The only lead police needed to start investigating a young Russian woman's death was hiding inside a takeout bag from KFC left next to her body.
It was one of many items of trash strewn around the unidentified corpse, dead from an apparent shotgun blast to the head, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported. On the afternoon of April 17, 2017, a timber company's groundskeeper found the woman lying face-up on a secluded, dead-end logging road on the outskirts of Alsea, Oregon, a lumber town home to fewer than 200 people. Police found no clues as to her identity, but in the KFC bag there was a receipt, and there was a name: Kevin Thomas.
Under police questioning, Thomas' otherwise mundane tale about a weekly fried chicken dinner with a friend would lead police to uncover a "problematic love triangle" - one that prosecutors say led Anna Repkina to travel halfway around the world to marry Thomas' friend only to end up lying in the logging-road ditch just weeks later.
The police's prime suspect became Thomas' friend, William Chase Hargrove, who shared the KFC meal with him days before allegedly killing the Russian woman, the Gazette-Times reported. In his interview with police, Thomas said that Hargrove recently asked him to borrow a shotgun. He never gave it back, Thomas said.
Now Hargrove, 29, is standing trial in the fatal shooting, accused of luring Repkina, 27, with the promise of marriage before killing her under pressure from a jealous second lover, an Oregon woman named Michelle Chavez. Hargrove had been renting a room in Chavez's home but began renting another place for Repkina and himself once she arrived from Russia.
At that point, prosecutors said in a 2017 hearing: "Ms. Chavez gave the defendant an ultimatum: her or me. And the defendant decided."
"He took the victim out to a very remote logging location," prosecutor Amie Matusko told a judge then, "and she was found shot dead in the back of her head, execution-style."
In a trial expected to last through most of November, prosecutors plan to present evidence showing that the shotgun used to kill Repkina was discovered in Hargrove's vehicle, and cellphone data placed him at the scene of the woman's killing, among other things. But Hargrove's defense insists he is innocent - and that in fact, another person in the very same courtroom should be the one on trial for Repkina's death instead.
"Mr. Hargrove has always maintained that he did not kill his fiancee," defense attorney Mike Flinn said in a statement to The Washington Post late on Sunday. "The evidence at trial will clearly show that Michelle Chavez murdered Anna Repkina."
In addition to murder, Hargrove is also charged with theft and identity theft after allegedly transferring money from Repkina's bank account into his own and taking her identifying documents. Chavez is not charged with any crime, and denied involvement in the killing from the witness stand last week, according to the Gazette-Times.
Chavez testified that she met Hargrove at the bar where he worked while she was stuck in a loveless marriage with an Oregon State University instructor, according to the Gazette-Times. With his permission, she began a relationship with Hargrove. Chavez worked as a late-night cabdriver; Hargrove, as a bouncer. Eventually, as their relationship progressed, he rented a spare bedroom at Chavez's home in Albany, Oregaon, about 70 miles southwest of Portland, where Chavez lived with her husband and their two children.
But because Hargrove and Chavez also had an open relationship, Hargrove started chatting online with Repkina, the young Russian woman with long blond hair.
The Benton County Sheriff's Office said she arrived from Russia just one month before her death, and had no family in the United States. Repkina's mother, Yelena, testified last week that her daughter was born and raised in Moscow and worked in an office before deciding to build a life with Hargrove in the United States, the Gazette-Times reported. She had traveled to Corvallis once for Christmas to meet Hargrove in 2016, then quickly decided to move there permanently on March 1, 2017.
Her mother was worried.
"I thought she was rushing things," she said through an interpreter on the stand, according to the Gazette-Times.
Chavez was not worried - at least at first. She even let Repkina stay with Hargrove at her house during her first visit to the United States, she testified. But a few months later, when Repkina returned, Chavez started becoming jealous once she found out about the wedding plans. This time, she told Hargrove to get his own place. So he and Repkina did.
Prosecutors said he split his time between both women at both homes. Repeating promises of love and marriage to Repkina. Insisting on love and commitment with Chavez. In return, Chavez promised to leave her husband. She even gave Hargrove her wedding ring to show she was serious, she said during testimony last week.
But then she grew incensed: Later in March 2017, she said she saw a Facebook post from Repkina - announcing her engagement to Hargrove.
Hargrove had given her Chavez's ring.
They set the wedding date for March 23, 2017, on the Oregon coast, prosecutors said in opening arguments, the Gazette-Times reported. Repkina donned a wedding gown. They drove to Walmart to buy their own rings. But at the very last minute, Hargrove called it off, blaming a no-show officiant.
He instead told Chavez it was because he wasn't in love with Repkina, and she would be returning to Russia as promised.
By April 16, 2017, seeing that Repkina was still living with Hargrove, Chavez issued her ultimatum. She told Hargrove to "fix this" and "get rid of her," according to a police affidavit cited by the Gazette-Times. She also cryptically said that if Repkina was "not gone by Thursday, I'm building a snowman."
Attorneys wanted to know: What does "building a snowman" mean?
It was a family joke about killing someone and hiding the person's body inside a snowman in a place so cold that the snow would never melt, Chavez explained in court, the Gazette-Times reported. Flinn, Hargrove's attorney, insisted this meant that Chavez was essentially saying she was going to kill Repkina. She said yes - but it was a joke.
Prosecutors point to a different incriminating message from Hargrove to Chavez: "I will have this solved permanently" by April 19, he wrote, the Gazette-Times reported.
On the afternoon of April 16, 2017, prosecutors say, Hargrove took Repkina into the woods and down the deserted logging road, and shot her in the head with the shotgun he borrowed from Thomas.
He then called Chavez, and the two met up for sex a few miles away, prosecutors said, according to the Gazette-Times. Flinn has emphasized that Chavez's story about the evening and how she arrived in Alsea changed at least once. But prosecutors say no forensic evidence ties her to the crime.
By April 19, after chasing the KFC receipt lead, police arrested Hargrove in Repkina's death.
In his initial interview with police, just before his arrest, Hargrove claimed he barely knew Repkina and had taken her on only a couple of dates, the Gazette-Times reported, citing transcripts of the interviews. He claimed he tried to break up with her after she said on Facebook that they were engaged after the second date.
"She posted that . . . after two dates?" the detective asked.
"Oh yeah, and it brought hell down upon me" from Chavez, Hargrove said.
But when detectives pressed Hargrove on his KFC dinner with Thomas, he started to hedge. They asked him where he threw away the garbage, and he said he tossed it in a trash can at Alsea's general store.
The detectives, however, told him that couldn't be true.
Hargrove, at that point, stopped talking, saying, "I want a lawyer."