Morna Jean Brennen enjoyed the modest nightlife in her small town of Maplewood, Minnesota. On the evening of Nov. 7, 1986, she went to a popular spot called M.T. Pockets with a good friend.
The young women stuck together, good-naturedly rebuffing advances and enjoying the music, according to “Murdered by Morning” on Oxygen. At the end of the night, however, they would separate and Brennen, 22, would never be seen alive again.
The bar was at maximum capacity that night, bartender Rich Bornetun told “Murdered by Morning” producers. He watched several young men buy drinks for the girls and chat them up.
At about 12:30 a.m., the girls decided to call it a night. They made their way outside, where the temperature was hovering close to zero with the wind-chill factor. Brennen waited for her friend outside in the cold. When she re-emerged from the bar, Brennen was gone.
Brennen must have found another ride home, her friend assumed. However, her family became concerned when they didn’t hear from her the next day. At 4 p.m., they reported her missing. That same day, a jogger found a purse on the ground near a wooded trail and turned it in to the police: It was Brennen’s.
“It was not a typical scenario for Morna,” another friend of Brennen, Sandy Ackerman, told producers. “She wouldn’t leave and not tell somebody where she was going.”
As the critical 48-hour mark — at which a missing person becomes unlikely to be found — neared, police searched around the area Brennen’s purse was found. They came upon some white garbage bags containing a suspicious assortment of items, including some used bedding. Disturbingly, the bedding appeared to have bloodstains on it.
Police determined that the blood was human but didn’t have the technology in 1986 to connect it to one individual.
“I think we were all a little bit in shock. I remember feeling a little frozen in time,” Ackerman said. “In your gut, you just knew that something awful had happened.”
Investigators zeroed in on three men who had been seen talking to the girls that night at the bar: a local barber who often held parties at his shop after M.T. Pockets closed, a convicted car thief who fancied himself a martial artist and an unidentified blond man. The barber and the man the bartender dubbed “Karate Guy” both had alibis, but police were stumped when it came to the blond man.
“He kept on trying to talk to Morna Jean, and Morna wouldn’t acknowledge him,” former Ramsey County Police Sergeant David Arnold told producers. “And later on, he kept trying to get her to dance, and he said, ‘But you’ll dance with your girlfriend,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, that’s because I don’t want to dance with you.’”
The next break in the case arrived in grisly fashion about two weeks later. A trapper was circling a frozen lake and saw something that caught his eye: a sack sitting out in the middle of the ice that appeared to be full of body parts.
Police responded, including Detective Sergeant Bob Ellert, who said he at first believed the bag might contain a disassembled mannequin. But then Ellert used a telephoto lens to get a closer look, and saw some hair sticking out of the bag, as well as part of a human face. Beside the bag lay what was “clearly” a hand and a foot.
“I was 99.9 percent certain that what we’re looking at are real body parts,” Ellert said.
Closer inspection indicated that most of the woman’s torso was missing. Roughly 24 hours later, that turned up, too. A woman walking her dog found yet another sack in the woods, containing the rest of Brennen. The disembodied torso also bore signs of how she died.
Brennen’s throat had been cut before the dismemberment. The cuts where her limbs and head had been removed were clean enough to suggest to investigators that perhaps a hunter or a surgeon had killed her. Either way, it was a “very aggressive, sadistic crime,” forensic psychologist Frank Weber told producers.
“It was an angry and violent man, who felt the need to hurt this woman,” he said.
Her body also was covered with indentations, like it had been placed beneath piles of materials, perhaps at a construction site, Arnold said.
Investigators got their next tip when a bartender from M.T. Pockets called them with some new information about the blond man. The bartender told them he was pretty sure the man was named “Randy,” and worked at the Drake Marble Company in nearby St. Paul.
It turned out that there was no “Randy” employed at the factory — there was, however, a Ricky Kiger, who roughly fit the description of the man who was hanging on Morna and her friend on the night of the murder. A background check on Kiger yielded disturbing information: In 1976 he was charged with raping and choking a woman at the mental hospital where he worked, although the charges were later dropped because the woman was deemed unfit to testify.
Investigators’ first interview with Kiger was not exceptionally helpful, so they went to see his girlfriend, who was “extremely forthcoming,” according to Arnold. She confided that on the night of Morna’s disappearance, she had received a strange, emotional 2 a.m. phone call from Ricky, with who she’d recently had a disagreement. He was telling her that she didn’t have the right to walk away from him, and she feared that “someone was going to pay for that,” she told investigators.
Before detectives left, the girlfriend asked them if Morna was wearing any jewelry the night of her murder. Detectives confirmed that she was, then the girlfriend asked if it was a chain with a heart on it. Kiger had given his girlfriend the exact same chain that Morna wore in the last photo of her, as a present, two weeks before.
“At that moment, I knew Rickie Kiger was our man,” Arnold said.
Detectives arrested Kiger on Dec. 2 and seized more than 80 pieces of evidence from his home. They found bloodstains on his bathroom floor, in the tub and in his vehicle. They had enough to piece together Morna Jean Brennen’s last night.
Kiger went to M.T. Pockets that night, likely already feeling burned by the spat with his girlfriend. When Brennen rejected his advances, he became enraged and, when he spotted her outside the bar waiting for her friend, he convinced her to step into his truck to warm up for a moment, police speculated.
Kiger grabbed her by her hair and slammed her head into the dash, detectives surmised, then brought her back to his apartment and beat her violently, before slicing her throat in his bathtub and letting her bleed out there. Kiger left Brennen’s body for two days in the back of his truck before burying it under a pile of marble and rocks at his workplace, according to police.
When he realized that he could be a suspect, he retrieved the body and took it apart using a hacksaw, then disposed of the parts in the woods and on the frozen lake.
Kiger pleaded guilty before going to trial and, according to TV news reports at the time, offered only that he was “sorry and wished it never happened” in the way of a statement. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The most satisfying thing that happened in my 31 years … was taking this guy off the street,” Arnold told producers. “I believe him to be just plain evil.”
For more on Kiger’s vicious murder of Morna Jean Brennen, watch “Murdered by Morning,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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