BLOOMING PRAIRIE, MINN. – On the run after allegedly murdering her husband in Minnesota, Lois Riess stopped to look up old friends in Florida.
They believe she came to kill them.
“I’m happy to be alive, and I feel lucky,” said Tess Koster, who told her story Friday in Blooming Prairie. On Thursday, she and her husband, Rod, had returned there from Florida and learned that Riess, who also lives in the small southern Minnesota town, had been captured in Texas.
Riess, 56, was in a Texas jail Friday, accused of killing her husband in late March and then heading to Florida, where she is charged in the death of a 59-year-old woman in Fort Myers Beach and stealing her identity. Authorities from Minnesota and Florida were in Texas on Friday, working to determine where Riess’ next stop will be.
Florida seems to be the most likely venue for Riess to be tried first because authorities there have already charged her with murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle and grand theft and criminal use of personal identification. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said Riess is not yet charged in connection with her husband’s death.
“We are taking time to build the strongest case against Lois Riess for David Riess’ murder,” Rose said during a news conference Friday. “This is a tragic and devastating time for both families.”
Asked about his reaction to Lois Riess’ capture, Rose simply said, “Relieved.”
‘My heart skipped a beat’
The Kosters believe they’re the reason Riess fled to Fort Myers Beach. The Kosters had known the Riesses for more than 10 years. Rod Koster had fished with David Riess, and the Riesses had stayed at the Kosters’ cabin.
“We even invited them to come stay with us in Florida a couple of years ago, but they didn’t come,” Tess Koster said.
That connection apparently became a part of Riess’ long run from the law.
Using a cheap cellphone she bought under the alias “Stormy Liberty,” Riess found the Kosters’ Fort Myers address in the development where they live and own several rental condos.
On April 2 — more than a week after police believe Riess killed her husband — Tess Koster looked up from cleaning out the garage and saw a woman with silver hair get out of a Cadillac Escalade and walk toward her. The woman had a notepad in her hand and was looking at house numbers.
“Can I help you?” Tess Koster called out. Their eyes met. “My heart skipped a beat. It was Lois Riess!”
Riess immediately turned and walked away, muttering, “Wrong number, wrong number,” Koster said. Riess got in her vehicle and drove away.
The Kosters knew Riess was a fugitive and called police, who confirmed that the caller ID “Stormy Liberty” belonged to Riess. As police and U.S. marshals searched for her, Riess apparently hung around the Kosters’ neighborhood for a full week, walking the streets and eating at local restaurants.
During that time, Tess Koster said she was petrified, thinking Riess might return. Koster and her husband believe Riess came to rob them — and possibly kill them. Tess Koster is 58 and bears a resemblance to Riess.
The Kosters found out later that on the day Riess appeared at their residence, she had gone to one of the couple’s rental condos, knocked on the door and told the renters she was supposed to be staying there. Not knowing who she was, the renters told Riess she was mistaken, and she left.
A week later, police found Pamela Hutchinson shot to death in her timeshare condo less than a block from the Koster residence. Authorities believe Riess targeted Hutchinson because they had similar appearances.
“I’m so glad she was caught,” Tess Koster said.
Struggling to understand
People in Blooming Prairie are struggling to grasp the enormity of the crimes Riess is charged with.
“Everyone is speculating,” said Terry Trom, owner of a motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle dealership. “She snapped. What can you say? There’s no explanation.
“It would be nice to know what happened,” Trom said. “The guy that was her husband is the only one who knows, and he’s not here.”
Todd Kanestadt of Salem Corners, about 35 miles east of Blooming Prairie, knew Dave Riess for 20 years, spending a lot of that time fishing for walleyes and hunting duck, deer and pheasant. Dave Riess was friendly, easygoing and a lovable guy who easily found humor in every situation, Kanestadt said. Kanestadt and others prefer not to say much about Lois Riess in part because Dave Riess’ death and the crimes his wife is accused of have stunned the town.
“It’s been traumatic,” Kanestadt said. “I never saw any trouble with his wife. … I just don’t understand it. Maybe he just wanted to see the best in her.”
There was just no sign of something like this could happen, Kanestadt said. “It’s devastating.”
‘She can’t strike again’
The nation had been on alert since authorities began looking for Lois Riess after police found her husband shot to death March 23 in the couple’s Blooming Prairie home. The search intensified after police found the second victim in Florida on April 9.
In recent days, publicity about the case hit newspapers and TV stations nationwide, and billboards with Riess’ face went up across five Southwestern states. That generated hundreds of tips, including Thursday’s, which led deputies to the grandmother of five who authorities dubbed “Losing Streak Lois” because of her penchant for gambling and visiting casinos.
Authorities feared if they didn’t catch her soon that the “stone-cold killer” may strike again, said Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno. “There is a sense of relief that a killer is off the street,” he said.
South Padre Island Police Chief Randy Smith said Riess stopped Thursday at one restaurant in the city about 40 miles from the Mexican border, but decided not to eat there. It was there a worker recognized her and called authorities.
A short time later, two deputy U.S. marshals from Brownsville and South Padre Island officers found Riess, clad in a yellow tank top, at Sea Ranch Restaurant and Bar. They took her into custody about 8:25 p.m. Thursday.
“She knew it was coming,” said John Kinsey, deputy U.S. marshal in Florida. “She was not surprised and offered no resistance.”
Authorities found the stolen white Acura she had been spotted driving in Florida and several other states over the past week. She apparently was staying in a hotel in South Padre Island, but it was not immediately known if she had registered under her own name, Pamela Hutchinson or another name, Kinsey said.
Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-7402 email@example.com 612-673-7768