What happened in Apartment 5? Everything we know and don’t know about Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind's death
FARGO — What exactly happened to Savanna Marie LaFontaine-Greywind? When will we know? Will we ever know?
Her story has riveted Fargo-Moorhead and the region, and has drawn the attention of people across the country and around the world, so much so that she's become known simply as "Savanna." Yet, we still know remarkably little about what happened.
When did she die? How and where was she killed? When was her baby born? How did it come into the world? Was it born naturally, induced early, or taken from her violently?
Police and prosecutors presumably know more than we do, but they're not talking.
A beautiful young woman, eight months pregnant, with a promising career, about to start a new family with her longtime boyfriend and expected baby daughter, disappeared. Five days later, her newborn baby was found alive and healthy, but without her. Three days after that, the woman's body was discovered in the Red River, wrapped in plastic and bound by duct tape.
The basic facts of the story read like a Hollywood murder mystery, but it's more frightening than any movie because it's real.
Three weeks have passed since Savanna's body was found and two suspects were charged in the case, but many questions remain about the woman's disappearance and killing.
Very little new information has emerged. Fargo police have not made any public announcements about the case since Aug. 29, when preliminary autopsy results became available, and even then they only provided the vaguest of details.
The Forum recently sent Fargo Police Chief David Todd and Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick a list of questions about the case, but both refused to answer any of them.
Police have said they cannot release further information because it would jeopardize their investigation and the state's attorney's ability to prosecute the case. Burdick said prosecutors are prohibited from making "extrajudicial comments" by professional rules of conduct.
Therefore, much of what we don't know may not emerge until the case is resolved at trial or otherwise. Some details may never be known. Here's what we know so far:
Savanna, 22, was home on a Saturday afternoon, Aug. 19, with her family in the basement apartment they shared in a three-story apartment building at 2825 9th St. N. in Fargo, a short walk from McKinley Elementary School. She lived there with her mother, father, a brother and a sister.
A woman living in a third-floor unit, Apartment 5, asked Savanna if she would model a dress she was sewing so that she could pin it. The woman was Brooke Lynne Crews, who lived there with her boyfriend, William Henry Hoehn. Crews offered Savanna $20 in return for her help. Savanna agreed.
Crews and Hoehn have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. They are each being held on $2 million bail at the Cass County Jail.
Savanna went upstairs about 1:30 p.m. Before going upstairs, she ordered a pizza, so she must have thought she wouldn't be gone long. But she never ate that pizza.
Just before going upstairs, she texted her mother, telling her what she was doing. At 1:24 p.m., she texted her boyfriend, Ashton Matheny, who was housesitting for his mother in Grand Forks. It was the last time he would hear from his girlfriend.
Savanna was supposed to give her 16-year-old brother a ride to work just before 3 p.m. About 2:30 p.m., Savanna's mother, Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind, sent him upstairs to get her, but nobody answered at Apartment 5 when he knocked. A few minutes later, Savanna's father, Joe Greywind, went upstairs and knocked on the door. Crews answered, but she told him they weren't finished working on the dress.
Since Savanna was unavailable, her mother took her son to work. Once the mother returned home, she went about her business, doing laundry, assuming her daughter was in her room. Eventually, she discovered Savanna wasn't there. She panicked, ran upstairs, knocked on the door of Apartment 5, but Crews told her Savanna had left soon after her father had come to the door.
Savanna's mother immediately knew something was wrong. Savanna's car was still in the apartment parking lot. She'd left behind her wallet. It was out of character for her to leave home without telling anyone. She was unlikely to go anywhere on foot because she was very pregnant, uncomfortable most of the time as a result, and naturally cautious.
Norberta called Savanna on her cellphone, but she didn't answer, though the phone was on and rang. She texted her. Savanna didn't respond. She then called Savanna's boyfriend, Ashton, but he hadn't communicated with her since that text at 1:24 p.m.
Savanna's mother later said she didn't trust Crews even before her daughter's disappearance. Two weeks before, Crews had knocked on the family's door and asked Savanna to come upstairs to smoke pot with her, despite the fact Savanna was 7½ months pregnant. She had no such antipathy toward Hoehn.
About 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Greywind family contacted Fargo police to report that Savanna was missing. About 4:27 p.m., three police officers arrived at the apartment. They met with the family, and then went upstairs to question Crews and Hoehn.
According to Lt. Jason Nelson, Fargo's chief detective on the case, both Crews and Hoehn were home at the time. Crews invited the officers into Apartment 5. She acknowledged that Savanna had been in the apartment earlier, but had left, and Crews said she hadn't seen her since. The officers asked if they could look around the apartment and were granted permission. They found nothing suspicious.
