Anarae Schunk was stabbed 22 times with a kitchen knife. Her clothes were cut off. Her body was thrown in a large plastic tub, loaded into the trunk of a car and then dumped beside a cornfield on a rural road, according to murder charges filed Friday.
Shavelle Chavez-Nelson, 32, and Ashley Conrade, 24, were charged in Dakota County District Court with aiding each other in intentional second-degree murder.
Authorities don’t know which defendant struck the fatal blows to the 20-year-old University of Minnesota student. It doesn’t really matter, they say.
“No one was there other than the two persons involved with killing Anarae and Anarae herself, so exactly what happened … we don’t know,” County Attorney Jim Backstrom said at a news conference. “But we have a lot of evidence in this case … that we believe implicates both of these individuals with causing her death.”
Backstrom will convene a grand jury to consider first-degree murder charges against both. A conviction on that charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Sobbing while in court
Both defendants made first appearances before District Judge Kathryn Messerich on Friday in Hastings. Nelson was brought from St. Cloud prison, where he is serving a nine-year sentence for an unrelated burglary in Richfield in June 2013.
Bail for Conrade, who sobbed throughout the hearing, was set at $2 million without conditions or $750,000 with conditions that include no use of alcohol or drugs and no contact with the victim’s family or potential witnesses.
According to the charges and interviews with family members, the last time Schunk’s family saw her alive was the early afternoon of Sept. 21, a Saturday, when her father, Monty, dropped her off at a Caribou Coffee shop on Hwy. 13 in Burnsville.
She wouldn’t tell her dad who she was meeting up with. But the family knew she had been in touch again with Nelson, whom she had dated for a short time in the summer of 2012.
Schunk met a high school friend that afternoon and told her that she planned to get together with Nelson to talk about him returning $5,000 she had lent him while they were dating. The complaints said Schunk and Nelson went to some batting cages, then returned to Conrade’s townhouse in Rosemount.
The three went to Nina’s Bar & Grill in Burnsville about 12:30 a.m. Sept. 22. At closing time, Nelson got into an altercation with Palagor (Paul) Jobi in the parking lot. Jobi, 23, of Savage, was shot dead.
Nelson is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree murder in Jobi’s death; his trial in that case is to begin Oct. 27. Conrade is charged with aiding an offender after the fact.
After Jobi’s shooting, the three returned to Conrade’s townhouse.
Backstrom said the last person to see Schunk alive was a friend of a neighbor about 3:30 a.m. outside the townhouse. Investigators believe she was killed in the kitchen between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m.
Police interviewed Conrade multiple times. She told multiple versions of what happened that morning, they said. In each, she denied killing Schunk and insisted she didn’t know who had killed her, how she died or where she could be found.
Conrade told police she’d gone to bed when they returned to her home, then got up and went to work at a Holiday gas station at 6 a.m. Sept. 22. A co-worker saw that Conrade had an injured finger, a cut on her palm and a cut on her arm.
It wasn’t until Sept. 29, when investigators confronted Conrade with items containing “blood evidence” that they had found at her townhouse, that she admitted she had seen Schunk’s body lying on the kitchen floor when she returned from work the afternoon of Sept. 22, authorities say.
She said she helped Nelson carry a plastic tub containing the young woman’s body to the trunk of her car later that afternoon. The trunk was already lined with black plastic bags that Nelson and Conrade had bought earlier that day.
The kitchen floor was cleaned with bleach they also had bought, but investigators used special lights to find blood.
Schunk’s naked body was found Sept. 30 in a roadside ditch near Lonsdale, Minn. Someone had tried to start a fire; there were ashes, charred grass and cornstalks on and around her body.
Autopsy: Death in 20 seconds
An autopsy showed that the deadly stab wounds severed Schunk’s carotid arteries and jugular veins, and slit the bottom of her throat, Backstrom said. The medical examiner said Schunk couldn’t have lived more than 20 seconds with those wounds, he said.
Investigators learned on Sept. 27 that on Sept. 22, Nelson had taken several black plastic garbage bags filled with items to his estranged wife’s apartment in St. Paul, the charges say. He allegedly threw a knife taken from Conrade’s kitchen onto the roof of the apartment building.
An analysis by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found Schunk’s blood on the knife and Conrade’s footprints on the bags. In the bags were Schunk’s bloody jacket, jeans and underwear; blood-splattered socks with “wearer-DNA” that matched Nelson and bloody flip-flops that Conrade said were hers.
There also were two yellow rubber gloves. The predominant blood found there matched Schunk. Nelson and Conrade couldn’t be excluded as matching other blood, but 99.94 percent of the world’s population could, Backstrom said.
“We do not know the reasons why Anarae Schunk was killed … and we may never know,” Backstrom said. “However we do not have to prove the motive behind [her] murder to convict the persons responsible for committing it. And by the filing of these criminal charges, evidence exists that those persons are [Nelson and Conrade].”
Backstrom said the investigation into Schunk’s disappearance and death was one of the largest and most extensive in Dakota County history. He said the Jobi and Schunk cases are interconnected and, “our hope is to resolve the Jobi prosecution first,” he said. “But again, we don’t always control the timing of these events.”
Schunk met Nelson, who has a long and violent criminal past, at a bus stop in the summer of 2012. He told her he was a hedge fund manager. Even after she learned about his real background, she believed she could help him turn his life around, her family said.
She was an accomplished tournament chess player and was described by her professors and teachers who spoke at her memorial service as a smart young woman who could have changed the world.
“From all that I have learned about Anarae Schunk … she was a lovely, intelligent and kindhearted young woman,” Backstrom said. “She may, unfortunately, have been a little too kindhearted when she began a relationship with the man who has been charged with her murder.”
He said the Schunk family has his sympathies and those of many people in Dakota County and around the state.
“But [her family] have also told me that they don’t simply want my sympathies, they want justice,” Backstrom said. “And while we can’t bring Anarae back, we can and we will do everything in our power to bring justice to the persons responsible for her death.”