Minnesota woman also charged in husband's slaying; Lee County Undersheriff: 'She smiles, yet she is a coldblooded killer'
MINNEAPOLIS — The snippet of surveillance video is only seven seconds long. Yet in that brief span, it captures a “coldblooded killer” wooing a new friend who had only a short time to live.
Taken at a happy hour on April 5 at the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery in Fort Myers, the video shows Lois Riess, of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, talking to a woman police later identified as 59-year-old Pamela Hutchinson, of Bradenton.
Riess appears charming and animated, tossing her silver hair as she leans in and smiles and chats with Hutchinson. Four days later, on April 9, Hutchinson would be found shot to death in her rented condo in Fort Myers Beach.
Authorities believe Riess, who fled Minnesota in late March after allegedly shooting and killing her husband, David, targeted Hutchinson because the two women looked alike, then stole her identity after killing her. “The suspect Riess … is on the loose and running,” Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno said Monday night. “We have a huge hunt with the U.S. marshals.”
Investigators said Riess stole her credit cards, cash and car. Photos showed Riess at Hutchinson’s condo.
Late last week, Florida authorities filed murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle and grand theft and criminal use of personal identification charges against Riess. She also faces second-degree murder charges in Dodge County, Minnesota, where her husband’s body was found March 23.
Riess, Marceno added, “could look like anybody’s mother or grandmother. She smiles, yet she is a coldblooded killer. She’s killed two people and she’s still on the run.”
Riess is believed to be driving Hutchinson's car, a white Acura TL with Florida license plate Y37TAA. The car has been seen in Louisiana and Corpus Christi, Texas, since Hutchinson's slaying. Riess' 2005 white Cadillac Escalade was found abandoned in a Florida park.
Hutchinson’s relatives, meanwhile, said it is no surprise that the “outgoing” and “welcoming” woman would have struck up a conversation with a total stranger like Riess.
“She was very kind and sweet, everybody was a friend of hers,” said Daniele Watts Jeffreys, a cousin from Richmond, Virginia.
Hutchinson was a former used-car saleswoman in Virginia before she moved to Bradenton.
Hutchinson was divorced and didn’t have many immediate family members. Her mother, who “was the world to her,” died in 2013, Jeffreys said. After that, Hutchinson was constantly reaching out to other relatives to stay in touch and check in whether by phone, text message or social media.
April 9, after relatives were unable to reach her, authorities found Hutchinson’s body inside the condo she rented in Fort Myers Beach, where she had gone to scatter ashes of another relative. She had been shot in the heart, Jeffreys said.
“It was just evil,” Jeffreys said.
Riess has been on the run since at least late March, after David Riess's business partner called Dodge County authorities on March 23 to ask them to check on him. The partner said no one at work had seen David Riess in over two weeks. He had been shot to death at the home he shared with his wife outside Blooming Prairie, a town of about 2,000 people 85 miles south of the Twin Cities. Police say the same gun was used in both slayings.
Authorities also have said they suspect that after David Riess was killed, his wife transferred nearly $10,000 from his business account into his personal account and then forged his signature on three checks to herself for $11,000.
Authorities learned that Lois Riess may have been at Diamond Jo Casino in Iowa. Authorities from Dodge County and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation went to the casino, but Riess had already left. Authorities later learned she was in south Florida.
Riess’ whereabouts remained a mystery until last week, when she became a suspect in Hutchinson’s murder after authorities in Florida found a white 2005 Cadillac Escalade that Riess was believed to have been driving after her husband’s death.
As the hunt for Riess entered its fourth week Monday, new information about her past surfaced in court records in Minnesota that showed she had been accused of taking more than $78,000 from her disabled sister and spending it on herself, including thousands of dollars at casinos.
According to the records:
Riess was appointed in 2012 as guardian and conservator for her older sister, Kimberly Sanchez, now 62. Legal documents said that Sanchez suffers from bipolar disorder and clinical depression, as well as Parkinson’s disease, and has the cognitive level of a 10-year-old.
A routine annual audit in 2015 found supposed payments, gifts and loans from Sanchez’s accounts that had no documentation to support the transactions. One payment of $14,000 supposedly was made to William Witte, the sisters’ father — but he was dead.
Other payments totaling $15,000 were made to other relatives of Riess, again without supporting documentation. Riess also paid more than $40,000 to herself from her sister’s assets, court records show.
In September 2015, Minnesota Prairie County Alliance, a nonprofit service organization, sought to have Riess terminated as her sister’s guardian and conservator.
“I received a report that Lois Riess transfers funds from the guardianship account for Kimberly Sanchez to Lois Riess’ own account,” an affidavit said. “Lois Riess then withdraws the funds at the local casino.”
In February 2016, Riess was removed as her sister’s guardian and conservator. She did not contest her removal. That same month, the newly appointed guardian and conservator asked the court to order Riess to repay more than $78,000 to her sister’s account.
There is no record that Riess was ever ordered to repay the money or that she was charged with a crime in the case. Officials of the new guardian and conservator, Alternative Resolutions Inc., declined to comment Monday.
Florida authorities said late last week that they believed Riess most recently was in the Corpus Christi area in Texas, possibly driving a car she stole from Hutchinson, whose body was found April 9.
Marceno said Hutchinson’s white 2005 Acura TL had been spotted in Louisiana and around Corpus Christi in the days after Hutchinson’s body was found.
In recent days, however, the search for Riess has gone cold. Marceno said Monday that she will eventually run out of resources and fears that, in desperation, she could kill again. Riess is considered to be armed and dangerous, he said.
“I hope we bring this to closure soon,” Marceno said. “As quick and as safe as possible.”
Anyone who sees Reiss is urged to call 911, and anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to call the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or Florida authorities.