Warning: This article contains crime scene photos that some people may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If not for a conversation between brothers on an isolated bridge in Saginaw County, the key to a 13-year murder mystery would likely still lay undiscovered, submerged among long-discarded car parts, stereo components and shotgun shells.

“He said to me, ‘This is how I finalized my divorce,’ and he showed me a knife,” Mike Pagel’s brother, Charles, told Kent County investigators on Feb. 3, 2020. “(Then) he threw it in the crick.”

Charles Pagel, who goes by the nickname Bo, was recounting his brother’s confession to the 2006 murder of his estranged wife Renee Pagel, 41, a devoted mother and beloved nurse practitioner and educator.

“(Mike) said, ‘I f—ed her up, and if you tell anybody, I’m gonna f— you up too,’” Bo Pagel recalled.

According to him, the bridge confession happened in August 2011, five years to the month after the murder.

But it would take eight more years, the death of the Pagel family matriarch and an against-all-odds fishing expedition to drag the military-style knife from the depths of Birch Run Creek near the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge south of Saginaw.

An evidence photo shows the knife pulled from Birch Run Creek near Saginaw that investigators believe was used in the murder or Renee Pagel in August 2006.

When Mike Pagel, now 55, pleaded guilty in May 2020 to Renee Pagel’s murder, he avoided the glaring spotlight of a public trial, keeping quiet the details of his crime and the heroic work of dogged detectives and prosecutors.

Target 8 used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the 364-page sheriff’s department report, hours of video and audio testimony and hundreds of evidence photos, digging through them to reveal a 13-year investigation that culminated in the arrest of the man investigators always suspected was responsible.


The hunt for a killer began on Saturday, August 5, 2006 with the discovery of Renee Pagel’s body in the home she had once shared with Mike Pagel on 13 Mile Road NE west of Ramsdell Drive in Kent County’s Courtland Township, northeast of Rockford.

Her father and stepmother had stopped by to check on her after she failed to show up to meet a friend. She had also been recovering from surgery.

Forrest and Char DeMaagd found their daughter dead on her bed, tangled up in several blankets.

Lt. E.J. Johnson, then a detective and one of the first investigators to arrive, described it as the most brutal scene he’s witnessed, then and since.

“These were deep wounds. It wasn’t like this was a butter knife. This was a large, Ka-Bar (military-style) knife that was used against Renee,” Johnson recalled in a recent interview with Target 8.

The medical examiner determined she had suffered more than 50 stab wounds or “sharp force injuries to her torso, head and upper extremities.”

“She fought. She fought hard,” Johnson said. “(There were signs) of a huge struggle. There were things knocked over close to the bed, and blood splatter covered the walls and ceiling.

“What’s significant to me is those defensive wounds, that she was trying to protect herself and fight off somebody. She had those on her hands. She had those on her feet,” he continued. “So, obviously, she was well aware of what was going on.”

Kellee Koncki, an assistant prosecutor in Kent County, was also struck by how hard Renee Pagel fought for her life.

“This was not a quick death. She clearly struggled for quite a while… This is not only somebody who wanted to kill her, but wanted to make her suffer,” Koncki recalled in a recent interview. “It’s clear to the medical examiner and to us that she was grabbing onto the murder weapon, and it’s in desperation, and it almost cuts her fingers off.”

There was no forced entry. Jewelry, electronics and cash lay undisturbed.


Detectives soon learned that Renee Pagel had been nearing the end of a brutal divorce, which was set to be finalized six days after her murder.

When detectives arrived at Mike Pagel’s Rockford-area home Saturday evening, four hours after the discovery of his wife’s body, they found Mike Pagel’s mom home alone.

Patricia Pagel had come over from Saginaw to stay with her son and help him care for the three young children, twin 7-year-olds and a 3-year-old, he had with his wife.

The night of Renee Pagel’s murder, Mike Pagel, his mom and the children all spent the night at his house, which was about 10 miles south of the crime scene, the home he had once shared with Renee Pagel.

When investigators showed up at Mike’s house Saturday evening, Patricia Pagel told them her son was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, so investigators took the opportunity to question her.