Police saw evidence of the sewing project that was Savanna's reason for going upstairs. Still, it remains puzzling why Crews, who isn't visibly overweight, would ask a woman who was eight months pregnant to model a dress for her. Did this arouse suspicion among police? Did they ask Crews about it?
The couple who lived immediately below Crews and Hoehn told The Forum later that they heard loud noises coming from the bathroom of the suspects' apartment on Saturday afternoon about the time Savanna went upstairs — banging in the bathtub. The noises lasted for about 20 minutes, then the shower was turned on.
They were so accustomed to Crews and Hoehn fighting that they didn't think anything more of it at the time.
Could they have heard the sound of Savanna being killed? Could they have heard the sound of her baby being taken from her? We still don't know when Savanna died. We still don't know how the baby was born.
Later that night, the Greywind family again called police to report that Savanna had not returned home. Though that call is not listed in the dispatch log, Nelson said that officers responded and met with the family. They cautioned them that there was a limit to what police could do at that point because Savanna was an adult who could have left of her own volition and there was no evidence of criminal activity.
Police again went upstairs to the apartment of Crews and Hoehn. Both were home. They again granted the officers the right to search the apartment. The officers found nothing suspect.
Norberta Greywind later said Fargo police did not take Savanna's disappearance seriously at first. She said she called them repeatedly but that they were "very rude and had no sympathy whatsoever." She said she screamed at them. "I felt like they just had no care. They told me they did their job."
For reasons that are unknown, Fargo police returned to the suspects' apartment for a third time that weekend about 6:30 p.m. Sunday. This time a detective accompanied a uniformed officer. According to Nelson, only Crews was home at the time. She invited the officers into the apartment. She allowed them to search the apartment. They found nothing. They also searched public areas of the apartment building.
Why did police return to the apartment on Sunday night? Did they think that two previous searches had been unsatisfactory? Did they feel questioning had been inadequate? Did something Crews or Hoehn said arouse suspicion upon further reflection? Police haven't said.
All three initial searches were what police call "consent searches," meaning that the residents authorized police to search. But consent searches, by their nature, are less rigorous than searches conducted with search warrants, which often include forensic investigations.
The Forum provided little on Savanna's disappearance initially. The first story appeared online Sunday night and in the newspaper Monday, Aug. 21. It was a short story, 12 sentences in length, on page 3 of Section C. It included a photo of Savanna, a photo that would be featured again and again, in media around the world, in coming weeks. A second update story appeared on page 2 of the A Section the following day, but it was even shorter.
Savanna's disappearance didn't become front-page news until Wednesday, Aug. 23, four days after she had gone missing. Some have wondered whether her disappearance would have attracted greater attention, and more serious police investigation, if she was white.
A member of the Spirit Lake tribe, Savanna was born in Belcourt, moved to Fargo when she was young, and then to the Spirit Lake reservation at age 9. She lived on the reservation until moving to Fargo last year. Her father is a Spirit Lake Indian. Her mother is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians.
Relatively little is known about what Fargo police did to try to find Savanna between Saturday, Aug. 19, and Thursday, Aug. 24, when they raided the suspects' apartment and found Savanna's baby. As late as Tuesday, Aug. 22, Deputy Police Chief Joe Anderson said "there is nothing to suggest criminal activity."
Police reported on that Tuesday that they had interviewed Savanna's family, friends, employer and neighbors. They had conducted two K-9 searches. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did an aerial search. The Fargo Fire Department searched the river. Police had tried unsuccessfully to "ping" her cellphone to determine its location. They had contacted hospitals throughout the region, to no avail.
Responding on that Wednesday to concerns about whether police were doing enough to find Savanna, Fargo Police Chief David Todd, who was on vacation at the time, said, "This is our No. 1 priority. All of our resources have been focused on this since the beginning."
Deputy Chief Anderson said the same day, "We are treating it as a criminal investigation and have since Sunday," which seemed to contradict what he said the day before. He insisted there was no contradiction.
The police response, however, has inspired many questions from Savanna's family and friends, from the public and the media.
Why did it take police so long to act? Why did it take them until Thursday, five days after Savanna's disappearance, to execute a search warrant at Apartment 5?
If a woman who is pregnant disappears suddenly, leaves behind her car and wallet, stops using her cellphone completely, and remains missing, doesn't that inspire enough suspicion to obtain a search warrant to search the place where she was last seen?
If the people who last saw her did things that seem illogical (such as asking a pregnant woman to model a dress), and if neighbors reported hearing strange noises coming from their apartment about the time she disappeared, doesn't that information, combined with all the other details, justify police elevating the urgency of the search?
