2019 Top 10 Stories: No. 5 — Swatara man faces murder charges in Outing woman’s death

Officers found Michelle Mae's body buried under the soil in a crawl space at Joshua Karjala's residence. Karjala remains in custody and his next court hearing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15.

Michelle Mae went missing Oct. 3 and her body was discovered on rural property near Swatara nearly two weeks later. A 34-year-old Swatara man was charged with her murder. Submitted photo

After the body of missing 35-year-old Outing woman was found in October, a Swatara man now faces murder charges in connection with her death.

The Swatara man — Joshua Karjala, 34 — was charged with second-degree murder Nov. 7 in Aitkin County District Court in connection to the strangulation death of Michelle Mae.

Mae’s family reported her missing Oct. 3. The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office along with numerous agencies participated in daily ground searches and water searches — along with those by drone and K-9 — in a 5-mile radius of the location where Mae’s vehicle was recovered. A judge issued search warrants for cellphone account data and to investigate Karjala’s rural private property near Swatara.

On Oct. 15, Mae’s body was discovered on Karjala’s property. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Mae suffered blunt force injuries, including bruising of the eyes, nose, chest, upper arms, legs and back, as well as hemorrhaging of the scalp. The cause of her death was determined to be homicide by asphyxia due to strangulation.

According to the criminal complaint filed against the defendant, Mae and Karjala met each other on a dating website. Karjala told authorities Mae met for consensual sex at his residence Oct. 2 and she left about midnight.


Authorities searched Karjala’s residence and property Oct. 5-6 and found remnants of women’s clothing in a wood stove in the residence. Mae’s family identified the clothing as hers.

Searches of the property revealed a sealed trap door on which there was blood. More blood was found on a blanket and mattress in the residence.

Officers also found newly constructed foundation work in the cellar of the house. With the assistance of human remains detection K-9 officers from St. Louis County, they removed blocks and found more clothing and other items, some of which tested positive for human blood. They found other items of interest in a crawl space under the residence.

Joshua Emil Karjala

A nurse spoke with Karjala Oct. 8 at the Aitkin County Jail when he stated, “I may have killed a girl.” Karjala told the nurse he was using methamphetamine laced with ecstasy when he became violent and choked out a girl several times, but he said he couldn’t remember anything else because of his drug use. Karjala told the nurse he videotaped his sexual encounter with Mae with her permission. When he rewatched the video, he saw himself choke her until she was unconscious a few times.

Officers searched Karjala’s residence again on Oct. 15 and found Mae’s body buried under the soil in the crawl space. Karjala remains in custody and his next court hearing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15.

Known as Shelly to friends and family, Mae was a mother of three who worked as a bartender and server as well as a retail merchandiser with Driveline Retail Merchandising.


“She was full of life. She was a great listener, a great friend, a great mom. Full of life,” said DeAnn Evanson, Mae’s mother, during an October interview with the Dispatch. “She wanted to see her kids go off to school or get married and have babies. … I do believe this — she’s in heaven, and it’s very peaceful, and all the stress and whatever goes away. She’s resting in peace.”

Visit for the rest of the Brainerd Dispatch's 2019 Top 10 list.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.
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