“We asked her, you know, was anything unusual last night,” Johnson explained in 2020. “She did make the comment that, around two or three in the morning, she heard the door open and close, which she kind of stated was because of the dog. (Mike) was letting the dog out. Later, in another interview with her, she denies saying that to us.”

For years, Mike Pagel’s defense attorney Frank Stanley said that his client had a “rock-solid alibi.”

Assistant prosecutor Kellee Koncki asked Patricia Pagel about her original statement when she questioned her six months after the murder.

“So you’re saying today that you don’t remember telling them that you heard the slider open and close?” Koncki asked Patricia Pagel in a Kent County courtroom.

It was Feb. 21, 2007, and Koncki was eliciting testimony through investigative subpoenas, a tool prosecutors use to compel witnesses to testify under oath.

“We talked for a long time,” Pagel’s mom responded.

“I really don’t remember specifics of their conversation because I was confused as to why they were there,” she said, referring to the detectives who showed up at her son’s door.

Later in the questioning, Koncki confronted Pagel about her changing story.

“I’m sorry I’m raising my voice here,” Koncki told Pagel. “I’m just concerned that you’re going out on limb for your son here when you don’t need to. You just need to tell the truth. If he didn’t do anything, the truth will come out.”

But Patricia Pagel insisted she was the one who got up at 3:30 in the morning to let the dog out.

She also said that the night of Renee Pagel’s murder, two of the three children were awake at 1 a.m., which contradicted her son’s testimony that the children went to bed around 9:30 p.m. that Friday night.

Patricia Pagel told Koncki she heard Mike Pagel quieting the children around 1 a.m., after which he slept through the night on the living room couch. Pagel’s mom slept in his bedroom when she visited; he took the couch.

Patricia Pagel commented that her daughter-in-law’s murder was a “mystery” that would “someday be found out.”

Koncki responded, “Oh, you can bank on it.”

“It was clear that she was lying for him,” Koncki said in a 2020 interview. “Now, we’re not going to charge her with perjury in a situation like that because, you know, she was older. She might say, ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘Maybe I was mistaken.’” 


For his part, Mike Pagel testified there was nothing unusual about that Friday night and he’d had nothing to do with the death of his wife.

Detectives had no way to prove otherwise.

“It was disappointing,” Johnson said.

“We just weren’t finding… evidence,” he continued. “I think it was well planned out. I think he probably got himself prepared to do this, and, afterwards, I think he cleaned up very well and discarded everything.”

Investigators did look at other suspects, including a man who rented the loft above Renee Pagel’s barn. Johnson said the tenant cooperated fully and there was no evidence he had anything to do with the murder.

“The bottom line was it kept coming back to Mike,” Johnson said.

Any homicide detective will tell you the husband is always one of the first suspects. Mike Pagel did little to allay suspicions when he returned home from that AA meeting to find detectives at his home.

“Pagel was very matter-of-fact in his behavior,” Detective Jack Smith wrote in his initial report of the encounter. “He didn’t express any emotion learning of her death. At no time did he cry or show concern. Detective Johnson and I asked for his cooperation and assistance. Pagel told us that he would need to contact his attorney over the matter. I asked him why and he said because his divorce attorney told him not to speak with the police about Renee.”

Johnson said detectives investigated “nonstop” for a full year after the murder and even when the case later grew cold, they regularly circled back to try again.

“It wasn’t for lack of effort. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the prosecutor, we were all focused on solving this and bringing justice to the family, and Renee, and the children,” Johnson said.

For a dozen years, Renee Pagel’s friends also made sure no one forgot the woman who was so committed to helping others that she wasn’t content to just work as a nurse practitioner. She taught her passion to others as well. 

Just days before her murder, she went even further to save a life, donating one of her kidneys to the father of one of her students.

“That’s just the epitome of Renee, always giving,” said Chris Crandle, Renee Pagel’s close friend who pushed for years for Mike Pagel’s arrest. “She was just like a bright light shining, wanting to serve people. Obviously, she gave a part of herself to a man she didn’t even know. All the while, she was going through this horrific divorce. And she knew. She told me every day of that last week of her life that she was afraid he was going to kill her.”

