Authorities have found the body of Danielle Jelinek, the 27-year-old Oakdale woman who was last seen five months ago at a Chisago Lake Township residence.
Her body was located at about 3 p.m. Friday, May 10, in a small lake just west of Kodiak Avenue and 261st Street, near the home of 28-year-old Aaron Jude Schnagl, where she was last seen alive Dec. 8.
Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said his team discussed strategy in the continued search for Jelinek on Thursday, May 9. On Friday, they put the plan to action and had a State Patrol helicopter make a low-flying, 5-mile circle over Schnagl’s house. With eyes peeled, it was a matter of time before her body — shoeless and half-clothed — was found.
Soon after the discovery, Duncan contacted the family, including parents Ed and Jan Jelinek of Cottage Grove and their older daughter Cory, who found the news bittersweet.
“They were shocked, grieving,” the sheriff recalled of the family’s reaction. “I talked with them all that night. It also provides closure.”
Aiding in the search were the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Washington County authorities, Lindstrom, Chisago and Stacy fire departments and the Anoka County Medical Examiner’s Office, where the body was identified as Jelinek.
The medical examiner’s office has completed preliminary work, Duncan noted, and more testing is expected to help determine the cause of death. And depending on the findings, criminal charges could result, he added.
While he’s been involved with missing person investigations before, Duncan said this is one of the more unique cases he has experienced. From day one, for instance, the weather didn’t help, dropping 18 inches of snow at the time she went missing.
“Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated with this investigation at all,” Duncan said.
He also was adamant in thinking she was somewhere close to the rural housing development where she was last seen, but the lack of evidence — again, with no help from the snow that can quickly cover tracks — and witness accounts contributed to the mystery.
“This was a unique case because there’s usually witnesses and evidence to it that we have to go out and find,” Duncan said. “In this case, there were two people in the house when it (Jelinek’s disappearance) happened. Aaron (Schnagl) is not talking, and Danielle is not talking.”
Meantime, Schnagl remains behind bars at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility for a probation violation involving drug charges. He was earlier jailed following a Dec. 9 welfare check and search warrant at his home where authorities found drugs and a number of Jelinek’s belongings.
Schnagl, though never charged in connection with Jelinek’s disappearance, remains a person of interest in the case.
The case also reminds Duncan of how close the community can become when one of its own, or even a perfect stranger, goes missing. On Friday night, he observed neighbors around Schnagl’s home come out with their families to show their support of the Jelinek family who just hours before got word that their daughter and sister had been found.
Many turned to social networking, as well, to find the latest information on the Jelinek search. Others used the Danielle Jelinek Search Team Facebook page to express their support.
Anglers on alert
Last week, the family of Jelinek asked anglers, especially those in the area where she went missing in southern Chisago County, to be on extra alert when fishing.
The family said there was a chance she was put in a local body of water, and they asked anglers to keep an eye out for anything unusual — particularly near the edges of lakes, rivers and streams.
The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office conducted searches of two local lakes, but didn’t find a trace. Another search in Carlos Avery State Park had been organized up until Friday’s discovery.
In April, the family offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the location of Jelinek. This in addition to Crime Stoppers offering a $1,000 reward in January.
The sheriff’s office initially got involved Sunday, Dec. 9, when Jelinek’s family requested a welfare check at Schnagl’s residence.
Uncooperative during the check, Schnagl was later arrested for fifth-degree drug possession when authorities returned with a search warrant. He was jailed in Anoka County, as his possession arrest violated an existing probation order.
During the search, officers found bags containing marijuana and items including Jelinek’s purse, shoes and cellphone. Also discovered was her car, which was parked outside the residence.
Meanwhile, authorities followed up on leads and tips before turning to area lakes in the continued search for Jelinek. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office dive team performed a search while conducting a training exercise on Bone Lake in northern Washington County. A similar effort followed on nearby Moody Lake.
The diving exercises came after a number of authority-led ground searches that generated hundreds of volunteers who combed the snow-filled landscape in all directions surrounding the Schnagl residence in the 11200 block of 261st Street, just off Lofton Avenue.