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Man accused of killing missing girlfriend after her dismembered remains were found wrapped in plastic in storage unit possibly linked to yearslong disappearance of another woman

Inset photos from left: Joseph Jorgenson, Fanta Xayavong and Manijeh "Mani" Starren (Screenshots from FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul)

Inset photos from left: Joseph Jorgenson, Fanta Xayavong and Manijeh “Mani” Starren (Screenshots from FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul)

A 40-year-old man is accused of killing his girlfriend, a mother of three, whose dismembered remains were found wrapped in plastic in bags and a cooler in a storage unit in Minnesota after she disappeared months ago, and police were investigating his connection to another missing woman.

Joseph S. Jorgenson was charged Friday with one count of murder in the second degree in the death of Manijeh “Mani” Starren, 34, in a case in which he could face up to 40 years if convicted, records show. Law&Crime left a message on Saturday for his defense attorney seeking comment.

It’s a case that isn’t for the faint of heart. A probable cause affidavit details the disturbing killing that came to light on May 1 when Starren’s father reported her missing to the Saint Paul Police Department after not hearing from her on April 21.

He told police she struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues and was supposed to go into a drug treatment center but never showed up. He said she seemed paranoid and afraid of a boyfriend named Joe, who once wrapped a rope around her neck when “things got out of hand,” and she ran from the apartment, court documents said.

Police found evidence in Starren’s apartment of someone “seriously injured or killed” and an apparent attempt by someone “to clean up the blood,” the complaint said.

In her apartment, crime scene technicians found large amounts of blood in the living room, primarily on the couch, the floor of the living room, and the kitchen. A bedroom window screen was on the floor, a TV screen was cracked, and the glass in the microwave was broken. The bedsheet in her bedroom was partially removed, and a foam pad on top of the mattress had a large hole cut and removed from it. There were red stains at the foot of the bed, the affidavit said.

Police found video surveillance showing her with Jorgensen outside Starren’s apartment on April 21. The video showed her running from her apartment and Jorgenson catching up to her, grabbing her, and pushing her back into her apartment, the court document said.

“Jorgenson is the only one that comes out of that unit, and Mani is never seen again,” Saint Paul Sgt. Mike Ernster said in a news conference on Friday. “He did not report her missing to police. Instead, he just went on with his life without saying anything to anyone.”

Based on video surveillance, apartment management estimated the suspect accessed her apartment 28 times.

Police tracked his Facebook history, noting in the affidavit a post on April 5 in which he allegedly threatened her in a typo-laden message that read, “N u owe me 2 bc u called the cops on me 2 times. Very clear I was of that being punishable by hanging. I’m giving u this plea bargain opportunity.” Jorgenson later sent another message reading, “Hope u die of a kidney infection u b—- c— terrible f—— mother.”

When a SWAT team raided his apartment on Monday, police said he barricaded himself inside. He allegedly started a fire, fought with officers and tried to disarm them before he was arrested. He faces separate charges of arson, threats of violence and disarming an officer from that incident, records show.

A woman was at the apartment during the police search. She had multiple bruises and scratches, and her neck was red. She told investigators Jorgenson had choked and threatened to kill her, telling her something like, “The neighbors won’t hear you scream,” she said, according to the affidavit.

In the apartment, police found a large pool of blood in the front closet, where a reported “foul odor” had come from, a smell that “impacted the entire building.”

“The manager described the smell as like a dead animal or something that had died,” the affidavit said.

Blood had soaked through the carpet and carpet pad, and there appeared to be other biological matter on the carpet and “recent maggot activity,” court documents said.

Blood was also found in the closet where Jorgenson had attempted to start the fire, the affidavit said.

Reviewing Jorgenson’s phone data, authorities were led to a storage facility this week.

Once there, investigators smelled a strong odor consistent with decomposing flesh outside the storage unit. Inside, authorities said they found a green tote with cleaning supplies, a large cooler wrapped in plastic, a blue duffle bag, and a small carry-on size suitcase.

The coolers and bag had a strong smell of decomposing flesh.

Using an X-ray machine, investigators found the coolers contained a human body.

“A torso appeared to be in the large cooler pulled from the unit,” the complaint said. “The arms and legs appeared to be in the large bag, and a head was in the smaller cooler removed from the unit.

The affidavit detailed the findings:

“The torso was extensively wrapped in saran wrap and placed in multiple layers of bags. The next set of remains removed was the head which was also wrapped in multiple layers of saran wrap and bags. The third set of remains was then removed from the duffel bag. The remains consisting of two arms, two thighs, and the remaining parts of the legs and feet that were also wrapped in a large amount of saran wrap. Great care had been taken to wrap the remains. It took an extended amount of time for the medical examiner to just remove the remains from their wrappings.”

The medical examiner had to use tattoos and dental records to confirm her identity, the affidavit said.

A GoFundMe site was set up to raise money for Starren’s funeral.

“April 21st was the first day of the worst 2 1/2 months this family could be put through,” the site said. “Her beautiful three kids have horrifically lost the most beautiful person in their lives.”

Before her remains were found, her friend, Bri Moinicken, who helped organize the fundraiser, told the Pioneer Press she was a devoted mother.

“Her most important thing is spending time with her kids,” Moinicken said, the paper reported. “She has this positivity and patience and kindness that she shows you no matter who you are.”

Police said at the news conference on Friday they were also investigating Jorgensen in the disappearance of 33-year-old Fanta Xayavong, last seen with the suspect in July 2021.

“She does have a connection with Jorgensen, and, to put it bluntly, we’re concerned for her safety also,” Ernster said.

Jorgenson’s next court date is Aug. 21.

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