Despite that fear, Renee Pagel did not lock her doors the night she was murdered. Chris Crandle said her friend was more worried that Mike Pagel would somehow tamper with her IV while she was in the hospital for the kidney surgery. Investigators wonder if she felt safe at home because there was a tenant living on the property.


By 2017, Johnson had moved on to another assignment outside the detective unit and Detective Sgt. Bill Marks took over the Pagel homicide.

But Johnson joined Marks and Koncki in 2018 to present the Pagel murder to a Cold Case Homicides Committee, a panel created by the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. It’s made up of district attorneys and investigators from around the state who convene yearly to review cold cases and make suggestions.

“They give you an hour to present and a half-hour to field questions,” Johnson explained. “I think we were about 30 minutes into our presentation — and I was stopped.

“They said, ‘Why isn’t Michael charged?’”

Kellee Koncki recalled the conversation in 2020.

“They were like, ‘Come on, Koncki, you can win this. We would write this (arrest warrant),’” she told Target 8. “I was like, ‘Would you? Would you write this? What about this and what about this?’ I mean, I’m not afraid to go after someone if I know we have the right person, and (the evidence) ain’t gonna get any better. If we can prove it, let’s go for it.”

Koncki said she was concerned a judge would refuse to bind the case over for trial because there was no evidence putting Pagel on the property that night and there was another man living above the barn, which defense attorneys would use to try to cast doubt on Pagel’s involvement.

“The cold case committee, however, was convinced the case was winnable because the motive and scene so overwhelmingly pointed to the husband and his alibi was very weak,” Koncki recalled.


The panel’s urging helped prompt investigators to begin another round of interviews, hoping time had loosened lips.

By early 2020, Kellee Koncki was once again issuing investigative subpoenas and questioning witnesses under oath in the Kent County Courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids. One of those witnesses was Mike Pagel’s brother, Bo Pagel.

While the pair had a rocky relationship, Detective Sgt. Marks said Bo Pagel did not share his brother’s confession the first time he testified in mid-January 2020.

“(Bo) is a blood sibling, so whether they like each other or dislike each other, there’s still a family connection there,” Marks explained. “So I think there was some hesitation as to him not wanting to come out with everything right out of the gate because it was his brother.”

Koncki said it was clear to her that Bo Pagel was holding back during his initial testimony.

“We said, ‘Look, we’re done, but when you leave here, if something else comes to you, we’re not going to hold against you. We’ll give you a grace period, but if we don’t hear from you in that time, then you’re stuck with (your testimony),'” she recalled.

It wasn’t long before Bo Pagel’s attorney called prosecutors and said his client “wanted to clear something things up.”

On Feb. 3, 2020, Bo Pagel took the witness stand once again and revealed Mike’s confession.

“My brother told me that he had killed Renee,” he said under questioning by Koncki. “Or, as (Mike) put it, he had ‘finalized his divorce,’ and then he showed me the knife.”


Bo Pagel said the brothers had been driving around in August 2011 near their hometown of Saginaw, looking for deer while Mike Pagel drank beer. They had stopped on a bridge over Birch Run Creek and were talking about the recent marriage of Bo Pagel’s stepdaughter when the subject of divorce came up.

The bridge over Birch Run Creek.

Bo Pagel went on to testify that his brother told him he had stashed supplies in a “honey hole” somewhere, made several “dry-runs,” and was “pretty confident he could do it without being seen.”

“He had wore some coveralls and some galoshes,” Bo Pagel testified. “(He) put his pant leg in the galoshes and snapped them up … and he went in there and confronted her, and he killed her because she wouldn’t give him what he wanted.”

Bo Pagel said he did not know if Mike Pagel had worn anything to cover his face.

“He started going, ‘She had it coming to her.’ He said all she had to do was pay him, that’s all she had to do, and she wouldn’t do it,'” Bo Pagel testified.

Witnesses said Mike Pagel was angry over the divorce settlement because he thought he should have gotten the house, the children and financial support from Renee Pagel. At the time, she was working multiple jobs to support the family and he was working part-time and considered himself the children’ main caregiver. But the judge awarded Renee Pagel custody of the kids, the house and ordered Mike Pagel to pay support.


