It's been a year since three people were found murdered in the Big Water residential area in Pillager.
There have been funerals for the victims, Ryan Englert, Jennifer Toal and Daniel Harting. Less than a month after their murders, the main suspect in the case, Benjamin Kennedy, committed suicide in a Las Vegas motel.
What might appear to be an open-and-shut case still has loose ends, however, and for that reason law enforcement officials continue to investigate it.
"Until we're satisfied one person acted alone, we're not going to close it," said Dave Bjerga, special agent in charge of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Bemidji office.
It was mid-afternoon May 29, 2003, when the bodies of Englert, 19, Toal, 20, and Harting, 36, were found. Englert and Toal were discovered inside a mobile home, Harting outside. Harting and Englert were shot in the head. Toal was beaten to death.
On June 6, a warrant was issued for Kennedy's arrest and, in a sealed criminal complaint, he was charged with three counts of second-degree murder. Ten days later, he was found lying on a bed in a seedy motel in a gritty Las Vegas neighborhood, dead by his own hands, his throat slashed and a knife stuck in his chest. The 29-year-old Brainerd man had barricaded himself in the motel room and committed suicide after a three-hour standoff with Las Vegas police officers.
In October, when the complaint was unsealed, it was learned that the morning after the murders Kennedy had stopped by an acquaintance's house, someone who later became the state's confidential informant. Kennedy said he was involved in an attempted robbery that had gone bad, that he was involved in the torture of an individual to get the combination to a safe he believed contained a large amount of money. He told the informant he had shot the individual.
But without a chance to interview Kennedy themselves, investigators may never know what the true motive was behind the killings.
"Certainly the victims were not able to disclose anything and Kennedy died before law enforcement had the opportunity to talk to him. At this point anyone can speculate on what motives were and we're choosing not to," said Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher.
And without a motive and knowledge of whether Kennedy did act alone, the case has remained open, with new leads being investigated and old ones revisited, said Bjerga. He said a lot of the new leads studied in the past year have led them back to the beginning.
"It's very frustrating because we don't know when to call it a game," said Bjerga. "We don't know if this piece of information, which is just a little bit different than the last piece of information, is new or has been reworked."
Said Fisher, "We don't have every answer for every question everyone poses for the investigation. That's why we remain committed to it."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.