A 29-year-old Shorewood woman was charged Monday with killing her boyfriend as he tried to leave the relationship, apparently beating him with a closet rod before wrapping him in plastic and duct tape and stuffing him into a freezer.
Jetaun Helen Wheeler, a mother of three whom witnesses say was in a tumultuous relationship with the 58-year-old victim, with whom she lived, was charged with second-degree murder in the killing, which took place in the couple's Shorewood home around Aug. 1.
"It was a big trunk freezer, the kind your grandmother had," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, describing the brand-new freezer, which had Christmas decorations sitting on top of it.
The name of the victim has not been released and authorities have offered no explanation of why.
The freezer, found in the garage of the couple's home, was purchased Aug. 5 — around the time of the murder and just days after a friend of the victim's said the victim had called to say that he was leaving Shorewood for Chicago because of domestic problems.
According to court records, the victim told a friend over the phone that Wheeler had assaulted him in July, leaving scratches, "and that she was crazy." The victim abruptly ended the July 31 phone call, but told the friend he would call back later. The friend never heard from the victim again.
That same day, a Carver County deputy spoke to the victim in a school parking lot about a loud phone call complaint. The man told the deputy he was leaving for Chicago, and the deputy noticed a vehicle nearby that belonged to Wheeler. There was a duffle bag inside.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 15, investigators canvassed the neighborhood, asking if the victim had been seen recently. One neighbor said that Wheeler and the victim had argued in their driveway about two weeks before.
Blood leads to search
Wheeler told authorities that the victim had taken the bus to Chicago. But when investigators searched the home on Aug. 21, they found a piece of carpeting under Wheeler's mattress, apparently soaked in blood.
A spatter of what looked like blood led investigators to the garage, where, behind two mattresses, they found the brand-new freezer. They opened it to find a man's body stuffed inside, frozen and wrapped in duct tape and plastic. Several bags of clothing and shoes were found in garbage bags concealed beneath a kitchen microwave.
The clothing the man was wearing was heavily soaked in blood, according to the complaint. He had blunt-force trauma injuries to his face, with significant lacerations to the left eye and left side of the head. There was hemorrhaging in the muscles of his neck.
The closet rod in Wheeler's bedroom was missing.
Wheeler is in custody, but authorities are searching for her children, believed to be 10, 8 and 7, Freeman said. He said they may be placed in protective custody. "We don't know what the children went through," Freeman said.
There are no Amber Alerts focused on the children, which indicates that authorities do not believe they are in danger.
Wheeler, whom Freeman described as "uncooperative," went to high school in Chicago and has lived in Duluth, public records show.