An Isanti man is facing two felony charges, including second-degree murder with intent, in the death of 32-year-old Amanda Jo Vangrinsven.
Richard Melvin Peterson II, 37, was charged with felonies second-degree murder with intent and interference with dead body or scene of death in Isanti County District Court in Cambridge on Aug. 19 via a remote hearing with Judge John Klossner presiding. Unconditional bail was set at $3 million with conditional bail set at $1 million. As of Monday evening, Aug. 23, Peterson was still in custody at the Isanti County Jail. His next court appearance is set for Sept. 1.
If Peterson posts conditional bail, part of his conditions of release include not to possess or use any alcohol or controlled substances; not to possess any firearms or dangerous weapons; not to enter any bars or liquor stores, including the Isanti VFW in Isanti and the Dugout Bar and Grill in Bethel; be on GPS monitoring; and to have no contact with the victim’s family.
Vangrinsven, 32, of Isanti, was reported missing on Aug. 6 when she not return home the night of Aug. 5 and did not report to work at the Isanti VFW on Aug. 6. Hundreds of volunteers searched for her in the days following.
On the evening of Aug. 10, investigators from the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office and the Isanti Police Department executed a search warrant on the 300 block of 261st Avenue Northwest in Athens Township. While executing this search warrant, Vangrinsven, a 2007 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, was found deceased on the property. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s office confirmed Vangrinsven died of homicide due to a single gunshot to the back of the head.
Peterson is being represented by public defender Nathaniel Hyle while the state is being represented by Assistant Isanti County Attorney Joel Whitlock.
Whitlock argued the court set unconditional bail at $4 million and conditional bail at $2 million.
“The defendant has received a significant amount of military training and served in the military for a quite a period of time. As I sit here right now, I have no idea if he was a truck driver, a tuba player, a secretary or something else. But my understanding is he held himself out on numerous occasions of having special training; something greater than what I just outlined. Therefore that adds to the concern as it relates to absconding from supervision,” Whitlock said. “Additionally, the state has significant concerns for public safety as well as the safety of the defendant. The nature of the crime would indicate that there’s some significant issues going on here. There’s indication of past mental health issues, possibly PTSD. The family, the defendant’s spouse, as well as her immediate family, have significant concerns and fear for their safety. As you can read, numerous firearms on the defendant’s property, most of, if not all of those were seized; there’s indication a number of firearms were sent off property after this case began to be investigated. We don’t know if all of those items have been recovered. In addition, there were copious amounts of ammunition found and a number of items of equipment relating to making your own ammunition and all the components for that.
“The defendant is being accused of murdering an individual that he spent the five or six hours previous in a very physically affectionate manner. The indications are that after shooting this individual in the back of the head that the defendant engaged in activities to hide that, burying the body on the property and not informing law enforcement in numerous times of being interviewed, and not only informing them of what he did but directing them and their attention to different possibilities for recovery,” Whitlock added.
Hyle explained Peterson is a veteran of the U.S. Army for 13 years prior to being honorably discharged. He served in four tours, with 42 months of combat experience.
“He was a resident of Virginia, but he and his wife just purchased a home here in Isanti County. They do own that home,” Hyle said. “As a result of Mr. Peterson’s service, he is 100% disabled; his only income comes from the VA. He is still using the VA for collateral services. It sounds like he has an inpatient bed for mental health services; that was all lined up prior to him being taken into custody. It is his goal to get back in there, if possible. ... In speaking with Mr. Peterson, as far as I can tell, this is the only law enforcement contact he’s had.”
According to the criminal complaint:
On Aug. 5, Vangrinsven patronized the Isanti VFW. As Vangrinsven is an employee of the VFW, she was recognized and known by VFW employees working that day and known by many other patrons as well. Peterson was also observed on Aug. 5 at the VFW. Due to his involvement with the VFW as the vice commander, Peterson was also well known by staff and others.
During the evening of Aug. 5, Peterson was observed spending a significant amount of time with Vangrinsven. Much of this was captured by surveillance cameras on the premises. At some point in the early evening, due to concern by employees regarding Vangrinsven’s level of intoxication, an attempt to secure her a ride home was made. Peterson decided that he would drive Vangrinsven, in her car, to her house and the other party would follow in order to bring Peterson back to the VFW.
