On Aug. 5, Amanda Jo Vangrinsven disappeared.
That night, Vangrinsven, 32, was seen drinking with Richard Melvin Peterson, 37, at the Isanti, Minnesota VFW hall where she tended bar, and where Peterson reportedly served in a “leadership position.” But Vangrinsven had had too much to drink, according to an unsealed search warrant obtained by The Daily Beast, and Peterson told her friends he would drive her home.
Instead, Peterson and Vangrinsven wound up at The Dugout Bar and Grill, about 15 minutes away. Witnesses would later tell police that Vangrinsven seemed “noticeably intoxicated.”
“Amanda and Rick mutually showed a public display of affections as they kissed one another, sat close to one another, while Amanda rubbed Rick’s leg and the inside of his thigh and while Rick rubbed Amanda’s back under her shirt and put his hands down Amanda’s pants touching her buttocks with his hand,” the warrant states. Numerous employees offered to drive her back to her house. However, Peterson—who is married— allegedly insisted he would do it, which reportedly left others uneasy. When Vangrinsven failed to show up for work the morning of Aug. 6, her co-workers called police.
On Aug. 7, cops and volunteers began to grid-search the surrounding area for any signs of Vangrinsven, with no luck. But investigators soon became suspicious of Peterson, who gave police conflicting stories about the night in question. Three days later, a multiagency task force descended on a 20-acre property owned by Peterson, according to the warrant, which cites the VFW manager as saying Peterson as being susceptible to “mood swings when he drinks.”
“Numerous areas of ground had been disturbed the day after Amanda's disappearance,” it explains, adding that Peterson told investigators to “check the pond.”
“Lieutenant McCarty continued to unearth the broken sod and ground and discovered two white shoes,” states the warrant, which describes a team effort between local law enforcement, the FBI, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They “asked that earth be excavated around the shoes to confirm a body existed,” the warrant explains. “In doing so, the shoes were attached to feet which were attached to leg showing jean shorts and clothing matching Amanda’s. The continued excavation around the body led to the visual confirmation that the body was the person of Amanda Vangrinsven.”
Peterson’s wife Anna told police that “she was second guessing her husband and didn't know if she was safe,” the warrant states. “She also told me she didn't know if Rick would be safe from himself.”
Peterson swiftly checked himself into a Veterans Affairs psychiatric facility in St. Cloud, roughly an hour’s drive away. In the meantime, a preliminary examination by the medical examiner’s office of Vangrinsven’s body revealed “a projectile, consistent with a bullet, lodged in the skull.” Police seized from Peterson’s home, among other things, multiple firearms, a John Deere backhoe, various electronics, a notebook used by Peterson, and “tarps and canvas which could be used to aid in covering or moving a human body.”
On Tuesday, he was arrested on a probable cause murder hold. He has not yet been formally charged.
Peterson’s wife, who is licensed as a registered nurse according to public records, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, but issued a statement to media outlets that said, “My heartfelt sympathy and prayers go out to Amanda’s family and friends. The individual who she was last seen with is no longer in the community and is being held in a locked mental health facility. I am actively cooperating and will continue to cooperate with all law-enforcement agencies. I please request privacy for my family and myself.”
An employee who answered the phone at Isanti VFW Post 2735, where Peterson worked, declined to comment. A hostess at The Dugout told The Daily Beast that her boss told the staff not to say anything about the case, but said, “Right now, our thoughts are with the family,” quickly adding, “The victim’s family.”
A GoFundMe drive to raise money for the search brought in more than $10,000.
The Vangrinsven family on Tuesday issued a statement, saying, “There is no way to know the correct way to navigate such unexpected and horrific events. The grief is overwhelming and the unanswered questions and influx of information even more so. Our gratitude cannot be expressed enough and our silence to media and social media is not due to a lack of appreciation but rather a drive to be sure that we in no way interfere with what we hope will bring answers and justice. We don't have answers. And we will never have the answer we hoped to have; that she was found alive... We want answers. We want justice. We want the person who did this to Amanda be held to the highest level of accountability.”
Vangrinsven’s family, Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk, and Isanti Police Chief Travis Muyres did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and authorities have not revealed a possible motive. Other law enforcement agencies assisting with the investigation include the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Peterson remains in custody, according to jail records. He does not have a lawyer listed in court filings, and was unable to be reached for comment.