A pregnant woman whose body was found last week in a burning travel trailer in Uptown has been identified as a 28-year-old Minneapolis resident missing since late October, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said.
The body of Annysa M. Zierhut was discovered near S. Hennepin Avenue and W. 35th Street in Minneapolis.
Shannon Michael Benson, 42, of Minneapolis, and Jade M. Rissell, 27, of Elk River, have been charged in district court with two counts of second-degree murder in the death of Zierhut and her unborn child.
The two have been jailed since Sunday night in lieu of $1 million bail. They are due back in court Dec. 15. Messages seeking comment were left for their attorneys Friday.
People close to the victim told investigators that she went missing around Oct. 29-31 in Anoka County.
Morgan Barone, of Columbia Heights, said she and Zierhut were best friends. "I hung out with her like every single day," she said.
Barone, 31, said they shared an Airbnb in downtown Minneapolis on the night of Oct. 28 and returned to Barone's residence the next day. It was the last time they saw each other, the friend said.
"I was taking a nap, and I woke up because she was leaving and accidentally rang the doorbell instead of locking the door," Barone told the Star Tribune. "She had a key to my building, so I figured she would just ring the doorbell when she was back, and I went back to bed."
However, Barone said, she woke up "and she still wasn't there. I was thinking maybe her boyfriend picked her up. … I really didn't think much of it until her boyfriend called me at 7 that night and asked me where she was, and I said, 'I thought she was with you.' "
Barone said she and Zierhut became fast friends while dancing at the downtown Minneapolis nightclub Dream Girls.
Barone said Benson knew Zierhut after meeting at Dream Girls. "He was madly in love with her, [but] he didn't like her lifestyle," she said.
"She had the biggest heart ever, and she was just so kind and generous," Barone said. "You're not even asking her, and she'll say, 'Hey, I have this extra thing. Would you like to have it?' We were always giving each other clothes, and giving each other shoes, and giving each other everything. Like half my closet is her stuff and half her closet is my stuff. That's just how we were as friends."
The deaths of Zierhut and her unborn child are among 88 homicides this year in Minneapolis, according to a Star Tribune database. That's the city's second-highest total for a year, topped only by 97 killings in 1995. There were 85 homicides in Minneapolis in 2020.
Authorities have yet to indicate a motive for the killing.
Benson is registered with the state as a predatory sex offender. His criminal history in Minnesota includes three convictions for sexual assault in the late 1990s, two in Olmsted County and one in Nicollet County. He also was convicted of assaulting his then-wife in their apartment and threatening to kill her.
Rissell has been convicted twice for assault, twice for drunken driving, twice for drug offenses and once for theft, court records show.
On Nov. 8, police responded to a fire at the travel trailer near 35th Street and Hennepin. Authorities found Zierhut's body inside. Police determined the trailer was sold Sept. 11 to Benson and Rissell, according to the charges.
Rissell told investigators she set the blaze in an attempt to conceal the woman's body, the charges read. She said that about a week before the fire, she lured the woman over Facebook to the trailer, where she beat her into unconsciousness with brass knuckles, the charges continued.
Rissell said she and Benson left the woman in the trailer for a few days before taking it to 35th and Hennepin, where they set it on fire, the charging documents read.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482