A Blooming Prairie, Minn., woman suspected of killing her husband last month is now on the run from Florida police who believe she headed to the Sunshine State, murdered a woman who looks a little like her and stole her identity.
Lois Riess, 56, was believed to be in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area, possibly driving the stolen car of a woman who was found dead Monday night inside her condo in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., said Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno during a Friday news conference. U.S. marshals have joined the search.
Marceno said the victim’s missing white 2005 Acura TL with Florida license plate Y37TAA had been spotted in Louisiana and around Corpus Christi in the days since 59-year-old Pamela Hutchinson was fatally shot. Investigators believed Riess targeted Hutchinson due to their similar appearance, he said.
“Her mode of operation is to befriend women who look like her and steal their identity,” Marceno said.
Florida authorities on Friday announced they have filed murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle and grand theft and criminal use of personal identification charges against Riess.
They also said they suspect Riess used the same firearm to kill Hutchinson as she used to kill her husband, David Riess, who was found shot to death on the couple’s farm property on March 23, said Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose.
Riess became a suspect in Hutchinson’s murder after authorities in Florida this week found a white 2005 Cadillac Escalade that Riess was believed to have been driving after her husband’s death. Hutchinson’s car, identification, cash and credit cards were missing when Lee County deputies were called to her unit on San Carlos Boulevard.
More charges in Minnesota
Second-degree murder charges are expected to be filed against Riess in Dodge County by early next week in connection with the death of David Riess, Rose said.
David Riess grew up in Rochester and opened a bait shop there after serving in the U.S. Navy, according to his obituary. He eventually sold his shop and opened a commercial worm farm, the Prairie Wax Worm Farms, outside Blooming Prairie, a city of about 2,000 people that straddles the border of Dodge and Steele counties about 85 miles south of the Twin Cities.
One of David Riess’ business partners asked Dodge County authorities to conduct a welfare check after he had not been seen for a couple of weeks. Deputies went to the worm farm on Hwy. 218 outside Blooming Prairie and found he had been shot several times. It was unclear how long he had been dead, Rose said.
Authorities were unable to find his wife, but a tip led them to the Diamond Jo Casino off Interstate 35 just across the border in Northwood, Iowa, on March 24. Lois Riess, who had a penchant for visiting casinos, “had been there, but left,” before authorities got there, Rose said.
Riess and her husband were outgoing and well-known in their town of 1,900, said Jenny Cashman, manager of the Blooming Prairie Servicemen’s Club, where the couple often came for lunch.
“She’s always seemed really normal,” said Cashman, who had taken a painting class with Lois Riess and a mutual friend. “Obviously something happened, or she snapped or something.”
She said news of Riess’ death and the ongoing search for his wife have been the talk of the town.
“No one in town suspected that,” she said. “Everyone is kind of in shock about it.”
After her husband’s death, Riess had been charged with theft in connection with several suspicious withdrawals totaling $11,000 from his bank account, police said.
Law enforcement said they suspect that after David Riess was killed, she transferred nearly $10,000 from his business account into his personal account and then forged her husband’s signature on three checks to herself for $11,000.
Lois Riess is described as white, 5 feet 5 and 165 pounds, with brown eyes and blond hair.
Investigators consider her to be armed and dangerous. Anyone who has had any recent contact with her or has any information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office at 507-635-6200 or South Florida CrimeStoppers at 1-800-780-8477.
The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office is investigating David Riess’ murder with assistance from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Staff writers John Reinan and Hannah Covington contributed to this report.