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Tamara Lee Mason wanted to play Yahtzee with her three sons after they all returned home from Christmas dinner at a friend's. When the boys wouldn't, she got mad, grabbed a few things and stormed out of the house.
That's the story Mason's oldest, Dylan C. Clemens, told investigators back on Dec. 27, according to criminal charges filed in Stevens County District Court. A much stranger story is laid out in criminal charges filed Tuesday against Clemens, 25. His half-brothers Andrew Q. Cobb, 18, and Jacob S. Cobb, 17, were charged Friday.
Mason's decomposing remains were found Thursday buried in the back yard of her home in Alberta, a town of about 130 people in far western Minnesota.
The charges said Jacob Cobb strangled his mother on the living room floor. Then he or his brother Andrew put a plastic bag over her head and tightened a belt around her neck. Clemens allegedly drove her body west to South Dakota, then east to Glenwood, Minn., before storing the corpse in a garbage can in a shed for months until the ground thawed enough for the two elder brothers to bury it.
Jacob Cobb is charged in juvenile court with two counts of second-degree murder. A hearing must be held, but it is presumed he will be tried as an adult, authorities said Tuesday. Andrew Cobb and Clemens are charged with accessory after the fact to murder and remain in custody. Clemens is serving time at St. Cloud prison for a domestic abuse conviction and violating an order for protection.
"It is very strange," Stevens County Sheriff Randy Willis said Tuesday. "She wanted to play Yahtzee and they didn't. That seemed to be, in their minds, what expedited her sudden demise."
Of the family, Willis said, "It's probably not the most functional family in the world, but it's not the most dysfunctional, either."
The criminal complaints describe these events:
The Stevens County Sheriff's Office initially treated Mason's disappearance as a missing-person case. Deputies called various people but no one had heard from her or knew where she was. A friend of Mason's told a deputy Clemens had talked to him about how to get rid of evidence, but the friend said he believed Clemens was talking about stolen property.
On May 21, the same friend told another deputy Clemens had said Jacob Cobb had had some sort of physical altercation with his mother. The friend later said Clemens specifically asked about how to dispose of a body. The friend told him a body should be put in a hog pen so the hogs could devour it. The head, the friend said, could be dumped in a slough or pond that wasn't regularly fished.
Also on May 21, an informant told an investigator that he'd been with Clemens in a bar and Clemens had told him his youngest brother had strangled their mother. The informant said he asked, "What did you do with her?" and Clemens replied, "Oh, it's somewhere."
In an interview with a deputy and an agent from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension June 23, Clemens denied any involvement in her disappearance. He said he'd heard from family members that she had gone to Ohio, and he took a bus there to try to find her.
But on July 6, Clemens told investigators the supposed real story: After returning from Christmas dinner, Clemens said Jacob Cobb told him "he didn't know if he could take it anymore and that he wanted to kill their mother," the complaints said.
Clemens said he later heard a scuffle in the living room and saw Jacob had their mother in a chokehold on the floor. He said he saw Jacob Cobb checking her pulse, then putting a plastic garbage bag on her head and securing it with a belt.
Clemens said he, too, checked his mother's pulse and started to loosen the belt "but stated he felt there was nothing he could do because she was already dead," the complaints said.
The body was put into the trunk of a car and Clemens and Jacob Cobb drove to South Dakota, planning to dump the body. At some point, the body was moved to the back seat, the complaints said. The documents said Clemens refused to dump the body and returned home with it, propping it in a sitting position against a basement pillar.
The next day, Clemens said, he put the body in a plastic garbage can and drove it to the home of Dana Hanson, a friend who lived in Glenwood, about 35 miles east of Alberta. Clemens told Hanson he had an animal carcass and asked about burning it in an outdoor wood furnace on the property, the complaints said.
When told Tuesday about Mason's death and the ensuing events, Hanson was flabbergasted. "All he [Clemens] said is that his mom had took off and his brothers were upset," Hanson said. "That is just insane!"
A few days later, the complaints said, Clemens returned to Alberta and put his mother's body in a shed. He told officers it took him three days to dig a hole once the ground thawed.
The next day, July 7, authorities unearthed the body. The preliminary autopsy report from the Ramsey County medical examiner said Mason died of "asphyxiation due to neck compression resulting in a fractured larynx."
The same day Mason's body was found, investigators talked to Andrew Cobb, who told them essentially the same story as Clemens. He said after arguing with their mother about the Yahtzee game, the brothers talked about "a desire to have their mother dead," the complaints said. And the middle son said he was the one who put a plastic bag over Mason's head "in order to prevent any biological material from being deposited on the floor which could later be detected by crime scene investigators," the complaint said.
When investigators pressed him on whether his mother was still alive when he put the bag over her head, Andrew Cobb "indicated that he was unsure, but that she had stopped moving," the complaints said.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252