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Teen Found Strangled To Death In Her Bed After Pool Party — And Authorities' Main Suspect Shocked Everyone
The death of Jessie Blodgett, a 19-year-old music lover, had been a disturbing mystery in her small Wisconsin town until investigators uncovered her shocking killer during a parallel investigation into another violent crime in a nearby town.
Jessie Blodgett was making the most of her summer while home from college.
The 19-year-old was spending her free time writing music with a former high school boyfriend-turned-close friend and she’d landed the lead in a community theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
On the evening of July 14, 2013, Jessie was celebrating the production’s success at a pool party with fellow cast and crew members, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Her mother, Joy Blodgett, had been waiting up for her when Jessie returned home around 12:30 a.m. and headed to bed. But the next day when Joy stopped home for lunch during her work hours she was shocked to find her only child dead in her bed, with dark ligature marks around her neck.
“My daughter is blue. I went to wake her up and — I just got home from — for lunch — and she won’t wake up,” a frantic Joy told a 911 dispatcher.
Joy had peeked into her daughter’s room before she left for work that morning and found her peacefully sleeping, so what had happened in the few hours that had followed?
Growing up in Hartford, Wisconsin, Jessie had always been close to her parents and was well-liked by her peers.
“We talked about drugs, we talked about sex, there was nothing off limits,” her dad, Buck Blodgett said of their close bond.
The Blodgett household had been the hangout spot for Jessie and her friends during high school.
“She was a really contagious personality,” her friend Jackie Nyte told "Dateline" correspondent Andrea Canning, describing her as someone who loved music and could often be found playing the piano.
When Jessie was found strangled to death in her bed, those who loved her couldn’t imagine who would want to hurt the 19-year-old.
While there were no signs of forced entry into the house, Joy and Buck told investigators that they often left a door unlocked, never fearful of anyone in their small town community.
“The house wasn’t ransacked,” Hartford Police Detective Richard Thickens said. “It looked to us that this person knew right where to go to find her.”
Buck wondered whether some workers who had recently trimmed a tree right outside Jessie’s window may have returned to the house, but Joy remembered that her daughter had been upset after returning from the pool party the final night of her life.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’” Joy explained. “She said ‘Oh, the guys, they’re always making passes and I don’t know why they always have to turn it there.’”
Jessie had confided in her mother that two much older men — both in their 40s — had been flirting with her at the party and one had tried to pull her onto his lap. The unwanted attention had disturbed her so much that she’d written about the incidents that night in her journal before going to bed.
Investigators quickly zeroed in on the men, bringing one in to talk with investigators. The man, who was a fellow castmate, admitted to playfully joking around at the party, but insisted there was nothing more to it than that.
“He’s an actor and it’s hard for me, at that point, to gauge whether he’s acting or being truthful,” Thickens said.
The man had also failed to show up to work the day Jessie was killed, but investigators were never able to find anything that linked him to the crime scene and cell phone records never placed him at Jessie’s home.
The second man, who had allegedly told an inappropriate joke, was quickly ruled out, leaving investigators with few new clues.
But a surprising suspect was revealed as part of an investigation into another violent attack just days before Jessie’s murder in a nearby town.
Melissa Richards told police she had been walking at a local park with her dog when a man with a knife attacked her in the parking lot.
Richards was able to escape by grabbing the blade of the knife with her bare hand as she fought off her attacker.
“It was either I try to save myself or let this guy do whatever he wants to me,” Richards told Canning.
She described the man — who quickly fled the scene after she began to fight back — as a young male with blonde shaggy hair with glasses. She also gave police a detailed description of the vehicle he had been driving, a blue Dodge Caravan.
The detailed description of the van sounded familiar to a deputy who regularly patrolled the park and had spotted a similar vehicle in a parking lot several weeks before the attack.
The deputy had run the vehicle’s license plates at the time. When it didn’t turn up anything suspicious, he had moved on, but after hearing about Richards’ attack he went back into his records and found the license plate.
Investigators looking into Richards’ attack identified a possible 19-year-old male suspect linked the vehicle and reached out to him.
When Washington County Sheriff’s Det. Joel Clausing called the possible suspect, he was surprised when the teen told him he was at Jessie’s home at the time consoling her parents.
Investigators learned that the teenager, Daniel Bartelt, had been the very same teen who had spent his summer writing music with Jessie. The pair had dated briefly in high school and remained close friends after graduation.
Clausing brought Bartelt in for questioning and he soon admitted to being the man who had attacked Richards in the park.
“I wanted to scare someone else, because everyone else is so confident,” he said during an interrogation of his bizarre motivation. “I don’t understand it. I need someone to be like me.”
Even with the attack in the park, Joy and Buck were convinced there was no way their daughter’s first love had also been her killer.
“He had everything going for him. He was a top-notch student, straight-A student. He even got the lead role in most of the musicals, very talented,” he said. “We said, ‘It’s not Dan. He’s a good kid.’”
Bartelt insisted through tears during an interrogation with Thickens that he had nothing to do with killing Jessie, who he admitted to still having feelings for. He told investigators that on the day of the murder he had been at another park, where he was captured on surveillance footage.
Thickens quickly had investigators search all the trash cans at the park. authorities uncovered a cereal box, stuffed full with ropes that had been used in the murder, bloody sanitizing wipes, and tape. Authorities would later confirm that both Bartelt and Jessie’s DNA was on the ropes.
They also found Bartelt had a disturbing online search history, including multiple queries about serial killers, and had watched a violent pornographic film with a plot similar to the murder. DNA evidence also showed that Bartelt had raped Jessie before her death.
He was arrested and charged with murder — although the motive for why he killed Jessie remains a mystery.
“I can’t say that he’s totally evil, but something went very wrong. I don’t know what,” Joy said of the boy who had once been a regular in her home.
Prosecutors argued that Bartelt had likely targeted his friend because she had been “convenient.”
After being convicted, Bartelt briefly addressed her parents in court but he continued to insist that he was innocent.
“Buck, Joy, I can’t give you the answers that you’re looking for. I pray for you, for all of you, and I hope that — I believe that — some day we will be before a court that will know that my conscience is clear,” he said.
The shocking case was also featured on Oxygen's "Murdered By Morning."