was either not aware of a recent law passed by the Minnesota Legislature or didn't care. The “Good Samaritan” law would have provided him immunity from prosecution for the meth that they had apparently possessed had he called 911 and reported the medical emergency in this case.

“He chose otherwise, and will be criminally prosecuted for that decision,” Larson said.

Larson added he was grateful to the Douglas Sheriff's Office, Pope County Sheriff's Office, the Starbuck Police Department, the Alexandria Police Department, BCA, the Minnesota State Patrol, West Central Drug Task Force, the FBI, Midwest Medical Examiner's Office, and all the volunteers and members of the public who assisted in this investigation.

“Finally, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Laura's family and friends alike,” Larson said. “Sheriff Wolbersen and I met again with Laura's parents yesterday. I can only say that they have the strength that I doubt I could find in their situation. They are admirable parents who are enduring a horrific situation with both grace and faith.”


Earlier brief:

ALEXANDRIA - The death of a college student who was found in a Douglas County field last month was from “undetermined causes,” the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday.
The body of Laura Ann Schwendemann, 18, of Starbuck, was found Oct. 26 in a field about 15 miles southeast of Alexandria.
The medical examiner could not identify the date or time of injury of the victim. The use of methamphetamine and marijuana were listed as a “significant condition,” the news release said.
A freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris, Schwendemann was last seen on surveillance video recorded Oct. 14 in Alexandria, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Law enforcement has interviewed the man she was seen leaving with and he has been classified as a person of interest.
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen had classified Schwendemann’s death as suspicious in October.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA
Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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