FARGO - An intriguing aspect of the murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind is the fact Fargo police made three consensual searches of the apartment where she was murdered and her baby was cut from her womb, but nothing suspicious was found during any of them.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd said when the searches were conducted, police were looking for a living, 22-year-old pregnant woman who didn't come home for some reason - not a corpse wrapped in plastic tucked away in a small closet or a hollowed-out dresser, places authorities later learned LaFontaine-Greywind's body had been hidden.
Still, the fruitless searches helped fuel public frustration with a case so gruesome in nature it has few rivals in the annals of Fargo homicides.
Todd said he understands that frustration, but added it is important to view the searches in the context of what was known at the time.
"I wish we would have found some of these things sooner, but I understand why we didn't," Todd said.
LaFontaine-Greywind's body was found wrapped in plastic and stuck on a fallen log in the Red River in north Fargo on Aug. 27, 2017, eight days after she told family members she was going to a neighbor's apartment, Apt. 5, to help with a sewing project. She was to be paid about $20 for her time.
LaFontaine-Greywind was eight months pregnant when she disappeared.
At the time, Apt. 5 belonged to Brooke Crews and her boyfriend, William Hoehn.
LaFontaine-Greywind's infant daughter, Haisley Jo, was found lying on a bed in the apartment when police executed a search warrant on Aug. 24, 2017.
In September, a Cass County District Court jury found Hoehn not guilty of conspiring to kill LaFontaine-Greywind, though he had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to kidnap her infant daughter.
Hoehn now faces the possibility of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. A sentencing hearing has yet to be set.
His former girlfriend and co-defendant in the case, Brooke Crews, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping and is serving a life sentence without parole for her role in the death of LaFontaine-Greywind in the couple's apartment on Aug. 19, 2017.
Timelines are important in the case. From what is known through investigation and trial testimony, this is how things are believed to have happened:
LaFontaine-Greywind's mother called police about 4:30 p.m. Aug. 19, 2017, after her daughter failed to return after going upstairs to Apt. 5 around 1:30 p.m.
Fargo police conducted the first of three consensual searches of the now-infamous apartment at approximately 5 p.m. that day.
Police conducted another walk-through later that night and again the next day, Aug. 20, 2017.
During the third search, police checked kitchen cupboards as well as a hollow compartment used to access plumbing in the bathroom that is reached through a bathroom closet, something Greywind family members suggested police try as they had previous knowledge of the layout of the apartment. Nothing suspicious was found.
Testimony Hoehn and Crews gave during Hoehn's trial on the murder conspiracy charge suggested LaFontaine-Greywind was killed shortly after entering the apartment, either from bleeding to death due to the crude cesarean section Crews admitted performing, or from being strangled by a noose that was found around LaFontaine-Greywind's neck after her body was discovered in the Red River.
Crews testified Hoehn strangled LaFontaine-Greywind after he came home from work and found her lying on the bathroom floor and bleeding profusely from the C-section.
Hoehn said LaFontaine-Greywind was already dead when he arrived home but he agreed to help clean up the scene and hide the baby, who survived the ordeal of her mother's death.
Hoehn and Crews both said they wrapped LaFontaine-Greywind's body in layers of black garbage bags and then placed her in the bathroom closet, later moving her to an emptied-out dresser.
They said they moved the dresser out of the apartment building in the wee hours of Aug. 21, 2017. Crews said Hoehn disposed of the dresser and the body it contained while she stayed at the apartment with the baby.
Hoehn said he, Crews and the baby drove the dresser to a bridge over the Red River, and he and Crews dumped it over the railing together.
It remains unclear where the infant was during the police searches, but Todd said the girl may have been hidden in the folds of bedsheets or in a suitcase.
Both Hoehn and Crews said the infant was "a good baby," and Todd said neighbors never heard baby sounds coming from the apartment.
Todd said no disciplinary action was taken in regards to the searches, and he said those who took part will likely always wonder what might have happened if things had been done differently.
"Would it have changed the outcome? No, Savanna was already dead," Todd said.
"Would it have wrapped the case faster? Yes, it would have," he added.
Becauses the first three searches were consensual, Todd said officers had to walk a fine line when checking out the apartment. Pushing things too hard, he said, can cause people to halt a search and stop cooperating altogether.
"A search warrant allows you to become much more intrusive ... and go into areas without the threat of the property owner or renter withdrawing their consent," he said.
"At the time of these consent searches, we did not have a criminal nexus to get a search warrant," he added.
Asked if the case will alter how searches are done in the future, Todd answered: "It's hard to say how you change how searches are done when you have the limitations of these dynamics."
It was on Aug. 23, 2017, four days after LaFontaine-Greywind disappeared, that police learned Hoehn had told co-workers about a new baby in his household. About the same time, police learned Hoehn had purchased diapers at Walmart.
Todd said that information gave police the criminal "nexus" they needed to obtain a search warrant for the apartment and to make arrests, but he said they didn't make arrests immediately. Police didn't know, he said, if LaFontaine-Greywind was alive and hidden away somewhere, and authorities thought by watching the couple, they might lead police to her.
However, Todd added, once it was clear a baby was born, police decided to make arrests in order to keep the infant safe.
"Up until then, we were hoping Savanna was alive and well somewhere," Todd said.
Crews testified at Hoehn's trial that on the evening of Aug. 22, 2017, after a shopping trip to Walmart, she carried the baby into the apartment building while Fargo police were arresting Hoehn on an outstanding warrant. She said she carried the baby in a bag and was surprised they weren't caught.
When police executed the first of several search warrants on the apartment on Aug. 24, 2017, they found the baby lying on a bed. Crews was arrested on the spot.
Hoehn was arrested at his place of work, where he had been under police surveillance.
Todd said that around the time of the final searches of the apartment, the Fargo Police Department had committed a tremendous amount of resources to the case, including the department's entire investigative team.
"That's a considerable amount of resources when the case was active and ongoing," Todd said.
He said the crime that was ultimately uncovered was not just unusual for the community, but for the entire nation as well.
"Until the investigation had proceeded to the point where we had information Crews had told/lied about being pregnant and Hoehn telling his boss they suddenly had a baby over the weekend, who would have ever thought murder and fetal abduction was a motive or possibility?" Todd said.
He said the case has forever changed life for one segment of the community in particular.
"My heart breaks for the Greywind family and what they've gone through," Todd said.
LaFontaine-Greywind's father, Joe Greywind, delivered an impassioned statement during a recent "March for Justice" in Fargo in which he said his family is angry at the jury that returned a verdict of not guilty at the conclusion of Hoehn's trial.
As the Greywind family and the community at large wait to find out what sentence William Hoehn is handed for his guilty plea on the conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge, Todd said people should have confidence in their police department "and the fact the men and women working here absolutely want to do the best job they can."
Todd said department employees "worked diligently around the clock to put the pieces of this sickening and depraved puzzle together and took Crews and Hoehn into custody and returned Haisley Jo to her father and family."