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FORT MYERS, Fla. - A Minnesota woman has become the subject of a nationwide manhunt after allegedly killing her husband, as well as a Florida woman who investigators believe was killed for her identity.
Lois Ann Riess, 56, is shown on surveillance video in a Fort Myers brewery, chatting with a woman found dead four days later in a timeshare condominium where she was staying two blocks away. Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno said during a Friday news conference that deputies went to the Fort Myers Beach condo on April 9 regarding a call for medical assistance.
They found Pamela Hutchinson, 59, who had been shot multiple times, Marceno said. Her purse was in disarray, with all identification, cash and credit cards stolen.
Her car keys and her white Acura TL were also missing.
“Further investigation revealed that Ms. Hutchinson was targeted by the suspect due to the similarities in their appearance,” Marceno said.
Investigators fear that Riess could be running short on resources and could kill again to further fund her flight from capture, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported.
“Riess’ mode of operation is to befriend women who resemble her and steal their identity,” Marceno said Friday. “U.S. marshals are actively involved in a national search for this dangerous fugitive.”
The Fort Myers News-Press reported that Hutchinson was in Fort Myers to help a friend mourn her husband. They were planning to spread his ashes in the Gulf of Mexico, the newspaper said.
Hutchinson’s last Facebook post was on April 4. In a post written the day before, she talked about how Fort Myers Beach was “hopping” and she thanked a friend for recommendations on local hangouts, saying she had a “fabulously good time.” She wrote that she could hear music from one bar at her condo, No. 404 at Marina Village at Snug Harbor.
“Also got to see the sun rise and set,” Hutchinson wrote.
Her posts indicated that she had decided to stay in Fort Myers Beach an extra day before heading home to Bradenton.
The News-Press reported that surveillance video from the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery in Fort Myers shows Riess, wearing a light blue shirt, talking to a woman identified by investigators as Hutchinson. The video was shot around 5:40 p.m. on Thursday, April 5.
Surveillance images from Hutchinson’s condo complex also appear to show Riess there, wearing the same blue shirt, the Star Tribune reported. It was not immediately clear when those images were shot.
A relative of Hutchinson’s said on the slain woman’s Facebook page that she and other relatives were supposed to meet Hutchinson at her Bradenton condo on April 7 to spend the weekend with her, but she never showed up. They learned from a neighbor that she was out of town, but did not know where she had gone or who she was staying with.
Phone calls and texts to Hutchinson went unanswered, the relative said.
It would be another two days before her body was found. A man staying at the condo complex told the News-Press that the building manager asked him for help getting the door of Hutchinson’s unit open because something appeared to be blocking it.
She was trying to get inside because the water to some of the units was not working.
They found Hutchinson’s body in the bathroom with a pile of towels, Troy Strohm said. It appeared that Hutchison, who had blood coming from an ear, had been dead for a few days.
“As soon as you opened the door, it just smelled like a dead animal,” Strohm told the newspaper.
Detectives who tied Riess to Hutchinson’s death learned that Riess was also a suspect in the Dodge County, Minnesota, death of her husband, David Riess. According to the Star Tribune, David Riess was found shot to death March 23 on the couple’s worm farm.
Lois Riess became a suspect in the Florida homicide after investigators there found a white 2005 Cadillac Escalade she was believed to be driving after her husband’s slaying.
“Our detectives have reviewed hundreds of hours of video and traveled throughout the state and collected hundreds of items for forensic examination, and have coordinated efforts with our state and federal agencies,” Marceno said.
Riess has apparently fled southwest Florida and traveled through the southeast states to Texas. The most recent sighting put her in Corpus Christi, the undersheriff said.
The fugitive is charged in Florida with murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle and grand theft and criminal use of personal identification, Marceno said.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which has been searching for Riess since late last month, describes her as a white woman with brown eyes and pale blonde hair. She is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs about 165 pounds.
The white Acura she is accused of stealing from Hutchinson has Florida license plate number Y37TAA.
Riess is known to frequent casinos, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reported.
Marceno said Riess is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone who spots her should not approach her, but should call the nearest law enforcement agency.
People with information on Riess’ whereabouts can also call Southwest Florida Crimestoppers at 800-780-TIPS.
The Star Tribune reported that second-degree murder charges were expected to be filed this week against Riess, who lived with her husband in Blooming Prairie, a city of about 2,000 people 85 miles south of the Twin Cities. David Riess’ body was found after a business partner reported to police that he had been unable to reach him for a couple of weeks.
Officers who went to Prairie Wax Worm Farms to conduct a welfare check found the 54-year-old with multiple gunshot wounds. It was not immediately known how long he was dead before his body was found.
Dodge County Sheriff’s Office investigators were unable to find Lois Riess, but got a tip that she was at a casino just across the state line near Northwood, Iowa, the newspaper reported. When law enforcement officers arrived, they learned she had been there, but left before their arrival.
After her husband’s death, Lois Riess is suspected of transferring nearly $10,000 from his business account to his personal account, then forging his signature on three checks totaling about $11,000. She has been charged with theft for the forgeries, the Star Tribune reported.
David Riess’ obituary lists the couple as having three grown children and five grandchildren.