Trina Langenbrunner Murder: Where is Joseph Couture Now?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Murder In The Heartland: Killer on the Res’ chronicles the brutal murder of 33-year-old Trina Langenbrunner in Cloquet, Minnesota, in September 2000. The investigators took more than a decade before they were able to catch the perpetrator, based on evolved forensic technology and testimonies of confidential witnesses.

How Did Trina Langenbrunner Die?

Trina Louise Langenbrunner was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe and lived in Cloquet, Minnesota, in September 2000. She had three children – a son named Todd Jr. and two daughters, Shela and Shelly Tormanen. Their 33-year-old mother was their sole provider and parent figure. Shelly reminisced, “She was the sweetest, kindest woman I’ve ever known in my life.”

Trina’s cousin, Gail Mularie, recounted how they grew up together and described Trina as someone “with a smile that could light up a room.” She was employed as a home health aid and had married a non-Native man, Shawn. Hence, it was shocking when a passerby, Erik Myhran, discovered Trina’s bloody body off a rural road in a gravel pit in southern St. Louis County near the Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota in the early morning of September 3, 2000.

According to the police coroner, Trina had been brutally beaten and stabbed to death, with 29 stab entry wounds to her torso, face, and back. Her autopsy report stated the official cause of death was severe blood loss from multiple stab wounds. A police report noted the killer had also raped the 33-year-old mother of three. The show also described how the perpetrator had set a fire to her chest, with burnt matches found near the body.

Who Killed Trina Langenbrunner?

The investigators found that Trina was last seen hitchhiking in the area of Brookston Road sometime in the early morning of September 3, between 1:30 and 2 am. The mentioned spot was about six miles from where her body was found. According to Shela Tormanen, her mother had been calling many relatives and others for a ride to Grand Rapids since she, like many residents, did not own a car. Shela added her grandmother filed a missing person report with a cousin who was an officer at the Cloquet Police Department.

After Trina’s body was found, the first suspect in the murder was her husband, Shawn. They had met dealing blackjack at the casino, and they were facing difficulty in their marriage because of Shawn’s disregard for Trina’s culture and abusive nature. Gail Mularie alleged Shawn had isolated Trina after their marriage and claimed she had seen the wounds he had inflicted on her. According to her, Trina’s husband was the primary suspect and had killed her because he did not want her to divorce him.

Law enforcement officials found another suspect when Robert Nordrum, a sheet metal worker, and his cousin, Jimmy Nordrum, came forward with crucial information. According to Robert, he and Jimmy were driving home after a night of partying when they saw Trina in the area of Brookston Road a little after 1 am on September 3. He claimed seeing an intoxicated Trina flashing a torch and asking passing cars for a ride. Judging by inebriety, Jimmy decided not to let her inside the car and sped away.

However, the police found it hard to believe their statements and considered Jimmy a suspect since he was one of the last people to see her alive. On September 4, the detectives tracked down Shawn at Grand Rapids, and he claimed he had last seen Trina a couple of days before her death. He asserted he was camping out in Grand Rapids on September 3 with a friend, and Trina had called him, saying she wanted to come down and talk about their divorce.

Shawn claimed he tried to dissuade her, though she sounded adamant, but never arrived. However, he confessed to the officers about hitting her during their marriage. Looking to involve the community to solve the murder, the police set up an anonymous tip box and offered a reward of $100,000 for any information about the murder. It led to other suspects, including Shawn’s cousin, Billy, who allegedly had an affair with Trina, and Trina’s best friend and her boyfriend, who were seen with her on the night of the murder.

The police also found a tip about spotting Joseph John Couture, a neighbor, out in the streets on the night of the murder. On September 5, the police interviewed John to learn he was out having drinks that night and had returned home at around 1:30 am after having a few drinks. His wife confirmed his alibi, and Joseph agreed to submit his DNA to the police with the other suspects. When none of the DNAs matched, the case turned cold. After a decade, the police received a tip in August 2010 from two confidential witnesses (their identities withheld by court order) claiming Joseph was Trina’s killer.

Joseph Couture is Behind Bars Today

The witnesses claimed Joseph had returned covered in blood around 2-2:30 am on September 3, 2000. He had burned down his bloody clothes and thrown the knife into a nearby water body. The police had Joseph’s DNA on their files and decided to check for a match once again. In the past decade, forensic technology had evolved exponentially, and this time they found Joseph’s DNA matched the samples retrieved from the crime scene. On June 15, 2012, the police arrested Joseph and his wife, Sandra Couture.

Trina’s former neighbor admitted he came across her on the night of the murder and had given her a ride. But he refused to drive her to Grand Rapids and asked her to get down when she allegedly attacked him with a knife. But the prosecution claimed Joseph had a soft spot for Trina and murdered her when she refused his advances. Joseph pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder, first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated witness tampering, and aiding and abetting first-degree arson.

Under terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution dropped the sexual assault charge. He was sentenced in July 2013 to 32 years and 2 months in prison on the murder conviction and 7 years and 2 months for the witness-tampering conviction, to be served one after the other. He was sentenced to 10 years and 9 months in prison on the arson conviction, to be served concurrently with the murder conviction.

Sandra also pled guilty in April 2013 to aiding and abetting first-degree aggravated witness tampering and aiding and abetting first-degree arson. She was sentenced to 9½ years in prison. According to official court records, John had requested to be housed at a prison outside Minnesota, and his inmate records set his anticipated release date to be in 2038.

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