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Suspect sentenced for dumping body

A 21-year-old Starbuck man was sentenced to one year in jail for interfering with the body of Laura Schwendemann, who was found dead in a cornfield south of Osakis on October 26, 2015, 11 days after she was reported missing.

Nickolas Ryan McArdell received the sentence from Judge David Battey in Douglas County District Court March 10.

McArdell, who pleaded guilty to the gross misdemeanor charge, received credit for the 138 days he’s already spent behind bars during the case.

Battey ordered McArdell to pay restitution of $2,599 and to pay $385 in fines and fees.

McArdell was convicted of “unlawful interference with a dead body or scene of death with intent to mislead the coroner or conceal evidence.”

The sentencing puts an end to a case that gripped the region last fall after Schwendemann, an 18-year-old from Starbuck, was reporting missing.

She was last seen leaving an Alexandria gas station with McArdell on October 14, 2015.

Investigators interviewed McArdell several times while extensive search efforts were being conducted and he kept changing his story.

After her body was finally found near Forada, McArdell said that he and Schwendemann were driving around the county on the night she disappeared, injecting methamphetamine.

He told investigators that he was “messing with her” by pretending like they were being chased by police as they drove.

He stated she was “freaking out” and kicking the dashboard and windows. He said that he pulled over and tried to calm her down. He told investigators that after they smoked some marijuana and began driving around, Schwendemann started “freaking out” again, believing they were being chased by police.

He said he pulled over again and she seemed to calm down but began to breathe heavily and did not respond to him. He said he noticed she was not breathing and when he checked her neck for a pulse, he couldn’t find one.

He said he drove three or four miles to a cornfield, had a cigarette, and then removed her body from the car. He said he put her over his shoulder, carried her into the field, placed her body on the ground, ran back to his car and continued driving around.

The medical examiner’s office was unable to determine a cause of death or the date and time Schwendemann was injured.

The autopsy showed that Schwendemann had not sustained any traumatic or abusive injuries prior to her death, nor did she suffer from any life-threatening natural diseases.

However, toxicology revealed a significant presence of methamphetamine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in her system.

Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson determined he would not try to prosecute McArdell for causing Schwendemann’s death because the evidence didn’t support it.

Larson said the punishment for the gross misdemeanor – up to a year in jail – was “woefully inadequate” and that he will lobby the Legislature to change the law.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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