Several days after being arrested on murder charges, a Hibbing man made a call from inside the St. Louis County Jail and admitted to tying up 77-year-old Courtney Fenske, his former landlord who died from asphyxiation in 2017, according to court documents.
The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office on Thursday announced that Blake Andrew Stangel now faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of intentional second-degree murder. He was looking at 30 years after being charged with second-degree manslaughter late last month.
Prosecutors also said Stangel was arrested and charged by warrant after he made bond last week. He is currently being held on a $100,000 bail in the jail.
Court documents show that Stangel apparently called a woman from the jail in Duluth on May 30. “Five years ago, I was [expletive] up, I went to a burglary with somebody, I [expletive] helped tie someone up,” he allegedly said during a recorded phone call. He said he did not kill anyone, but described how he helped “tie somebody up and they [expletive] ended up dying from it from like, they [expletive], they couldn’t get loose.”
He continued, “I helped somebody [expletive] tie somebody up, and [expletive], it was my old landlord, I did, at the time, I didn’t know and [expletive] tied her up and she ended up dying from it.”
Stangel was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday afternoon. As of press time, a court administrator said the hearing was delayed.
The new charge comes nearly four years after a mail carrier contacted authorities to report that Fenske had not picked up her mail in several days, the complaints read. Sheriff’s deputies found her dead while conducting a welfare check on Nov. 29, 2017, at her home at 11072 S. Townline Rd., a rural area just southeast of Hibbing.
At the time, deputies described finding cotton thermal pants tied around her face and neck and cotton rope wrapped around her wrists, the complaints read. Sheriff’s deputies said she died between Nov. 26-27. A medical examiner conducted an autopsy and ruled her death a homicide “attributed to asphyxia due to ligature strangulation and smothering.” Law enforcement gathered DNA samples from the scene, but they were unable to find an initial suspect.
The case lingered until May 20 when a Grand Rapids Police Department detective told an investigator that a confidential informant told him that Stangel “was involved in the death of an elderly woman in Hibbing,” the complaint reads. The investigator contacted Stangel, whom he apparently knew rented from the woman.
The Hibbing Police Department on May 24 arrested Stangel on outstanding warrants at the Birch Lane Trailer Court, just south of the East Beltline and Highway 169. Prosecutors on May 28 charged Stangel with manslaughter.
Police said they obtained his DNA sample and sent it to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab. The BCA on May 26 told an investigator that Stangel’s DNA sample matched the DNA sample recovered at the crime scene. “The major DNA profile obtained from the knots of rope found tied from Ms. Fenke’s right arm to her left wrist matched defendant,” the complaints read. “Further, a major Y-Chromosomal profile found from both the right- and left-hand fingernail swabs, the knots of fabric tied from Ms. Fenske’s right wrist to right ankle, and fabric tied around Ms. Fenske’s neck was a match to the defendant.”