WILLMAR, MINN. – Five days after 79-year-old Lila Warwick was killed in a burglary allegedly plotted by her 17-year-old grandson, hundreds of family, friends and community members gathered at the Willmar church that she had spent years at worshiping and volunteering. They mourned, but tried to focus not on the graphic way she was killed , but on her life as a caring, generous church volunteer dedicated to her two children and eight grandchildren.

“She was an outstanding woman, always a giver, always serving other people,” said Mary Ann Kon, a longtime friend who is in a senior citizen exercise class with Warwick, adding about the brutal break-in: “For us widows, it’s scary.”
 

Robert I. Warwick, the grandson of victim Lila Warwick, was charged Friday in Kandiyohi District Court along with Brok Junkermeier, 19, and Devon J. Jenkins, 16.

Her funeral was held at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where she had volunteered. In a Facebook post, the Rev. Greg Enterline wrote to the congregation:  "I'm sure many of you have been trying to process the fact that Lila will not be with us every week at worship. I am doing the same thing. It's hard to believe that someone would take the life of this wonderful woman who cared so much about others and about her faith."

Shocked neighbors and family members said Lila Warwick had helped raise “Robbie” and loved her grandson.

Junkermeier slashed the victim with a knife, then strangled her, while Jenkins acted as a lookout, the charges say. Robert Warwick admitted to plotting the break-in and giving the other teens information about his grandmother’s house and habits, investigators contend.

“It’s hard enough to find out your mother was murdered,” said Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter. “But the fact that it was by the hands of her own grandson — that’s even more difficult. It’s a very, very sad day.”

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Daniel Hartog said that as the investigation continues, “we’re talking to more people who could possibly be involved.”

Preliminary autopsy results show that Lila Warwick was stabbed several times Monday morning and strangled. Her body was found late that afternoon inside her rambler-style house along Hwy. 12 on the eastern edge of town.

Warwick is accused in a juvenile petition of two counts of second-degree murder, intentional and unintentional. Jenkins is also accused in a juvenile petition of the same counts, and of having “aided, advised, hired, counseled or conspired” with the others. Junkermeier is charged with intentional second-degree murder.

Junkermeier, a 2012 graduate of Willmar High School with a record of petty crime, and Jenkins were arrested Wednesday night.

Robert Warwick was arrested Thursday afternoon. All are from Willmar. All remain in custody, with Junkermeier’s bail set at $1 million.

Ekbom said that her nephew was “the first thought that came to my mind” when she learned of her mother’s death. “As much as I didn’t want to believe it was him, I suspected.”

The teen was abusing drugs, Ekbom said, and his grandmother was trying to get him help.

“I love my nephew and want him to get help,” she said. “But he made some wrong choices, and he needs to have the consequences.”

Robert Warwick’s mother said Lila had been devoted to him and his siblings. “My kids are her life,” said Jennifer Warwick, who divorced Robert’s father years ago but stayed close to her former mother-in-law.

Victim slashed, robbed

According to the charges, Ekbom told investigators that Robert Warwick was abusing drugs, had said he hated his grandmother, and texted a cousin months ago asking what he would get if she died.

Two days after the killing, two witnesses told authorities that they had heard Junkermeier and Warwick talk some time ago of killing Lila Warwick but thought they were joking.

On Tuesday, Junkermeier spoke to a longtime friend for two hours about the plot and how it was carried out, the charges say. According to that account, Robert Warwick masterminded robbing and killing his grandmother, believing she had a safe holding $40,000.

Junkermeier and Jenkins went to her home at 4 a.m. Monday, with Jenkins acting as the lookout in a car while Junkermeier used a key to the garage to get inside. Junkermeier, having been told by Robert Warwick that Lila Warwick checked her mail about 6:30 a.m., waited near the basement steps in the garage and struck her with a “sword-type knife” on the hand, causing her to bleed heavily.

He told her to go to her computer and access her bank account. Seeing the balance, he ordered her to write him a check for $1,500.

After she wrote the check, Junkermeier choked Warwick, saw that she wasn’t dead, stabbed her several times and then “brought or threw her into the basement.”

He left the home and got rid of the weapon, his shoes, the mask and gloves that he’d worn.

Junkermeier put the check in his bank account and was supposed to give Robert Warwick $700.

Robert Warwick and Junkermeier returned to the home about 2 p.m. to take more possessions but didn’t find any. They returned at 5 p.m. to find police at the scene.

Junkermeier was arrested Wednesday and confessed, confirming many details of the crime he had shared a day earlier with his friend. When investigators interviewed Jenkins, he said Junkermeier came out of the house, put items in the back seat and said he had killed “Robbie’s grandmother.”

On Thursday, Robert Warwick at first denied knowing anything about the attack on his grandmother. He then acknowledged the plan to rob and assault Lila Warwick and that he directed Junkermeier to where his grandmother lived. But he said he did not expect that she would be killed.

Robert Warwick added that he gave Junkermeier the garage access code so he could get inside a week earlier. However, Junkermeier and an unidentified juvenile became “spooked” and abandoned the plan, he said.

The grandson said he and Junkermeier went back to the house in the afternoon and took a safe containing savings bonds. Robert Warwick said he was supposed to get $300 from Junkermeier but never saw any money.

The day after the killing, Junkermeier picked up someone who needed a ride. After driving by Lila Warwick’s home, he admitted to killing her, then showed his passenger his bloody palm and a 20-inch knife that was “full of blood.”

A search of Junkermeier’s home turned up bloody gym shoes in a trash can, a safe and charred Social Security card, 30 $1,000 savings bonds in the name of Lila Warwick in a nightstand, a burned motor vehicle title in her name and other charred documents in a garbage can.

‘She loved those kids’

Deputies were called Monday afternoon by someone from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Willmar requesting someone check on the welfare of Lila Warwick. The grandmother of eight helped with office duties and vacation Bible school at the church.

A woman who lives near Robert Warwick who asked not to be named said her family knows “Robbie” well and “he always seemed like a good kid.”

“I didn’t see it coming at all,” she said.

The neighbor would often see Robert Warwick shooting hoops at the court less than a block from his house. Junkermeier was his buddy and came by often. The other suspect, Jenkins, had been living with the Warwicks “for at least two months,” she said.

Standing in his driveway Friday, Don Dokken remembered how he and Lila Warwick, his next-door neighbor for 10 years, traded lawn mowing and recipes for peach crisp. She protested when he hired a company to tend to his yard while he and his wife were away. “She came over and said, ‘No, I do that,’ ” he said. “She helped everybody.”

For many years, Lila Warwick would pick up “Robbie” and his sister each morning and bring them to school, he said.

“She loved those kids,” said his wife, Janet.

“Oh yeah, she loved them,” Don Dokken said. “She raised them.”

 

jenna.ross@startribune.com 612-673-7168 pwalsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482