A rolling bachelor party that started in the Twin Cities and was bound for the Kentucky Derby came unraveled not far down the road when the celebrants discovered a man’s body in an exterior compartment of their rented recreational vehicle.
Authorities have not identified the man or said what led to his death. The body was discovered late Thursday after the RV, which was rented from a private party in Anoka, pulled off in Winona, Minn., along Hwy. 61 and parked outside a closed-for-the-night Shopko discount store.
John Kirk, one of the passengers, said he and some of the others were told that the RV’s owner had cautioned that the two compartments near the front “do not work and should not be opened.”
However, as more of the guys were picked up to the south, some of them didn’t get the message.
“They opened it up, and that’s when the body was found,” Kirk, of St. Louis Park, said Friday.
The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it would not “speculate on any factors at this time.”
The body has been turned over to the Mayo Clinic for an autopsy, according to Winona police. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also involved in the investigation.
Jake Wanek of Minneapolis was one of the men in the bachelor party and explained that all were either from Winona or attended Winona State University. The Shopko parking lot was the final rendezvous for pulling together the last of the 11 twenty-somethings before continuing to Louisville.
The first hint of death came when one of the guys opened a front compartment on one side, then closed the door, Wanek said. That sent off the whoosh of an odd odor. When the door on the other side near the front was opened, that’s when the body was spotted, he said.
Wanek said that he saw the body from the knees down — feet bare and with pants on — and described it as a man who “didn’t look fresh. Let’s put it that way.”
He said the group didn’t press its collective curiosity. “We weren’t really too interested in poking around in there.”
Police were called. They questioned the men and seized the RV, which is more than 30 feet long and has a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.
Kirk said it crossed his mind that “maybe initially” any one or all of them might be considered suspects.
“When we were first questioned, they seemed a little over the top, yelling and asking us questions,” he said.
Then it was down to the police station for more questioning over several hours and even being fingerprinted before the group left in the middle of the night, their belongings still on the RV as of Friday afternoon.
Groom-to-be Dan Trainor, of Rochester, said “the cops were definitely kind of suspicious. But in the first couple of minutes, they realized we had nothing to do with it.”
Trainor said the whole episode “was like we were in the middle of a movie,” but he doesn’t see it as any kind of troubling omen for living happily ever after.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” he said. “We’re just getting all the bad news out of the way right now.”
As for the bachelor party, Wanek said the plan was to stay in Winona on Friday night and watch the Minnesota Wild playoff hockey game.
“Then we’ll go up to Canterbury and watch the [Derby] from there.”
Having read news accounts of the group's trek to Churchill Downs derailed, Canterbury officials said they will give the guys special treatment Saturday.
"We will have some space for them and will do what we can to make it the next best thing to being at Churchill," said Canterbury spokesman Jeff Maday.