A seemingly innocuous discovery by a hiker at the Joshua Tree National Park in California quickly turned into a murder investigation. Henry Stange’s mutilated body was found partially buried at the park in June 2018. Investigation Discovery’s ‘On The Case with Paula Zahn: Circled by Vultures’ has the veteran journalist delve into the case where a love triangle led to Henry’s death in what seemed like a killing fueled by jealousy and anger. So, let’s find out more about this case then, shall we?
How Did Henry Stange Die?
Henry Stange was a 54-year-old living in Murrieta, California. He loved the outdoors and adored animals. He also spent a lot of time on his passion: amateur radio. Henry was divorced from his wife of about ten years, and they had two kids together. The last time anyone heard from Henry was when he went on air on the morning of May 24, 2018. On June 1, a hiker saw what he thought were animal remains at the park, only for him to realize later that they were probably human remains. He alerted the authorities right away.
Park rangers went to the scene to discover a decomposing body that was buried in a shallow grave. It seemed to the police that it was done in a hurry. The body was identified to be Henry’s through fingerprints. An autopsy confirmed multiple skull fractures and several lacerations, painting the picture of a brutal beatdown. The cause of death was severe blunt force trauma. Henry was killed elsewhere, and the body was dumped in the desert.
Who Killed Henry Stange?
The investigators went to Henry’s home to find the crime scene in his garage. There was blood, a lot of it. There was a smell of bleach, indicating that the killer attempted to clean up. The security cameras that Henry had set up at his home were missing as well. As the detectives looked into Henry’s past, they learned that he met with a motorcycle accident that left him needing constant pain medication. He was addicted to prescription drugs.
The authorities also learned of a woman named Ashlie Stapp, a young twenty-something, who was in his life at the time. They tracked her down and found out that she was in a serious relationship with 30-year-old Curtis Krueger, a First Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps. Suspecting them, the police acquired their phone records, and sure enough, the records placed them in the area of Henry’s home on May 24. This was the day the police believed Henry was murdered.
Wanting to strengthen the case, the authorities placed wiretaps on the couple’s phones and waited. Soon, Ashlie and Curtis were heard talking about Henry’s murder and making incriminating statements. Both were arrested after that in August 2018. But they were released a few days later because the prosecutors felt they needed more evidence to charge them. But in December 2018, Curtis was re-arrested after the authorities were able to collect further evidence.
Ashlie, who initially denied having anything to do with the murder, decided to confess to the police after being confronted with the evidence. Ashlie told them that she exchanged sex for drugs with Henry and regularly met him to get high. She hid this relationship from Curtis, but he suspected something was up. In January 2018, Curtis attacked Henry at his home with a hammer after Ashlie told him that Henry raped her. Henry never reported this to the police. Curtis discarded the hammer in the desert and was later found by the authorities.
Curtis’ phone records also showed that he threatened Henry over texts regarding his affair with Ashlie. Then, Ashlie stated that on May 24, she went to Henry’s home, did drugs, and had sex with him. At this point, she claimed that she went into the bathroom, and he went into the garage. Soon after, she heard a scream, followed by Curtis entering the room and telling them they had to leave.
At the trial, Curtis testified that he tracked Ashlie to Henry’s house and was concerned for her safety. When he went inside, he claimed that Henry attacked him with a knife, and so, he acted in self-defense. After that, Curtis and Ashlie left for her mother’s home before returning to the garage. Ashlie helped Curtis clean up and load Henry, who was believed to still be alive at the time, onto Curtis’ truck. They drove to the park, where Ashlie helped him bury the body.
Where Are Ashlie Stapp and Curtis Krueger Now?
In June 2019, Ashlie pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory to covering up the murder after the fact. She was sentenced to 10 months in jail and 3 years of felony probation. She was also required to attend a substance abuse rehabilitation program. After receiving credit for time served, she was ultimately sentenced to 180 days at a residential substance abuse program. In November 2019, Ashlie was arrested for violating her probation and leaving her rehabilitation program early. She seems to have been released since then, but not much is known about her current whereabouts.
Curtis’ trial began in August 2020. His lawyers said Curtis was defending himself and added, “The true character of Curtis Krueger was that he was trying to help Ashlie; he was trying to stay with Ashlie.” After four days of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and assault. In October 2020, Curtis was sentenced to 18 years to life behind bars. As per prison records, he remains incarcerated at North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Curtis will be eligible for parole in 2031.
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