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Amanda Jo Vangrinsven: Murder charge filed against man she'd been with before her disappearance

The 32-year-old's body was later found buried on his property, charges say.
Richard Melvin Peterson II.

Richard Melvin Peterson II.

A 37-year-old Isanti man, at the bar for hours with Amanda Jo Vangrinsven before she disappeared and was later found dead on his property, is now charged with murder.

Richard Melvin Peterson II was charged Thursday in Isanti County with one count of second-degree murder. Authorities say surveillance footage, witness accounts, and cellphone location records all prove Peterson did not drop the 32-year-old Vangrinsven off at the Isanti VFW park after an evening of drinking, as he claimed.

Amanda Jo Vangrinsven.

Amanda Jo Vangrinsven.

Instead, on the night of Aug. 5, the two went back to his property — the same place she was later found buried in the ground, dead from a gunshot wound to the head, according to the charges.

Peterson made his first court appearance Thursday morning, where he applied for a public defender. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m.

Family and colleagues of Vangrinsven began expressing concern on Aug. 6, the day after she'd been out with Vangrinsven, after she did not show up for her shift and was unreachable. Her disappearance led to days of volunteer searches in the area.

Authorities located her body buried on Peterson's property on Aug. 10, 

According to the criminal complaint:

Peterson and Vangrinsven were at the VFW the evening of Aug. 5. She worked there and he served as vice commander, so both were known to the workers. Surveillance footage shows them spending a "significant" amount of time together. 

Worried about Vangrinsven's level of intoxication, colleagues arranged for a patron to drive her home. Peterson instead offered to do so, using her car. But they returned 10 minutes later, holding hands, and Peterson stated incorrectly nobody had told him her address.

After that they were seen "touching each other very affectionately," disquieting VFW workers since they know Peterson is married. 

At 9:20 p.m. the two left for the Dugout Bar in East Bethel, where the "affectionate behavior" continued for some time. But shortly before they left at 11:05 p.m., they abruptly "appeared much less friendly and affectionate with each other," staff accounts and surveillance footage indicate.

They left the Dugout Bar in Peterson's pickup. Cellphone location records show them going to Peterson's property at 261st Avenue NW in Isanti, arriving there at about 11:16 p.m. via one specific route. Vangrinsven's phone indicated she was there at the property as late as 11:36 p.m.

After departing the Dugout, nobody saw or heard from Vangrinsven again.

VFW staff were concerned when Vangrinsven didn't show up for work the morning of Aug. 6. They also had noticed Peterson drive off in the opposite direction of her home the night prior. One concerned employee reached out to Peterson — he told them he'd dropped Vangrinsven off at the VFW Park nearby. When later informed police had been contacted, Peterson responded with "nonsensical emojis."

Peterson was also supposed to work that morning, at the Pronto Pup stand at Pie Day in Braham, but didn't show up. Instead, after telling the employee he'd dropped Vangrinsven at the park, he was seen on surveillance footage dropping keys off at the VFW and appearing to search around for something.

On Aug. 8, authorities executed a search warrant at Peterson's place, seizing certain items. Peterson also attempted to show investigators the route he would have traveled the night of Aug. 5, though said he had trouble remembering. Authorities also pointed out evidence showed it not only wasn't true, but that it was impossible he could have made the trip in 14 minutes, as his story suggested.

On Aug. 10, investigators executed another search warrant at Peterson's property. A bloodhound, an electronics detection dog and a cadaver dog all indicated similar areas of interest, particularly a pond that cellphone location data from Vangrinsven's cellphone appeared to stop at the night of Aug. 5.

Peterson's spouse told authorities the night of Aug. 5, she tried to call him at 11:12 p.m. and 11:16 p.m., to no answer. He appeared home at 11:20 p.m. and became very upset, threatening to harm himself and pointing a gun at his head. Spouse got him to calm down and go to bed. 

She also said Peterson had been out the morning of Aug. 6 using a tractor to dig holes and push dirt around the property. She noted Peterson claimed to have fallen in the pond at one point, as well.

Peterson's spouse told law enforcement, prior, that Peterson claimed to have fallen in the pond, after Vangrinsven went missing. Spouse had also seen him morning of Aug. 6 using a tractor to dig holes, move dirt. Spouse said she tried to call Peterson at 11:12 and 11:16 p.m. night of Aug. 5. No answer. He appeared home at 11:20 p.m. and at one point became very upset, threatening to harm himself and pointing a gun at his head. Spouse got him to calm down and go to bed. 

Authorities found Vangrinsven's body buried at the southwest end of the property. They had to use equipment to get to her remains.

The medical examiner said she died of a single gunshot to the back of the head, and authorities found specific markings on the bullet matching a type of barrel. Authorities recovered two guns belonging to Peterson, both of which he'd given to a friend the day after Vangrinsven went missing. Suspicious, the friend gave them to Peterson's family, who gave them to police. Both have the type of barrel in question.

Initial tests also showed signs of blood on some equipment taken from Peterson's land.

Peterson, at no point, admitted to Vangrinsven being on his property.

The charges note: "Surveillance of the park, as well as that of the area around the Dugout Bar, along with location data from cell phones show that [Peterson] did not travel to the locations, or along the routes he later indicated to law enforcement."

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