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Crime News Cold Justice

Who Killed Anita Knutson? The 100th Episode Of ‘Cold Justice’ Looks Into 2007 North Dakota Stabbing

Kelly Siegler and Steve Spingola recently headed to North Dakota to begin work on the 100th “Cold Justice” investigation.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Since 2007 the community of Minot, North Dakota has been haunted by a disturbing question: Who stabbed 18-year-old college student Anita Knutson to death?

How to Watch

Watch Cold Justice on Oxygen Saturdays at 8/7c. Catch up on the Oxygen App.

On “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen, prosecutor Kelly Siegler and investigator Steve Spingola probed that mystery as they tackled the series’ 100th case. They worked alongside Det. Carmen Asham, Det. Mikali Talbott, and Chief John Klug of the Minot Police Dept, as well as other local investigators. The Minot PD gave the “Cold Justice” team access to voluminous evidence in the high-profile homicide, which has attracted attention from the FBI, reporters, and podcasters.

Anita’s “personality and her beauty garnered attention from men and some jealousy from a lot of ladies,” said Siegler. “So we’re going to need to investigate a lot of potential motives and suspects.”

A board with victim Anna Knutson's photo on it

The team reviewed the case facts. On June 4, 2007, Anita’s mother grew concerned when her daughter didn’t respond to calls, so Anita’s father went to the teen’s apartment. When she didn’t answer her door, he went to her bedroom window. From outside, he could see her face down and motionless on her bed. 

First responders determined that Anita had been stabbed twice in her chest, and a wound that lacerated her heart was the fatal one. 

There was no evidence of a sexual assault or a robbery. Anita’s cell phone and a knife were found in the bedding. 

“The investigators ran DNA tests on the knife and on other evidence in the case, but nothing to date has identified Anita’s killer,” explained Siegler. 

All of the DNA evidence was sent out to be tested again using the latest advancements in technology.

The team then focused on Anita’s bedroom screen window. It had been cut, suggesting that it may have been how the killer entered the apartment. 

On Monday, June 4, Marty Annell, the complex’s maintenance man, observed that the screen was damaged and removed it. He told investigators he didn’t see Anita’s body when he did that. A year after Anita’s murder, Annell fatally shot himself. Could he have been involved?

Investigators interviewed Annell’s friend, who had spoken with him just hours before he killed himself. All he had to offer was that he had a “gut feeling that Marty did it,” said Spingola.

The team also focused on Anita’s calls and messages before she was killed. The last text message she made was at 4:43 a.m. on June 4 to Michael Vann, who, investigators said, had expressed a desire to date Anita. 

A Crime Scene Recreation

“Mike allegedly told another individual that he killed Anita,” said Spingola.

Vann died from an asthma attack, an event unrelated to the case.

Nichole Thomas, Anita’s high school friend and roommate, was also considered by the team. She had seemed more concerned about a missing iPod than her slain friend, according to detectives who worked the case in 2007, and Siegler and Spingola learned that the relationship between the roommates had soured to the point of being volatile. 

Thomas’ account for her whereabouts at the time of the murder have been inconsistent, according to Minot PD, which has increased suspicions. 

Another possibility examined in the episode was Tyler Schmaltz, who went to high school with Anita. By many accounts he was infatuated with her.

The still-grieving family shared information with Spingola and Siegler to help move the case forward. They confirmed that Anita and Thomas had a contentious relationship. 

In addition, Anita’s father said that he was able to touch Anita’s body through the window, which made the maintenance man’s claim that he couldn’t see her when he removed the window hard for him to believe.

They also claimed that Schmaltz inserted himself into the case, but they believed he genuinely cared for Anita.

Investigators next interviewed high school friends of Anita and Thomas to better understand their relationship and the degree of bad blood between them. Friends told investigators that Thomas was jealous of Anita. They also said Anita hated going home because of the tense atmosphere.

“Nichole’s friends think she seemed capable of committing murder and was acting strangely after the death of Anita,” said Spingola.

Another witness, however, told investigators that she suspected Tyler Schmaltz. She alleged he “became extremely obsessed with Anita throughout the years.”

RELATED: ‘Cold Justice’ Investigates The 2007 Murder Of Pregnant Florida Mom

The fact that Tyler Schmaltz was one of the first people on the scene in 2007 struck police as strange, according to Spingola. But he did live in the same apartment complex just a few buildings away.

When detectives interviewed Schmaltz he said he never asked Anita out because he “never got that courage.” 

He responded to queries about his whereabouts at the time of Anita’s murder, and admitted he was aware that people had mentioned him as a possible killer and dealt with that the best he could. 

He came across as “a bit socially awkward,” said Spingola. “But it doesn't seem like he’s holding back any information. It sounds like Tyler is more of a victim than a suspect in this case.”

Forensic pathologist Kathryn Pinneri, M.D., analyzed Anita’s stab wounds to Anita. That lack of defensive wounds suggested the slaying was not a crime of passion, she said —“This is two quick stabs and the perpetrator is out of the picture."

“Is it possible that Anita’s murder was more thought out?” Siegler said.

Investigators hit a brick wall when DNA test results came back inconclusive, just as they had 15 years earlier. 

“Since our DNA was a bust, it’s clear witnesses will be the key to solving this murder,” said Spingola. 

Detectives spoke with Vann’s friend Nick. They asked about rumors that Vann confessed to killing Anita. He confirmed that the reports were just rumors.

They also learned from other witnesses that Thomas had allegedly confessed to the crime when she was at a party. Was this true? Or just another rumor?

When investigators assessed what they had learned so far, they all agreed that Tyler Schmaltz could be eliminated as a suspect. 

“We’ve still got three suspects and a lot to figure out,” said Siegler. 

To learn where the investigation leads, watch the second part of the 100th episode of “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

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