Police later said that they lacked a "criminal nexus" required to obtain a search warrant until Wednesday, Aug. 23, though they have never defined what that means or what information they lacked.
To obtain a search warrant, police must demonstrate to a judge "probable cause" that something they are seeking in an investigation will be found at the location they wish to search — that it is "more likely than not" to be found, according to Cass County District Court Judge Steven Marquart. "There's not a high burden of proof," he said. "It's the least onerous standard of proof in the legal system."
The apparent breakthrough in the case came Wednesday morning, when Fargo police interviewed people who worked with William Hoehn at Assured Quality Roofing in Fargo. Lt. Nelson told Chris Berg, host of the "Point of View" program on KVLY-TV, that Hoehn's coworkers said he had talked about having a baby at home.
That information, Nelson said, was what police needed to justify obtaining a search warrant for the apartment of Crews and Hoehn. Police obtained the search warrant on Wednesday morning, but still they didn't act.
Nelson said that police didn't execute the search warrant right away because they didn't know whether Savanna or her baby were in the suspects' apartment, and they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their safety. Instead, they placed the apartment building and the two suspects under surveillance.
About this time, a rumor circulated online that the woman who lived in Apartment 5 was named Dawn Kirby, a registered sex offender, though the rumor proved to be false. On Wednesday night, I went to Apartment 5 at the instruction of my editor to interview whoever was there.
As I walked up the stairs in the apartment building and approached Apartment 5, I heard a loud machine noise coming from the apartment. It sounded like construction noise, possibly an industrial vacuum, noise you might hear if an apartment was being rehabbed. It was too loud to be a normal home vacuum cleaner or any other common domestic machinery.
I knocked on the door. The machine was turned off. A woman behind the door asked who was there. I identified myself, but she couldn't hear me sufficiently so she opened the door, just wide enough to see me. I asked if William Hoehn lived in the apartment. She confirmed that he did. I asked if he was home. She said he wasn't. I asked if she was Dawn Kirby. She said she was not, that she didn't know Dawn Kirby, that Dawn Kirby did not live there, and that she had never heard of Dawn Kirby. I asked her name, but she wouldn't tell me.
Later, after Crews and Hoehn were arrested, I realized that Crews was the woman with whom I had spoken.
Knowing that, my visit inspired questions. What was Crews doing in the apartment when I knocked? What sort of machine was she using? If the apartment and suspects were under "constant surveillance," as police later said, why didn't police follow me and question me about what I was doing there?
Where was the baby when I visited the apartment? It seems unlikely that Crews would have opened the door for me if the baby had been there. Three previous police searches of the apartment hadn't found Savanna or the baby. Where was the baby before Thursday's raid? Did Crews and Hoehn move the baby around? If they did that, shouldn't police have noticed and tried to intercede?
At 1:41 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24, police executed a search warrant on Apartment 5. They found Crews at home and, much to their surprise, found a healthy newborn baby, which the suspects told them belonged to Savanna.
How is it possible the baby was born four weeks early in such challenging circumstances, was healthy when found, and has experienced no significant health problems?
Crews was arrested. Hoehn was arrested soon after at his job. The baby was taken to Sanford Children's Hospital and placed under protective custody of Cass County Social Services until DNA could determine whether Savanna and her boyfriend, Ashton, were the parents. DNA tests have since proven that they are the parents, and Ashton has obtained legal custody of his daughter, Haisley Jo.
Fargo police and investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation spent the rest of the day searching the apartment building and Apartment 5, and conducting detailed forensic examinations. They have not revealed anything about what they found there.
Savanna, however, remained missing. Police seemed to have no clues about where she might be. When asked at a news conference the day after the raid whether searches had uncovered any information about her whereabouts, Chief Todd said, "Not that I'm aware of."
Police asked for the public's help in finding Savanna. They called on people to search their properties, buildings, garages and outbuildings. They asked landlords to check vacant properties. They encouraged the public to look through dumpsters for suspicious materials. They asked anyone who had seen a brown 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee owned by the suspects to contact police.
But when asked if there was a geographic focus to police searches, Todd said, "We do not have a specific direction to point people in right now."
If the suspects and the apartment building were under "constant surveillance," as police have emphasized, why did they seem to know so little about where the suspects had been in the days before they were arrested, or where they may have taken Savanna or the baby?
In an age when we all leave an electronic trail wherever we go and our cell phones constantly know our location, how is it that police investigations seemed to uncover so little information about the suspects' movements or Savanna's possible whereabouts?
Family and friends of Savanna grew impatient with police and the lack of progress on the search, so on Friday, Aug. 25, they organized their own search and encouraged the public to help. Over the next three days, hundreds of people fanned out across Fargo looking for clues. They looked in parks and wooded areas. They looked along the river. They looked in residential neighborhoods.
