Murder charges were filed against a Swatara man in connection with the disappearance and death of Outing resident Michelle Mae, who was reported missing Oct. 3 and whose body was found Oct. 15 on the suspect’s property.
Authorities arraigned Joshua Karjala, 34, of Swatara, on second-degree murder charges Thursday, Nov. 7, in connection to the strangulation death of Mae. Judge David Hermerding set unconditional bail in the amount of $5 million or conditional release in the amount of $2 million bond and $500,000 cash bail.
Mae, 35, of Outing, was reported missing after her family had no contact with her since Oct. 3. Upon location of Mae’s Black 2004 Jeep Liberty on Oct. 4, investigation and searches began, and on Oct. 5, Karjala was arrested for violating his probation and was taken into custody.
According to a news release by the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office, over the course of the following 10 days, numerous agencies participated in daily ground searches and K-9 searches in a 5 mile radius of the location where the vehicle was recovered. Drone and water searches were conducted. Search warrants were issued for cell account data. In addition, search warrants were executed at a rural private property near Swatara.
On Oct. 15 while executing a search warrant at Karjala’s residence, Mae’s body was located. Mae was transported to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner for autopsy, where the Ramsey County Medical Examiner determined Mae’s manner of death to be homicide.
The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office extended its gratitude to the many agencies that assisted in locating Mae: Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Natural Resources, St. Louis County Search and Rescue personnel, Grand Rapids Police Department, the Aitkin County volunteer Search and Rescue, Wisconsin Department of Justice, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The case again Karjala
According to the criminal complaint filed Thursday in Aitkin County District Court, Mae and Karjala met each other on a dating website. A friend of Mae’s sent investigators a screenshot she’d received from Mae Sept. 9 of a conversation between between Mae and Karjala, including Karjala’s address in Swatara and directions from Outing to his residence.
Mae was reported missing by family on Oct. 3. On Oct. 4, her vehicle was located off the Soo Line ATV Trail near Swatara, a third of a mile from Karjala’s residence. Investigators said the Jeep appeared to come to an abrupt stop and was still in drive with the keys in the ignition. The driver’s seat was moved back and reclined, which was considered odd, given Mae’s 5-foot-1-inch height. According to cellphone records, Mae’s phone last pinged a tower near where the Jeep was found.
When interviewed by an Aitkin County Sheriff’s deputy on Oct. 4, Karjala said he and Mae met for consensual sex at his residence Oct. 2 and she left around midnight. An officer noted Karjala spoke indifferently about Mae and did not to be concerned about her whereabouts.
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Aitkin County Sheriff’s investigators Oct. 5-6 searched Karjala’s residence and property 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 also found a trap door that had been sealed and on which there was blood. Blood also was found on a blanket and mattress in the residence.
Officers also found newly constructed foundation work in the cellar of the house, and, with the assistance of human remains detection K-9 officers from St. Louis County, removed blocks and found more clothing and other items, some of which tested positive for human blood. Other items of interest also were found in a crawl space under the residence.
On Oct. 7, two Aitkin County Corrections officers spoke with Karjala, who said he overdosed on ecstasy, strangled a girl, and she was now missing. Karjala told the officers he could not remember doing that.
On Oct. 8, a nurse was speaking with Karjala at the Aitkin County Jail when he stated, “I may have killed a girl.” Karjala told the nurse he had been using methamphetamine laced with ecstasy, that he got violent and choked out a girl several times, but couldn’t remember anything else because of his drug use.
Karjala told the nurse he had videotaped his and Mae’s sexual encounter with her permission. When he rewatched the video, he saw he had choked her until she was unconscious a few times. When the nurse asked what happened to the girl, Karjala allegedly said, “I don’t know, she slid down out of the video and no one can find her. They are looking for her.”
On Oct. 15, officers again searched Karjala’s residence. K-9 officers were alerted to a crawl space, and upon further investigation officers found Mae’s body buried under the soil in the crawl space. Items of her clothing were found beneath her body.
When informed by Aitkin County Sheriff and BCA officials that Mae’s body was located at his residence, Karjala said, “That’s not possible. I watched her leave.”
The medical examiner 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. Her cause of death was determined to be homicide by asphyxia due to strangulation.
Karjala’s criminal history
Since 2004, Karjala has been found guilty on numerous crimes in Aitkin and Itasca counties, including numerous misdemeanor traffic violation, fifth-degree assault, felony first-degree burglary, felony fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and gross misdemeanor malicious punishment of a child.
A charge of felony second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.