By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
A nationwide manhunt came to an end after officials arrested Lois Anne Riess, 56, outside the Sea Ranch restaurant on South Padre Island Thursday evening.
Riess is wanted for murder in two states — Minnesota, where she is suspected of killing her husband, David Riess, and Florida, where she is suspected of killing Pamela Hutchinson in order to assume Hutchinson’s identity.
According to South Padre Island Chief of Police Randy Smith, authorities were tipped off to Riess’ presence on the Island by an unnamed tipster. “Shortly before 8 p.m. last night, I received a call from one of our officers that is also assigned part time to the U.S. Marshal Taskforce and he advised me that he had gotten — they had gotten notification from a tipster that there was a possible sighting of the suspect, Riess,” Smith said during a press conference held at South Padre Island City Hall Friday.
According to the tip, a woman matching Riess’ description walked into Dirty Al’s*, but walked back out. Dirty Al’s General Manager George Higgenbotham saw Riess at the hostess counter placing an order to go, said Ethan Salazar, Dirty Al’s director of operations.
Higgenbotham alerted another manager to dial 911. But Salazar said Riess may have become suspicious by Higgenbotham’s scrutiny, because she left a moment later. Dirty Al’s staff followed her outside to take note of Riess’ license plate number, he said.
By the time the two officers arrived at the restaurant, Riess was no longer on the property.
Dressed in plain clothes, the pair began looking around other eateries, Chief Smith said, ultimately finding Riess at Sea Ranch on the south side of the island. “They found her at another local restaurant and were able to go in and call her outside,” Smith said.
Uniformed officers were waiting outside the restaurant, where Smith said the two plainclothes officers questioned her just outside the door, Smith said. She was taken into custody without incident and was unarmed at the time, Smith said.
In the parking lot, police found the white Acura sedan Riess is believed to have stolen from Pamela Hutchinson during her flight from Minnesota. Smith said the vehicle was towed from the parking lot and secured, pending a forensic examination.
Things began on Friday, March 23, when the Blooming Prairie Police received a phone call from David Riess’ business partner saying Riess, 54, had not been seen at the business in over two weeks.
Officers from the Minnesota police department arrived at the home, which is located just south of the city limits, according to local journalist Jeffrey Jackson, managing editor of the Owatonna People’s Press.
Police spotted Riess’ body through a window and alerted the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, which had jurisdiction, Jackson reported on March 28.
David Riess’ body was found with multiple gunshot wounds. A medical examiner later said it appeared he had been killed two days before police found his body.
His wife, Lois Anne Riess, and the couple’s 2005 Cadillac Escalade, were nowhere to be found.
A statement released by the Dodge County Sheriff Office said Riess was seen at an Iowa casino approximately 40 miles from her home. Surveillance footage taken from a Kum and Go gas station near the Diamond Jo Casino at approximately 6:30 p.m. that Friday shows Riess making a purchase and asking the cashier for directions.
Authorities allege Riess had stolen thousands of dollars from her husband’s business checking account using forged checks before heading to the casino.
According to Jackson’s reporting, Wiess withdrew $10,000 from her husband’s business account and deposited it into David Wiess’ personal account. Lois Riess then wrote three checks, totaling $11,000, to herself from her husband’s personal checking account. She cashed two of the checks, for $8,500, on the day her husband’s body was found, Jackson reported.
Soon, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the U.S. Marshals Service joined the investigation. By April 2, authorities received tips that Riess might be in Florida.
A week later, on April 9, the body of Pamela Hutchinson, 59, was found in a condo in Fort Meyers Beach, Florida. Hutchinson was a resident of Bradenton, Florida.
“Investigators believe Pamela Hutchinson may have been killed with the same firearm used to murder David Riess,” the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office said via a statement released April 13. Authorities have yet to release any further details on the weapon.
Florida police found Riess’ Escalade abandoned nearby. In a statement released yesterday, April 19, authorities say Riess was seen driving Hutchinson’s white Acura TL.
According to Lee County, Florida Undersheriff Carmine Marceno, “Hutchinson was targeted by the suspect due to the similarities in their appearance.”
Riess then allegedly used Hutchinson’s identification to make a $5,000 withdrawal from a Wells Fargo, according to reporting by the News-Press of Fort Meyers, Florida.
“Riess’ mode of operation is to befriend women who resemble her and steal their identity,” Marceno said.
She made friends while she was on South Padre Island, too. Chief Smith said Riess wasn’t alone when officers found her at Sea Ranch. “She had a couple of friends with her, but I’m not sure if they’re friends that she met here locally, or someone that she brought with her,” Smith said.
Some have speculated Riess may have been attempting to blend in with the few Winter Texans who remain in the area. Smith said that question remains unanswered. “Whether she was blending in with them or whether she had other interests on the Island, we don’t know,” he said.
There’s also no clear answer as to whether or not Riess was attempting to flee the country. She had checked into a local motel, Smith said. But, South Padre Island’s status as a tourist destination could mean Riess intended to stay. “We’re a tourist town. A lot of people come here. Just because we’re close to Mexico it may or may not had a factor,” Smith said. “I don’t know at this point,” he said.
For now, local authorities have held off on questioning the woman. SPIPD is awaiting the arrival of Minnesota and Florida investigators so the three groups can form a “unified plan” of investigation, Smith said. Smith said they are expected to arrive today.
In Florida, Riess faces charges for murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle, and grand theft and criminal use of personal identification, Marceno said.
In Minnesota, authorities have yet to charge her in connection with her husband’s death, but statements released by the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office earlier in the investigation indicated Riess is wanted for second degree murder. However, Minnesota authorities did issue a felony theft warrant in connection with the case.
For more information on this story, including reaction from locals in Minnesota, Lois Anne Riess’ history with gambling, and a past court intervention between her and her disabled adult sister, be sure to check out next week’s edition of the Port Isabel – South Padre Press.
Editor’s Note: Special thank you to Jeffery Jackson, managing editor of the Owatonna People’s Press, for his help with this story.
*This story has been updated to correct the Island restaurant where Riess was originally spotted. Earlier reports that she was seen at Daddy’s Seafood and Cajun Kitchen were incorrect. Riess was spotted and reported to authorities by staff at Dirty Al’s.
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