Charges were filed Monday in the death of a college freshman whose body was found in a farm field in western Minnesota in late October after it was left there by a man who panicked when the woman passed out as they allegedly injected methamphetamine together.
Nickolas R. McArdell, 21, of Starbuck, Minn., was charged in Douglas County District Court with interference with a body, a gross misdemeanor. He’s currently in jail on a probation violation in connection with unrelated case.
County Attorney Chad Larson had said that McArdell could not be prosecuted for murder in the Oct. 14 death of Laura Ann Schwendemann, 18, because evidence did not support it. A farmer discovered Schwendemann’s body nearly two weeks later.
The parents of Schwendemann were not immediately available Monday afternoon to comment about the case filed against McArdell. An uncle of Schwendemann’s had little to say. “Ask the police what they think about it. They are the ones who have talked to him,” said David Schwendemann.
The criminal complaint said that after McArdell left the University of Minnesota, Morris, student in the field, he dropped off her possessions at her parents’ house the next morning and lied to her father, saying he last saw her get into someone else’s car.
McArdell told much the same story to law enforcement before eventually acknowledging that Schwendemann overdosed and he left her in a location he could not recall, the complaint continued.
The Midwest medical examiner’s office in Anoka revealed on Dec. 1 that in Schwendemann’s body were methamphetamine and THC, an active component in marijuana. The complaint described the presence of the drugs in Schwendemann as “significant.”
According to the complaint:
Daniel Schwendemann, Laura’s father, told the Sheriff’s Office that McArdell came by the family’s home on the morning of Oct. 15 and dropped off her belongings. The young man also asked her father to not contact law enforcement.
McArdell told Alexandria police that day that Schwendemann exited his car, got into another vehicle in Kensington and he didn’t see her again. While sticking with the same scenario the following day with other members of law enforcement, McArdell gave a urine sample. It tested positive for meth, and he was arrested for violating probation from a felony domestic assault conviction.
Once a widespread search for Schwendemann began on Oct. 18, McArdell told authorities he had blacked out and may have left her body somewhere. He said he didn’t say anything earlier because he didn’t want to get in trouble for her overdosing.
Schwendemann’s body was found on Oct. 26 by a farmer in Orange Township as he drove his combine in the field of corn southeast of Alexandria. McArdell explained five days later that the two of them were driving around injecting meth. He said he began “messing with her” by pretending that police were chasing them.
She started “freaking out,” he said, kicking at the dashboard and windows. He pulled over and tried to calm her down, but she went into another fit before quieting down.
Moments later, Schwendemann “began to breathe heavily,” the complaint read, and McArdell could not get her attention. He saw that she was not breathing and could not feel a pulse on her neck.
He drove to the farm field, smoked a cigarette, put her body on his shoulder and lugged it into the field.
The next morning, he called several people asking whether they had seen Schwendemann. He put the drugs and paraphernalia that were in his car in the trash and then contacted his dealer for more meth.
Upon release of the autopsy’s findings into Schwendemann’s death, Larson issued a plea for drug dealers to consider the damage they’re doing. “How many lives must be taken?” his statement said. “How many parents must bury their children?”
Larson also bemoaned the fact that McArdell either didn’t know or didn’t care that the state had recently passed the good Samaritan law, which would have shielded him from prosecution for methamphetamine possession if he had called 911 to report her overdose. “He chose otherwise,” the statement read.
Schwendemann had lived in nearby Hancock and Starbuck. She had been missing since the night of Oct. 14, when she was last spotted that night at a gas station in nearby Alexandria with a man believed to be McArdell.
Schwendemann grew up in west-central Minnesota, attended Minnewaska High School in Pope County, took classes at Alexandria Technical and Community College and finished high school through the Runestone Regional Learning Center in Alexandria. At college, she lived off-campus and was majoring in management, with a focus on financial and organizational management.