GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 13 years after she was stabbed to death in her home, Renee Pagel’s estranged husband was charged Thursday with her murder.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker confirmed at an afternoon press conference that Michael James Pagel, 55, faced a count of first-degree premeditated murder.
“I hope that you will repent and confess,” Chris Crandle, Renee Pagel’s friend, said in a message to Mike Pagel after the charges came down.
According to court documents, Pagel recently made “incriminating statements” that led investigators to the suspected murder weapon.
At the press conference, Becker and Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young would not discuss the evidence that led to the break in the case all these years later, but they did say developments started happening after they put the case before the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan’s cold case review team and got some fresh ideas.
“It’s been a long thing. It’s been two years: investigative subpoenas, other scientific (evidence) — thank Joel Schultze and the Michigan State Police Crime Lab for all their assistance in helping us out with this. But it’s been a process. And we can’t get into too many details at this point in time, but obviously they led to these charges that we filed yesterday against (Mike Pagel),” Becker said.
Renee Beth Pagel, a 41-year-old mother of three, was stabbed to death in her Rockford-area home on Aug. 5, 2006. Search warrants that News 8 obtained in October 2006 said her nearly naked body was discovered by her father, who called 911. Responding officers found her covered in blood, defensive wounds on her body and spatter on the headboard, walls and window.
At the Thursday press conference, LaJoye-Young said there was no sign of a forced entry and no valuables had been taken, seeming to rule out a robbery.
Suspicion of murder had long rested on Mike Pagel, but authorities struggled for a long time to get any evidence actually linking him to the crime.
“Following Renee’s death, the initial investigation had run its course with no charges filed, and eventually was classified as a cold case,” LaJoye-Young said. “Although we did work on this case subsequently throughout the years as new information might come to us, we were not making any progress on this case until the initiative that Prosecutor Becker was talking about. However, following that initiative, and following some of the interviews that we were able to do, we were ale to locate additional evidence which has been crucial in charging Michael with this crime.”
The sheriff and prosecutor said the case shows the importance of a dedicated cold case team, which they have discussed finding funding for.
“There’s a lot of cold cases out there … that could possibly be solved. And I think with advances in science … cases sometimes can be solved even years later,” Becker said, noting it takes a lot of time and resources to tackle those crimes.
UGLY DIVORCE, PREVIOUS INCIDENTS
Mike and Renee Pagel had been married for nine years before her death. He filed for divorce in March 2005.
In April 2005, he allegedly vandalized a car belonging to Renee Pagel’s friend, saying he would “make all her friends pay.” In April 2006, there was a break-in at Renee Pagel’s home. Pictures and divorce papers were taken, though investigators classified it as “not a robbery.” Both Pagels were asked to take a polygraph test: Renee Pagel did and passed; her husband refused.
In a court hearing in July 2006, a judge ordered Mike Pagel to get a better job and pay $1,000 per month in child support. Detective notes say Mike Pagel was “irate” over the ruling.
The divorce was set to be finalized the month of Renee Pagel’s death. The 2006 warrants say that within 10 days of her death, Renee Pagel told friends that Mike Pagel was becoming more “mean and scary” and that he hated her.
“She told me every day of that last week of her life she thought he would kill her. She was afraid,” Chris Crandle, Renee Pagel’s friend, told News 8 last year.
“I knew then that he had murdered her,” she added Thursday.
Pagel was arrested in the Bay City area early Thursday and was later booked into the Kent County jail. He now lives in Freeland, near Bay City, but the sheriff said he was arrested during a traffic stop, not at his home — which he shares with his 17-year-old daughter.
Appearing in a Kent County courtroom via video link for arraignment, Mike Pagel told the judge Thursday afternoon he had not yet been offered a phone call and that he wanted his attorney present. Judge Sara Smolenski set his bond at $2 million cash/surety.
“Pray for Renee Pagel’s children as they are faced with this truth about what happened to their mom,” Crandle said. “There is elation that we are getting justice, that an arrest has been made. But, really truly there are no winners.”
RENEE PAGEL REMEMBERED FOR KINDNESS
Renee Pagel was a nursing and health instructor at the Kent Intermediate School District’s Kent Career Technical Center.
“Renee was very vibrant. She was loud, always laughing,” Crandle recalled.
Crandle recalled her friend as extremely generous. Pagel donated a kidney only days before her murder.
“She gave her kidney to the father of one of her students,” Crandle said. “That’s huge. Think about that. Who does that? As she was going through this horrific divorce and scared for her life. She really was an amazing woman. One of a kind.”
—News 8’s Heather Walker and Susan Samples contributed to this report.