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Man charged with moving body of teen who disappeared

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- A man has been charged in connection with the death of a Minnesota college student who disappeared this fall, her body later found in a corn field, with court documents describing a night of drug use before the teen's death.

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Nickolas Ryan McArdell of Starbuck, Minn.
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- A man has been charged in connection with the death of a Minnesota college student who disappeared this fall, her body later found in a corn field, with court documents describing a night of drug use before the teen’s death.

A gross misdemeanor charge of interference with a dead body was filed against Nickolas Ryan McArdell of Starbuck on Monday.

He was the person last seen with Laura Schwendemann, whose body was found in a Douglas County corn field on Oct. 26, 11 days after she was reported missing.

Schwendemann, 18, of Starbuck, had been a freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris.

The charge states that McArdell, 21, “unlawfully interfered with the body or scene of death with intent to mislead the coroner or conceal evidence.”

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Under state law, the maximum sentence McArdell faces is one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

The criminal complaint filed Monday revealed new information in the case, including:

McArdell reportedly dropped off Schwendemann’s belongings with her family members on Oct. 15 and requested them to not contact law enforcement. The family called the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office later that day to report her as missing.

When an officer contacted McArdell, he said he was with Schwendemann on Oct. 14 until about 10 p.m. They were in his car in Kensington, he said, when another car pulled near them and Schwendemann got into that vehicle, leaving her cell phone and belongings behind.

He said he waited for about two hours and when she did not return, he left the area without her.

In a subsequent interview on Oct. 16, McArdell told investigators that he had passed out in his car while he was in rural Kensington and hadn’t heard from Schwendemann since.

During the Oct. 16 interview, McArdell agreed to provide a urine sample, which tested positive for methamphetamine. He was then arrested for violating his probation conditions, according to the criminal complaint.

McArdell then asked to speak with investigators again. At that time, he admitted that his Kensington story was false, and that he and Schwendemann were injecting meth and driving around rural Douglas County when at some point, he blacked out and didn’t remember what happened, according to the complaint.

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On Oct. 18, McArdell was again interviewed and recalled waking up near a blue house with a statue of a boy wearing blue overalls and a red hat.

When asked he if was afraid of getting into trouble for a possible drug overdose and for leaving Schwendemann’s body somewhere, McArdell allegedly replied, “Anything is possible,” but maintained that he had blacked out.

Eight days later, Schwendemann’s body was found. The medical examiner’s office was unable to determine a cause of death or the date and time she was injured.

The autopsy showed that Schwendemann had not sustained any traumatic or abusive injuries prior to her death, nor did she suffer from any life-threatening natural diseases.

However, toxicology revealed a significant presence of methamphetamine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in her system.

On Oct. 31, investigators interviewed McArdell again. He said that while he and Schwendemann were driving around injecting meth, he was “messing with her” by pretending like they were being chased by police as they drove.

He stated she was “freaking out” and kicking the dashboard and windows. He said that he pulled over and tried to calm her down. He told investigators that after they smoked some marijuana and began driving around again, Schwendemann started “freaking out” again, believing they were being chased by police.

He said he pulled over again and she seemed to calm down but began to breathe heavily and did not respond to him. He said he noticed she was not breathing and when he checked her neck for a pulse, he couldn’t find one.

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He said he drove three or four miles to a cornfield, had a cigarette, and then removed her body from the car. He said he put her over his shoulder, carried her into the field, placed her body on the ground, ran back to his car and continued driving around.

The next morning, he said he called several people and asked if they had seen Schwendemann. He said he disposed of the hypodermic needles and pot pipe they had been using in a gas station trash bin.

He said he then contacted his supplier and purchased more methamphetamine.

Monday’s charges were expected. Two weeks ago, Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said that McArdell would not be prosecuted for causing Schwendemann’s death because the evidence didn’t support it.

Larson said the punishment for the gross misdemeanor – up to a year in jail – was “woefully inadequate” and that he will lobby the Legislature to change the law following the conclusion of the case.

Related Topics: CRIME
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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