Eden Prairie police visited Wayne and Lisa Matula’s home Sunday afternoon to tell them what they already knew in their hearts: The body found in a shallow grave Saturday was that of their only daughter, Mandy, who had been missing for almost six months.
Wayne Matula said officers told him his 24-year-old daughter had died from a single bullet to her head and that the Ramsey County medical examiner had identified the remains through dental records.
On Sunday evening, Eden Prairie Police Chief Rob Reynolds confirmed that the long search for Matula was over.
“Tonight our every thought is with the Matula family,” Reynolds said. “I believe for us and the community it is a sense of relief. Mandy was very popular in the city, so it’s something that affects the entire community.”
Matula’s father said police told him she likely died the night she disappeared. He last saw his daughter — “the love of my life” — leave the house with her ex-boyfriend, David Roe, also 24, late on May 1 without her cellphone or purse.
Neighbors down the block, near Victory Lutheran Church, reported hearing possible gunshots about 1 a.m.; an unspent bullet was found in the church parking lot.
Reynolds said that police believe Mandy Matula was killed in Eden Prairie and that Roe “is our only suspect.”
Roe killed himself the next day, shooting himself in the head while parked outside the Eden Prairie Police Department, where officers had summoned him to be questioned about Matula’s disappearance. Roe had told her family that she had gotten out of his car in a nearby park.
Her body was finally found Saturday, buried in Mississippi River County Park north of Sartell, Minn.
Friends and family members had conducted countless searches in the area near St. Cloud, where Roe had attended college for a time.
A Boy Scout leader hiking alone came across a small piece of fabric buried in the ground, which led police to the burial site. Reynolds called it an “actual excavated grave,” which police believe was dug the night Matula died.
Animals had disturbed the body, which had been wrapped in a blanket, Wayne Matula said. The clothing had disintegrated to the point that investigators couldn’t tell the color of her shirt, he added. Although her body had deteriorated to bones, Matula’s class ring and the embroidered logo of her University of Minnesota Duluth fast-pitch softball team, along with her number — 14 — were recognizable, he said.
‘Joy and sorrow’
“There’s joy and there’s sorrow,” Matula’s father said. “Joy, because we finally found her. Sorrow, because this is not the end we hoped for.”
Roe was always the primary suspect in Matula’s disappearance, especially after he shot himself, leaving a Post-it note on his car about a goodbye video for his younger brother.
“The only thing that’s hard to understand, there weren’t any clues anyplace,” Wayne Matula said. “We don’t know if he planned this … ”
His daughter had broken off her relationship with Roe, but the two remained friends and she saw him almost every day.
Wayne Matula said that in the month before his daughter disappeared, he remembers asking her three separate times, “Do you have any concerns about your safety?”
And she’d respond, “Aw, Dad, don’t worry about that. I can handle him.”
“He was a nice young man,” her father said. “He spoke very softly. I never saw an angry side of him, never heard him raise his voice.
“Through all this, too, his parents were hoping that something would exonerate him,” Wayne Matula said. “Hoping some evidence would come through. I’m sure their hearts are grieving, too.”
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office, said it’s almost certain that no charges will be brought.
“There really is nothing the criminal justice system can do in a situation like this,” Laszewski said. “The comparison is to any other murder-suicide we have.”
It’s most likely that the case won’t even be presented to prosecutors, “because there’s no living suspect at this point,” he said. If police can find evidence that others are involved in Matula’s death, “we’ll certainly take a look at it,” he said.
Kathie Radcliffe, who lives across the street from the Matulas, was one of the point people in the search for Mandy Matula. Hundreds of people came by her house to pick up signs and posters to blanket the Twin Cities and the St. Cloud area.
“I lost count after 40,000 [posters],” she said Sunday. “We blanketed every licensing agent in five counties that would be giving out fishing licenses. Every boat launch. Any access to water.”
Matula’s brother, Steven, became a fixture not only in the searches for his sister, but in efforts to help other families look for women who were missing and believed to be the victims of violent assaults by men in their lives.
On Sunday night, Chief Reynolds praised Steven Matula and his organization, Minnesota United, “for all the searches they put together to help us find Mandy.”
He also thanked Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner and his department, who “treated the case as if it was their very own.”
The only bright spot in the futile search, Radcliffe said, was “in the midst of the horrific situation we were all in, we found hundreds of people who pulled together with one goal. That was to bring her home. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 20 years and I can say honestly that I recently have gotten to know my neighbors better. … Now we can find the peace. We can move forward and we can continue to maintain those good relationships. She brought us together.”
In her mind’s eye, Radcliffe said, she can see Mandy Matula and her father in the front yard, playing catch for hours on end.
“I always caught for her,” Wayne Matula said. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’d do anything to have her back again. You don’t just lose a child. Never saw this coming.”
A memorial service is tentatively planned for Nov. 9.