Although Peterson did drive away from the VFW with Vangrinsven, he never delivered her to her home. Rather he returned to the VFW about 10 minutes after leaving, where he was seen walking back inside, holding Vangrinsven’s hand. Once inside, Peterson indicated to others that he did not have the address and that Vangrinsven did not provide it to him. Witnesses interviewed later informed law enforcement that Peterson was told of Vangrinsven’s address, or at least an attempt to do so was made, prior to the attempt to take Vangrinsven home.
Upon returning to the VFW, Peterson and Vangrinsven sat at the bar for an extended period of time and were observed touching each other very affectionately. This physical contact concerned staff due in part to their knowledge that Peterson was married. This interaction was also clearly captured on surveillance video. At this time, staff no longer served Vangrinsven alcohol due to their perception of Vangrinsven’s level of intoxication. Peterson, however, was still being served alcohol.
Around 9:20 p.m. on Aug. 5, Peterson and Vangrinsven were observed leaving the VFW together. It was learned that they arrived at the Dugout Bar in East Bethel about 20 minutes later. The affectionate behavior previously observed continued between the two parties while at the Dugout Bar; however, prior to the parties leaving around 11:05 p.m., there appeared to be a change in this behavior. This change was such that they appeared much less friendly and affectionate with each other. Those employees working at the Dugout that night remember both Peterson and Vangrinsven and surveillance also captures the two there.
After leaving the Dugout Bar, additional surveillance shows Peterson and Vangrinsven leaving the area together in Peterson’s Ford pickup truck. Cell phone data shows that the route of travel brought them to Peterson’s property on 261st Avenue Northwest, in Athens Township, arriving there at about 11:16 p.m.
Further data shows Vangrinsven’s phone on Peterson’s property as late as 11:36 p.m. At no time did either person’s phone indicate them being anywhere near the park next to the VFW after leaving the Dugout Bar. Yet, Peterson’s statement to law enforcement was that he dropped Vangrinsven off at that park.
After leaving the Dugout, Vangrinsven is not observed or heard from by anyone who knows her beyond Peterson. Her mother, with whom she lives, indicated to law enforcement that she did not come home that night. In fact, she was supposed to work at the VFW the next morning, but did not report to work, or call in. This was noticed by other employees and immediately caused great concern as it was not typical behavior.
Upon learning of her absence at work on Aug. 6, at least one employee made repeated calls and sent several text messages to Peterson due to having great concern for Vangrinsven. Most of these contact attempts went unanswered; however, Peterson did call back late Friday morning and stated that he had dropped Vangrinsven off at the park next to the VFW.
Also learned during the investigation of Vangrinsven’s disappearance is that Peterson did not work his Aug. 6 morning shift at the Pronto Pup stand at Pie Day in Braham as he had previously agreed to do. In fact, on Aug. 6, late in the morning, Peterson returned the keys for the stand to the VFW. He was observed leaving the VFW wherein he engaged in a behavior described as “searching,” which included looking in porta-potties and vehicles. This occurred shortly after Peterson provided his story about dropping Vangrinsven off at the park to the concerned VFW employee.
Peterson later informed law enforcement that he was not in any condition to work the Pronto Pup stand that morning, yet it was determined that he spent much of the morning on his tractor digging holes and moving dirt around the property.
On Aug. 8, a search warrant was executed at Peterson’s property. He provided a statement to law enforcement at this time and a number of items were seized.
Despite Peterson’s earlier statements about the route of travel after leaving the Dugout Bar being pointed out to Peterson as false and despite his stated lack of memory while attempting to show law enforcement where he drove, Peterson did still lead law enforcement to the park next to the VFW, in an apparent attempt to support his earlier statement that he dropped Vangrinsven off there. In fact, Peterson led law enforcement to the park even when informed that all information shows he only had about 14 minutes to make the trip to the park and then home, something that was pointed out as being not possible to do.
