Washington: A nationwide manhunt came to an end on Thursday night near the Texas-Mexico border after authorities captured 56-year-old Lois Riess, the woman suspected of killing her husband in Minnesota and then her look-a-like in Florida in order to steal her identity, the US Marshals Service confirmed late Thursday.
She was found sipping a drink at the bar inside the Sea Ranch Restaurant in South Padre Island, Texas, appearing “cool as a cucumber” until the marshals arrived to take her into custody without incident, the restaurant’s manager, Becky Galvan, told The Washington Post.
Riess was wanted by federal and local authorities in Florida, where police believe she befriended and killed Pamela Hutchinson, who had the same light blonde hair as Riess. Police believe Riess then stole Hutchinson’s car and her identity, and fled to Texas.
Riess is also a person of interest in her husband’s death in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Authorities said they believe she stole his money to go gambling in Iowa before travelling to Florida.
She was known in the small town of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota — population 1,987 — as “Losing Streak Lois” because of her gambling addiction, the US marshals said.
“I promised all along that Lois Riess would end up in a pair of handcuffs,” Undersheriff Carmine Marceno of Lee County, Florida, where Riess is accused of killing Hutchinson, said in a statement. “Tonight, she sits in a jail cell in Texas. We are working as expeditiously as possible to bring her back to Lee County to face murder charges.”
Riess was arrested on warrants for second-degree murder, grand theft, grand theft of a vehicle and criminal use of personal identification.
Riess first came under suspicion in Minnesota after her husband’s business partner in his worm farm operation contacted local authorities to notify them that David Riess had been missing for a couple of weeks, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. When police arrived at the worm farm on March 23, they found him dead. He had suffered several gunshot wounds.
By that time, Lois Riess was long gone.
Investigators believe that on March 23, Riess drove to a bank in Glenville, Minnesota, and forged her husband’s signature to cash more than $10,000 in stolen checks from him and his business, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. After that, investigators say she spent the day gambling at Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa.
She was spotted on surveillance stopping at a Kum & Go gas station next to the casino to purchase a sandwich and ask for directions, authorities said.
She was apparently headed to Florida.
That’s where she met and soon befriended 59-year-old Pamela Hutchinson, authorities said.
On April 5, Riess was caught on surveillance video dining with Hutchinson at the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery during happy hour, police said. Other surveillance photographs captured Riess and Hutchinson together at Hutchinson’s Fort Myers Beach condo, where, several days later, on April 9, police said they found Hutchinson dead.
Authorities believe she used the same firearm to kill Hutchinson that she allegedly used to kill her husband.
Inside the condo, Hutchinson’s purse had been emptied. Her identification was missing along with her car.
Police said they believe Riess stole them to assume Hutchinson’s identity, since the two looked alike.
In the days after Hutchinson’s death, her 2005 white Acura with Florida tags was spotted in Louisiana and outside Corpus Christi, Texas, which is a few hours up the coast from South Padre Island.
The US Marshals Service and local Florida and Minnesota authorities all warned that Riess was considered armed and dangerous, urging anyone who spotted her to alert police but stay away from her.
Finally, around 8:30pm on Thursday, marshals located her at the Sea Ranch Restaurant.
She didn’t look armed and dangerous, said the restaurant manager Galvan, and she did not appear suspicious. Galvan said she had been sitting there for about an hour and a half, when she got a call from law enforcement notifying her that there was a customer in her restaurant named Lois Riess, whom they were coming to arrest.
“It happened within seconds,” Galvan said. “They came in and they left.”
John Kinsey, a deputy US marshal, told The Washington Post that it was unclear whether Riess was on her way to Mexico. He said she had checked in at a local hotel.
“She paid up for a couple of weeks,” he said.
The marshals found Hutchinson’s car in a nearby parking lot.