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Man charged with murder in Lake Hattie Township, Minn., fire

PARK RAPIDS -- A man who police say had a questionable explanation for his actions during a house fire in Lake Hattie Township on May 31 was arraigned on murder charges Friday after being arrested in St. Paul.

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A fire May 31, 2013, destroyed a house and garage in Lake Hattie Township, Minn. The Bemidji Fire Department responded to the call at 5:30 a.m. in the 1500 block of 410 Street. BEMIDJI FIRE DEPARTMENT
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PARK RAPIDS -- A man who police say had a questionable explanation for his actions during a house fire in Lake Hattie Township on May 31 was arraigned on murder charges Friday after being arrested in St. Paul.

Fredrick William Bachman, 26, of Laporte, is accused of killing 57-year-old James Schwartzbauer that day or the day before, but it's not clear if he set the fire that destroyed the house.

The Bemidji Fire Department, along with deputies from the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office, were called to the home the two men shared, at 15098 410th St., at 5:29 a.m. on May 31. There, they found Bachman standing with personal items outside Schwartzbauer's burning house.

Conflicting stories

Bachman gave conflicting stories to police and fire personnel, was fully clothed despite saying a smoke alarm woke him and told police he saw "why the evidence points to me," according to the criminal complaint filed by the Hubbard County Attorney's Office. He was not taken into custody at the time, and police arrested him Wednesday in St. Paul.

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Bachman is being held at the Hubbard County Jail on one count of second-degree murder. Hubbard District Judge Robert Tiffany set bail Friday at $1 million without conditions and $600,000 with conditions. Bachman would have to pay $60,000 or work with a bail bondsman to be released from custody.

According to the complaint, Bachman told investigators he and Schwartzbauer had an argument on the night of May 30 and into the early hours of May 31. Bachman said Schwartzbauer, who was his roommate for four years, was his "best friend and that he loved him," according to the complaint.

Bachman told authorities Schwartzbauer had no known enemies and was "certain" no one broke into the home, the complaint states.

Shotgun found

Investigators, along with a diving team, found a shotgun in the water about 38 feet away from the home's dock, lying on top of fresh vegetation on the lake bed. Schwartzbauer's relatives said that shotgun matched one he owned.

Schwartzbauer's body was sent to the Ramsey County Medical Center for an autopsy, which indicated he died before the fire. The autopsy also showed evidence of shotgun pellets in Schwartzbauer's body tissue.

Investigators at the scene of the fire found pellets and a piece of brass consistent with a shotgun shell near where the body was located.

Bachman said he tried fighting the fire and the smoke forced him to leave, but his clothes didn't smell like smoke "nor did he have any burns or singed hair," the complaint states.

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Bachman said he went into the home at least three times in the 15 minutes that the fire lasted and wasn't able to locate or search for Schwartzbauer during those trips. He told police he assumed Schwartzbauer made it out of the burning home when he called out and didn't hear a response.

Personal belongings

Bachman was able to remove several personal belongings, including his computer, a firearm, and samurai sword. He also moved three vehicles from the attached garage, according to the complaint.

Bachman also had three of Schwartzbauer's prescription bottles, which contained Vicodin, a prescription pain killer, and a sleeping pill. Schwartzbauer had to take a sleeping pill every night, which probably resulted in him not being able to hear the smoke detector, Bachman told authorities.

The complaint states, however, that the sleeping pill bottle was filled May 11 but no pills were missing, an indication that Schwartzbauer hadn't taken the medication.

Bachman later allegedly gave conflicting information about whether Schwartzbauer would have even been able to hear the smoke detector.

Witnesses told police that Bachman was "calmly smoking a pipe at the fire scene when they arrived." They also said Bachman "did not show any emotion" until he found one of his alcohol bottles he saved from the fire was broken and "became very upset," the complaint states.

Bachman's brother was allegedly abused by Schwartzbauer in 2001, according to the complaint. The brother would have been a juvenile at that time. Pioneer records indicate a James Schwartzbauer, then 44, was arraigned in Hubbard County in April 2001 on counts of second- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

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The disposition of those charges could not be obtained and the Hubbard County Attorney's Office did not return a call for comment.

The cause of the fire, and whether or not it was intentionally set, remains unknown. Jen Longaeker, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal's office, said the agency is still investigating the blaze, but would not say whether it was under suspicion of arson.

Longaeker added that any information regarding the fire would have to come from the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Cory Aukes could not be reached Friday for comment.

Sarah Smith of Forum News Service contributed to this report.

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