On the witness stand, Bo Pagel struggled to explain why he hadn’t come clean when he testified in mid-January 2020.

“I’m really not sure why,” he said, apologizing to the investigators. “I just couldn’t get it out. Just something wouldn’t let me talk.”

Koncki asked him why had finally decided to come forward.

“The truth just needs to come out… and our family needs to go on,” Bo Pagel said. “I can’t live with this anymore. I just can’t. When I see how it’s affecting my sister… It’s just too much. It’s got to come out. This is what happened. I just want it over. I just want it to end.”

Bo Pagel told Knocki he had shared his brother’s confession on the bridge with their mother Patricia Pagel shortly after it happened.

“I told her what he had told me,” he recalled. “I told her, and she said, ‘Just don’t do anything until after I’m gone.'”

“Did she seem surprised?” Koncki asked.

“No,” Bo Pagel replied.

Patricia Pagel died in September 2019. Several months later, in early 2020, prosecutors called Bo Pagel in on the new round of investigative subpoenas and he shared with them his brother’s confession.   

Sitting down with Target 8 in late 2020, Koncki recalled her first thought upon hearing Bo Pagel’s new testimony.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to be able to prove that Mike Pagel killed his wife, finally,'” Koncki told Target 8 in late 2020.

“When he finally disclosed it, he wasn’t eager to do it,” she remembered. “I think that’s why it rang so true.  I think the reason he finally told is because he has (a woman) in his life who’s important to him. He’s planning on retiring, and if he lied this time and we could prove it, he would go to prison and he just wasn’t willing to do that.

Koncki said Bo Pagel also cares deeply for Renee Pagel’s kids and his knowledge about what happened to their mother likely weighed heavily on his mind.

The one statement Koncki struggled to believe was Bo Pagel’s claim that he never suspected his brother in Renee Pagel’s murder, but Bo Pagel insisted the whole family supported Mike Pagel and his claim of innocence.

“I was shocked, and I was mad,” Bo Pagel said of his reaction to his brother’s confession. “Everybody I knew of believed (Mike) was innocent.”


Also in the courtroom the day Bo Pagel related Mike’s confession was Detective Sgt. Bill Marks.

“There was … an amount of skepticism,” Marks recalled. “For it to come out after years and years, the story just sounded, I don’t want to say made up because that’s not fair, but it just sounded almost hard to believe. Is it true? If it’s true, how on earth are we going to find it?”

“It”: the knife Bo Pagel said his brother threw into the creek.

Investigators deemed excavation of the creek bed too costly and sending divers into the dark, debris-laced silt, too dangerous. Ultimately, Marks created a contraption that allowed him to drag the creek bed with a commercial grade magnet.

“The magnet that we had was a big industrial magnet and there were ropes tied to either side,” Marks explained.

For three days, Marks fished for the knife with the makeshift device, not even knowing for certain if the knife would stick. What if it were stainless steel?

“It was on the third day…. (and) we were a little bit disappointed, to be honest,” said Marks, who pulled from the creek bed everything from car parts to shotgun shells and the home receiver for a stereo system. “I was more than confident (that) if it was on the bottom of that river, then we would have found it. So as we got toward the end and we weren’t finding it, I was comfortable saying that we at least had exhausted that option.”

But then, on the second-to-last pass of the final day, a breakthrough.

“So we were probably 5 feet from the bridge, it wasn’t much further. Detective Paul VanRhee was on the other side of the magnet with me. We’re going back and forth and I pulled my way…. and it got hung up on something sturdy. As he pulled it back, he lifted it up and there it was. It was a big black knife stuck to the magnet. I’m not sure how long it took him to respond or to say something, but it was a second, and wow, it was just disbelief. It’s exciting.”


The knife had clearly been there for years and the company that made it later confirmed it was produced the year Renee Pagel was murdered or earlier. 

The blade’s length and unusual tip matched exactly what the medical examiner, back in 2006, said they were looking for.

“I think one of the first things (medical examiner Dr. David Start) said when we showed (the knife) to him, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what it would look like,'” Koncki recalled.

