Charges: Woman missing for weeks in northern Minnesota was strangled

A 34-year-old man has been charged with her murder.
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Michelle missing outing

A man has been charged with the murder by strangulation of a woman whose disappearance in northern Minnesota sparked almost two weeks of searching.

Joshua Karjala, 34, of Swatara, has been charged with 2nd-degree murder in the death of Michelle Mae, 35, of Outing, whose body was found on his property in mid-October.

She had been reported missing on Oct. 3, with her boyfriend telling police he'd last spoken to her the night before on the phone, when she said she was driving to work at Dollar General in Longville.

Her ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, daughter and son also said they'd last heard from her on Oct. 2, with police finding that her cellphone had been switched off at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 3. 

Police found her Jeep Liberty on Oct. 4 off the Soo Line ATV Trail near Swatara, with tire marks suggesting she had come to an abrupt stop. The keys were still in the ignition and the driver's seat had been moved back and reclined, which police thought "odd" as she was only 5'1".

One of Mae's friends came forward to show police a text she'd received from Mae in September, which contained a conversation between her and a man named "Jashua" that police later determined to be Karjala. 

Karjala referred to Mae as "babe" in the message and gave her his address, which was just 0.3 miles from where Mae's Jeep was found.

When police initially interviewed Karjala, he said he knew Mae – albeit not by her full name – because she'd come to her house a few nights earlier to sleep with him, saying he'd met her through Plenty of Fish.

He said he'd been around at her house on Oct. 2, and they'd had sex before she left to meet up with someone else "in town."

"Sergeant Aaron Cook noted defendant spoke indifferently about Michelle Mae and did not appear to be concerned about her whereabouts," the criminal complaint says.

A further search of Karjala's property a few days later found remnants of cloth and wire from a bra, women's clothing, a scarf and an iPad case in his wood stove, which family identified as Mae's.

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Eventually, Karjala's girlfriend told police she had suspicions that he had done something to Mae, noting that the day she was reported missing she came home to find the home locked with Karjala inside, and that he'd been to Home Depot to purchase mortar and bricks, paying with cash.

Another search of the house saw police discover a trap door leading to the crawl space, which had recently been screwed shut, with blood found on the door. They found a newly constructed area at the southeast corner of the property, and when one of the cinder blocks was knocked loose, clothing fell out of the wall. 

It wasn't until Oct. 15 that Mae's body was found, as officers investigated the crawl space under the house.

Karjala's girlfriend told police that he had previously choked her using a belt. While he was in custody for an unrelated charge, Karjala told corrections officers he had "overdosed on ecstasy, strangled a girl, and she was now missing."

He also told a nurse "I may have killed a girl," and said he'd been using meth laced with ecstasy.

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