On Aug. 9, law enforcement spoke further with Peterson. It was learned that Peterson believed he may have hit a mailbox with the mirror of his vehicle when driving away from the Dugout Bar with Vangrinsven. Peterson stated Vangrinsven would have gotten out of the vehicle at this location, although he had no memory if she did in fact get out. After driving around looking for this mailbox, nothing of value or support was found to verify this information.
On Aug. 10, law enforcement executed another search warrant at Peterson’s property. This warrant related to actually searching for Vangrinsven on the basis that there was sufficient evidence showing that she was previously at the property. This included Vangrinsven’s cell phone registering at the property the last time it showed any activity, as well as surveillance video showing her traveling with Peterson in the direction of the property prior to her arrival there and that Peterson was not truthful about his activities with Vangrinsven after leaving the Dugout Bar, to include his statement about returning her to the park next to the VFW.
A neighboring law enforcement agency’s bloodhound was used to search the property in question. The bloodhound indicated Vangrinsven’s prior presence at a number of locations on the property. Eventually the bloodhound went straight to the pond. An electronics detection dog was also utilized. This dog did not necessarily “indicate” at the pond, but it did go to the pond and even entered the pond, showing significant interest in this area. Finally a cadaver dog was utilized, and it too took essentially the same path to the pond as the two other dogs utilized.
Vangrinsven’s phone not only showed being at the property, but specifically right at the pond, which is approximately 200 yards behind the pole barn situated at the edge of the driveway. The phone then showed it went away from the area of the pond to the west, but at no point does it register off of the property in question. No additional location data was found beyond this point.
Prior to the search on Aug. 10, which included draining the pond, Peterson stated to law enforcement that it would be logical to look at the pond. Also learned before draining the pond was that Peterson may have fallen into the pond sometime after Vangrinsven went missing. This information was shared with law enforcement by Peterson’s spouse, wherein Peterson told her that he had fallen into the pond.
Vangrinsven was not found in the pond, but rather she was discovered buried at the southwestern end of the property. Peterson was observed by his spouse utilizing a small tractor equipped with a front end bucket as well as rear excavating shovel at the south end of the property the morning after Vangrinsven went missing. Vangrinsven’s body was buried sufficiently deep that equipment such as the small back hoe attachment that Peterson owned was necessarily used.
The preliminary report by the medical examiner concluded the body was positively that of Vangrinsven and that she died of homicide due to a single gunshot to the back of the head. The laboratory at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) tested the fired projectile having been retrieved from Vangrinsven’s skull. Also forensically determined at the laboratory was that the recovered projectile was fired from a Glock firearm equipped with their newer Marksman barrel. This was able to be determined due to a very distinctive, and proprietary rifling pattern readily observable on projectiles fired from such barrels, something that is not used in Glock barrels preceding the recent introduction of the Marksman barrel.
Several firearms, along with a substantial amount of ammunition and other firearm related equipment belonging to Peterson, were seized and secured from his property pursuant to a warrant to do so. None of these firearms appeared to match the information regarding the projectile found to have killed Vangrinsven as provided by the lab report. Additional firearms belonging to Peterson were obtained through a separate warrant. Of these later collected firearms, two were discovered to be 9mm Glocks with the Marksman barrel. It became known that these firearms were provided to a friend of Peterson the day following Vangrinsven’s disappearance. This friend was later suspicious of this transaction, as well as concerned about his involvement in this act, so he made sure to have the firearms returned to Peterson’s family, who, in turn, provided them to law enforcement.
Peterson’s spouse reported to law enforcement that she tried calling her husband twice at 11:14 p.m. and once again at 11:16 p.m. on Aug. 5, but he never answered any of these calls. She did report him as entering the house about 11:20 p.m. At a later time, Peterson’s spouse also shared that he became very upset after arriving home that night. This resulted in an episode where Peterson made threats of self-harm and even pointed a handgun at himself. Peterson’s spouse was able to calm him down sufficiently to take the handgun away from him. This handgun is reported to have gone missing from where it was placed following the incident and it is also reported that it could quite possibly be one of the two Glocks sent to the BCA for testing.
Testing of some of the equipment and vehicles seized from the defendant did show signs of blood upon an initial examination.