“The blade is 9 inches long, same length as the doctor said we’d be looking for, same length that caused these injuries. It had the kind of tip on it that’s very unusual that matches up with the injuries to (Renee’s) body and skull, which gave the brother a ton of credibility. If people want to say, ‘Well, how do you know that was the murder weapon?’ (I’d reply) well, how do you not know?”  said Koncki.

The knife also looked just as Bo Pagel had described it would.


On Feb. 5, 2020, members of the Michigan State Police 2nd District Fugitive Team arrested Mike Pagel during a traffic stop in Saginaw County, not far from where he’d moved with his children in 2012.

Johnson, no longer in the detective unit, asked prosecutors if he could be the one to handcuff Pagel, 13 years after their first meeting.

“I wanted to be the one because Mike and I had a conversation outside his house when this was going on that his time will come,” Johnson said. “So when I arrested him, I reminded him of our conversation, that he would be arrested, and (said) ‘Today’s the day.’ So (it) felt good. I appreciated them letting me do that.”

Johnson only regretted that he couldn’t have made the arrest sooner, before Renee Pagel’s father died. He had promised Forrest DeMaagd he would get justice for his daughter.

“Unfortunately, he had already passed away,” Johnson said. “So it was a promise kept, but it took a little bit longer than we anticipated.”

Shortly after Pagel’s arrest, Detective Sgt. Marks drove to the home of Mike Pagel’s sister and met with the Mike and Renee Pagel’s adult children to break the news.

“That was probably one of the hardest notifications I’ve ever had to make,” Marks told Target 8. “Because you have a family that’s lived through this for the past 13, 14 years. They haven’t had a mother. They’ve been constantly exposed to everything that is directed at their dad and now we’re going to go and tell them that all the things he’s told them over the course of their life is a complete lie.”

The children did not ask questions about the case against their dad in that initial arrest notification, but the family later requested a meeting. Detectives and prosecutors conducted a several-hour meeting via Zoom to explain to the family — and the children — the case against Mike Pagel.

An undated booking photo of Michael Pagel.
An undated booking photo of Michael Pagel.

Soon after Renee Pagel’s murder, Mike Pagel had moved his children to mid-Michigan and then later to Freeland in Saginaw County. The twins both returned to West Michigan to attend Grand Valley State University and the youngest daughter is set to begin college soon.

“They’re great kids. They really are,” said Marks, who throughout his investigation was most concerned about the impact on the children.

“Unfortunately, Renee’s gone, Mike’s in prison, and the kids are the ones that suffer. The kids lost their mother to him, and now they’ve lost the only parent they really remember, and they have to live with the fact that he is the reason behind why they don’t have any parent now,” he said.

Prosecutors had the same assessment of the three young adults after meeting with them before striking a plea deal with their father.

“They were the most gracious, kind (young people). They kept themselves under control. They were really mature for their ages,” Koncki said.

Koncki, who was on the Pagel homicide from the beginning, there was one reality she could not stomach.

“I couldn’t get over the fact that he killed these kids’ mom and now he’s raising them,” she said.


Pagel said little upon his arrest but ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Prosecutors allowed the deal in part to spare Pagel children from the pain of a protracted trial. They also wanted to keep Mike Pagel from continuing to claim innocence should a jury find him guilty at trial.

“None of us wanted (the Pagel children) to spend the rest of their lives thinking he’d been railroaded,” Koncki explained. “At least now they know she’s dead because of their dad… If people want to believe that other people were involved, let them, but we all know she’d be alive if Mike Pagel didn’t want her dead.”

While pleading guilty, Mike Pagel claimed he had hired his brother, Bo, to actually commit the murder, promising to pay him $100,000 with his portion of the inheritance once their mom died.

Later, when Pagel was questioned further under oath, he told Kellee Koncki he left the planning of the murder entirely up to his brother, who only requested that Mike Pagel get him some supplies, like tape and saran wrap.

“I recall that he had watched some kind of CSI show where somebody would wrap like plastic and tape (sic) to prevent DNA from getting out. So it was a precaution he had taken,” Mike Pagel explained under Koncki’s questioning. “(He wanted ) to wrap it around his ankles to prevent any kind of DNA or hair or skin or anything from coming out. That’s just what I recall.”

