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Wendy Poulsen wanted “a bit of peace of mind” when she installed a tracking device inside the trunk of her 18-year-old daughter’s car, but she never imagined it would ultimately help catch her daughter’s killer.
Poulsen’s adopted daughter, Dani, was discovered dead in her car on Sept. 1, 2019 from a fentanyl overdose, according to The New York Post.
While the tragic death devastated Poulsen, the data collected within the tracking device was able to lead Minnesota investigators to Dani’s drug dealer, Calvonzo Burnett — a man who was also eventually held responsible for selling a lethal amount of fentanyl to another teen, Jordan Knudson, who died in December 2019.
Toxicology reports showed that at the time of Dani's death she had Xanax, cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl in her system, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Although the local newspaper never mentions Dani by name, the details of her death match those provided to The Post by Poulsen.
Investigators discovered phone records between Dani and Burnett that showed the pair had exchanged 79 calls between Aug. 26 and 31, including one message on Aug. 29 where she asked for cocaine and Xanax.
“I got everything,” Burnett allegedly texted back.
Burnett was arrested the following February and pleaded guilty in October 2020 on two counts of third-degree murder for both deaths. As part of a plea deal, her received a five-year sentence for each count of third-degree murder to be served concurrently.
At his sentencing, Burnett apologized to Poulson, the Post reported.
“[The apology] was the most healing thing in the entire process,” Poulsen said. “Dani made a choice and he didn’t do this alone, but having him take some responsibility for [her death] made a difference to me.”
Data from the device is credited with helping secure a conviction in both cases.
“The tracker couldn’t help me control Dani’s behavior and I knew it wasn’t going to stop her from doing something,” Poulsen told the news outlet. “But it showed the most value in the end game.”
Poulsen had installed the 3-inch-by2-inch SafeTrack device less than three months before her daughter’s death, after having grown increasingly worried about her daughter’s behavior.
Poulsen and her now ex-husband Gerald Sommerfeld, 61, had adopted Dani from Kazakhstan when she was just six months old, but as the teen grew older, she began to have feelings of abandonment by her biological parents, The Post reports.
The child who once got good grades and loved karate and snowboarding began to experiment with marijuana and soon delved into more dangerous substances.
“She had such huge hopes and dreams for the future,” Poulsen said. “At first, she wanted to be an architect and then she thought about being [an agent] in the FBI.”
But Dani’s school work began to deteriorate and she began to lose interest in the athletic pursuits she had once loved. When she was arrested for a DUI in 2017, her mother became even more concerned and tried installing location apps on her daughter’s phone, but Dani — whose new dream had been to become a tattoo artist — always removed them.
It prompted Poulsen to install the tracking device under the carpet of her daughter’s trunk in the summer of 2019, where it went undetected until Dani’s death.
The weekend Dani died, Poulsen had been staying at a remote family cabin and Dani had promised to watch the family’s five dogs at their Minneapolis home — but Poulsen didn't hear from her daughter.
After using the tracking device to find her car in a suburb of the Twin Cities, Poulson asked her step-daughter’s husband to go check on the vehicle.
When he did, he found Dani dead in the passenger seat.
“She was my everything,” Poulsen told The New York Post of the death. “There are times when I can’t figure out how to keep living.”
In a tragic twist, Dani's death wasn’t the only loss for Poulsen and her family. Poulsen's brother Scott had also mysteriously vanished in 1991, when he was just 25 years old. His partial remains were discovered two years later by moose hunters in a rural area of Canada but, by then, it was too late for investigators to figure out how Scott had died.
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