Police were not involved in the public searches when they started. On the first day, a single police officer stood away from a pavilion where organizers had set up in Trollwood Park, merely observing. But by the end of the weekend, a more collaborative relationship between police and searchers developed. Searchers were instructed about what to do if they found anything suspicious, and all information was turned over to police.
Savanna's body was found on Sunday night, Aug. 27, wrapped in plastic and lodged against a tree in the Red River north of Fargo-Moorhead. Eight days of intensive searching by law enforcement and the public had failed to produce results. Rather, the discovery was made by accident by kayakers paddling the river for some weekend fun. They saw a body-sized object in the river and contacted police.
Law enforcement agencies also searched a nearby abandoned farmhouse next to the river in rural Clay County, Minnesota. Volunteer searchers found suspicious items there and alerted police. Authorities eventually determined that the farmhouse was not a crime scene and had no connection to the case. To date, no other location has been identified as a possible crime scene, except Apartment 5.
Presumably because Savanna's body was found on the Minnesota side of the Red River (police won't say exactly where it was found), it was sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul for an autopsy. Police received preliminary results of the autopsy two days later, but said only that the cause of death was "homicidal violence." No information was provided about the time of death, specific cause, condition of the body, or whether examinations had determined the method by which the baby was born.
The two suspects, Crews and Hoehn, were formally charged on Monday, Aug. 28. They were each charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and providing false information to police. The charging documents revealed some new information, but also raised new questions.
Crews and Hoehn told different stories about what happened. Crews said she instructed Savanna on the day she disappeared how to induce early childbirth. She said Savanna then left her apartment, returned two days later at 3:30 a.m., and gave Crews a newborn baby. Crews told police that she had taken advantage of Savanna in order to obtain her child.
Hoehn, in contrast, said he came home from work about 2:30 p.m. on the day Savanna disappeared and discovered Crews cleaning up blood in the apartment bathroom. He said Crews presented him with a newborn baby and told him, "This is our baby, this is our family." Hoehn told police he removed garbage bags containing bloody towels and shoes, and disposed of them in an apartment dumpster in an unknown location in West Fargo.
Charging the two suspects with conspiracy to commit murder, rather than murder, suggests that police and prosecutors may not know who actually killed Savanna. The charges allege that Crews and Hoehn conspired to murder Savanna so that they could obtain her child and "so that the child could be raised as (their) biological child."
Reporters' inquiries made after Crews and Hoehn were arrested revealed that Crews had at least seven children of her own by at least five men, but had limited contact with all of them. She had been sued for child support by two of the men. Hoehn had two children, one of whom he physically abused as a baby, fracturing its skull.
But one or both appear to have wanted another baby, even if it wasn't their own. They wanted to try again. They kept the baby in the very same apartment where Savanna had last been seen. They likely passed members of the Greywind family in the stairwell during that time.
The charging documents raise more questions because of what they don't address.
Is it possible that police and prosecutors know much less than they would like us to believe? Could it be that one of the suspects acted alone to kill Savanna, that there was no conspiracy, and that the other suspect merely got caught up in the crime of their partner and helped to try to cover it up?
Could there have been other people involved in the crimes? Police have said "no," that they believe they have in custody the two people responsible. But what we know suggests the possibility that they had accomplices. Neither Savanna nor the baby were present when police searched the suspects' apartment on the Saturday she disappeared, but both suspects were home. Savanna and the baby had to be somewhere during that time, and at least the baby was alive.
Fargo police say they are still investigating the crimes. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are formulating their cases against the suspects. A preliminary hearing for Crews is scheduled for Sept. 28 and for Hoehn on Oct. 4.
Fargo police executed two more search warrants at the apartment building — on Monday, Aug. 28, and Tuesday, Aug. 29. They haven't said why. All three search warrants have since been returned to the court. When a search warrant is returned, the paperwork contains an inventory of what was found. But all three search warrants have been sealed so their contents cannot be examined.
What happened in Apartment 5 on Saturday, Aug. 19? How long was Savanna alive after she went upstairs? When was her baby born and how? Did Fargo police do everything they could to find her, particularly in the initial days after she disappeared? If they had acted more quickly and aggressively, could they have prevented her death?
This article asks more than it answers. But these questions are not merely academic. Savanna's tragic story has shaken many of us. It has made us feel a little less secure and a little less trusting. It has challenged the belief of many in the exceptionalism of this place. Those of us who experienced it, even from a distance, will never be quite the same. Even the cynical among us couldn't help but be moved. We need answers to try to make sense of what happened, though it may never make sense.