Renee Pagel, 41, was brutally stabbed to death in her bed at home in Courtland Township, Michigan, on August 5, 2006, and was found by her father and stepmother. Authorities learned that she’d been stabbed numerous times and had defensive wounds on her hands, indicating that she’d tried to fight off her attacker.
At the time of her death, the mother of three was estranged from her husband Michael Pagel and the two had been living separately for over a year, WZZM13 reported. She worked as a health instructor at Kent County Intermediate School District and as a nurse practitioner at Forest View Hospital, her obituary stated, and the 41-year-old was described as a “giving person with a great wit” who “was very devoted to her children.”
Investigators believed that the murder hinted at a crime of passion and that the perpetrator knew the victim. Just five days before her death, Pagel had donated a kidney to the father of one of her students and was recovering from the surgery in her bed, and authorities said they believed her attacker knew she’d be weaker than usual, WZZM13 wrote.
Her Murder Was Described by Prosecutors as a ‘Gruesome, Painful, Horrifying Death’
Pagel was killed in her bed while she was recovering from donating a kidney to the father of one of her students days before, WZZM13 reported. The mother of three was stabbed more than 50 times in her head, face and torso, investigators found, and she had defensive wounds on her hands. The murder weapon, believed to be a large knife, was nowhere to be found at the crime scene.
One of the first detectives to arrive at her home, Lt. E.J. Johnson, said the murder scene was the most brutal he’s ever seen, WoodTV reported:
These were deep wounds. It wasn’t like this was a butter knife. This was a large, Ka-Bar (military-style) knife that was used against Renee. She fought. She fought hard. [There were signs] of a huge struggle. There were things knocked over close to the bed, and blood splatter covered the walls and ceiling.
What’s significant to me is those defensive wounds, that she was trying to protect herself and fight off somebody. She had those on her hands. She had those on her feet. So, obviously, she was well aware of what was going on.
Authorities investigated Pagel’s husband Michael Pagel as a suspect after her friends and family said they were going through a contentious divorce that would have been finalized just six days after her death. Weeks before her death, a judge ruled that Michael Pagel would have to get a job to pay alimony.
WoodTV reported that police said when they informed Michael Pagel of his wife’s death, he responded without reaction and simply handed them his attorney’s card. Despite their suspicions, authorities did not have any evidence tying Michael Pagel or anyone else to the crime scene and the case went cold for over a decade.
It Was Unsolved for 14 Years Until Renee Pagel’s Brother-in-Law Came Forward & Told Authorities What Pagel’s Husband Had Said
Although Pagel’s murder went cold for years, her husband Michael Pagel was considered a primary person of interest for a long time. However, Pagel had a strong alibi for the time of his wife’s murder, having spent the night at his mother’s house with the children, so authorities were unable to press charges for years.
It wasn’t until nearly 14 years later when Pagel’s brother Charles “Bo” Pagel revealed to authorities that Michael Pagel had confessed to killing his wife back in 2011, WoodTV wrote. He said the two were driving around and Michael was drinking when the two stopped on a bridge over a creek and began speaking about divorce.
According to the outlet, in February 2020, Bo Pagel testified: “My brother said to me, ‘This is how I finalized my divorce,’ and he showed me a knife. [Then] he threw it in the crick.” He continued, “My brother said, ‘I f***** her up, and if you tell anybody, I’m gonna f*** you up too.”
Investigators even searched the creek referenced by Bo Pagel and on the third day, they found a knife that matched the medical examiner’s report perfectly. According to WoodTV, investigators said, “I think one of the first things [medical examiner Dr. David Start] said when we showed [the knife] to him, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what it would look like.'”