Koncki asked if the brothers had made a plan for what Bo Pagel should do if he were to arrive at Renee’s house and find she was not alone. His answer was telling.

“If there was any indication that someone else would be there, I would not have went through (with it). I would not want any collateral damage,” said Mike Pagel.

Koncki pounced.

“You said, ‘I would not have gone through with it,'” she said. “That’s what you just said.”

At one point, Koncki confronted Mike Pagel about his improbable story.

“Come on. There’s not a person… that believes that you just said and that Bo would agree to this: ‘Hey, I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars someday, someday,’ (and Bo said), ‘OK, I got this bro,'” Koncki said.

“There’s no way. I know how organized you are. You’re way more intelligent than your brother on paper. Everything I’ve seen about your lives, you’re a detail guy, big time. There’s no way… you turn over the reins to your brother who, by all accounts including yours, has got mental issues. That’s your description: ‘Here you go, mentally ill brother, you go do what you want with these items, kill anybody you want, do whatever you want.’ There’s no way, because if he gets caught, your bumbling brother, which is how everyone describes him, the first person they’re going to look at is you. The first person. So don’t sit there and tell me… That’s bulls—,” Koncki yelled.

But Mike Pagel never swayed from his story that he did not physically participate in Renee Pagel’s murder.

Detectives, however, said they found no evidence to support that claim — no phone records nor witness testimony put Bo Pagel anywhere near Kent County the night of the murder.

“Every allegation (Mike) made about his brother turned out to be a lie we could prove, or there was no way to corroborate it,” Koncki explained. “We spent weeks. We did additional investigative subpoenas, tried to find records, tried to find witnesses. And even the couple people he led us to talk to, they testified contrary to what Mike Pagel said. Did not corroborate him in any way.”

Investigators also noted that after Renee Pagel’s murder, it was Bo Pagel who paid Mike Pagel, often covering expenses for him, like the children’s school tuition.

“If this is a murder-for-hire plot, why is the (murderer) paying you?” Koncki wondered.

Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Helmer also noted Mike’s weak alibi for the time of the murder.

“Why would you hire somebody to murder someone else? So you can have an alibi. So you can be on video at Meijer or on a rollercoaster at Disney,” he explained. “Mike didn’t have that. Mike never had that, other than this constantly changing story about being home with his mom. He never had the biggest benefit you get form hiring someone to kill someone, so that never made sense to us, either.”


In October 2020, Kent County Circuit Court Judge George J. Quist sentenced Mike Pagel to 25 to 50 years in prison, which means he won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 80.

Given the chance to speak during the proceedings in a Kent County courtroom, Pagel blamed “the stress of the divorce and custody battle,” for his actions, saying he “wasn’t in his right mind.” 

He asked his wife, the children, their family and friends for forgiveness while quoting the Gospel of Matthew.

“Before you ask God for forgiveness, ask for forgiveness from those you’ve offended,” Pagel said in court. “I am truly sorry. I have greatly sinned.”

Pagel went on to tell the children their mother loved them very much and would be proud to see who they have become.

The Pagels’ three adult children sat in the courtroom during sentencing as Quist read from a letter one of the twins had sent to the court.

“Since I was young, the case of the death of my mom, Renee Pagel, has been the source of indescribable pain. I’ve lacked the relationship with a mother that every child has a right to,” it read in part. “This is truly a situation that is impossible to understand without being in the position that my siblings and I have endured, are currently, and will continue to carry with us for the rest of our lives. Regardless of my dad’s involvement, it is impossible for anyone to say that he didn’t do an incredible job raising Joel, Hannah and myself. I was never able to have the relationship I should have had with my mom, but had a relationship with my dad that I still value more than anything.”

The kids’ aunt, Michelle DeMaagd, said her sister would be exceptionally proud of the young adults her children have become. 

“They are smart, motivated, accomplished, accountable, responsible and good-hearted,” DeMaagd wote in a message to Target 8.

“These past several years have been very difficult for all involved,” she continued. “We are extremely grateful to all involved in bringing the truth to light.”