Full Criminal Complaint for Amber Alert Kidnapper, Zachary Anderson

The following is a statement of probable cause issued by Cass County Attorney's Office

Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie reports the arraignment of a 25-year-old Coon Rapids man on charges of Intentional Murder in the 2nd Degree, Criminal Sexual Conduct in the First Degree, Kidnapping and Unauthorized use of a Motor Vehicle in Cass County District Court on August 23, 2016.

The criminal complaint alleges that Zachary Todd Anderson, age 25 abducted a 5-year-old girl, Alayna Ertl, and stole a 2002 GMC pick-up, from the girl’s home in Meeker county, Minnesota prior to 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 20th.

The following is information provided by the Cass County Attorney’s Office in the Statement of Probable Cause:

On Saturday, August 20th, the Meeker County, Minnesota Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the parents of Alayna Ertl, stating that their 5-year-old daughter was discovered missing as was their 2002 GMC Sierra pick-up truck, license plate 107-KMT.

Parents indicated that on August 19, 2016, an adult male identified as Zachary Todd Anderson, had played softball with the victim’s father. After playing softball Anderson and Ertl’s father had gone out and the father returned home around 2:30 a.m., Anderson arriving between 3:30 and 3:45 a.m. The two visited until around 4:00 a.m. when the father retired for the night.

Ertl’s mother advised officers that the last time she had physcially seen Alayna was around 2:30 a.m. in her bedroom.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. Ertl was discovered missing along with Anderson. The Meeker County Sheriff’s Office was contacted at approximately 9:56 a.m. The Meeker County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota BCA began to attempt to locate the individuals and the vehicle. Initially, they were able to “ping” the Defendant’s cell phone, but the signal was lost.

At approximately 1:58 p.m., the Cass County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center was contacted by an individual identified as Anderson’s father. His father advised that he believed that his son was the subject of an “Amber Alert” that had been sent out statewide. He stated that his son had called earlier in the day and wanted to have permission to go to the family’s cabin in Motley, MN. Anderson’s father gave officers permission to enter his property and the residence to aid in their search.

Cass County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Ratz and Collette were in the area and proceeded to the residence. Upon arrival, Deputy Ratz observed the white roof of a truck visible in the ravine at the SW end of the property. Upon closer inspection, Deputy Rats confirmed that it was the stolen 2002 GMC Sierra reported in Meeker County.

The vehicle had been pulled into the ravine and into a brushy/wooded area in an apparent attempt to conceal its location. The vehicle was unoccupied. Officers then approached the residents to look for Anderson and Ertl. Due to exigent circumstances concerning the welfare of the child, officers made entry into the unsecured residence. Officers announced their presence and swept the residence searching for both parties. Nobody was discovered in the residence.

However, in plain view, officers observed a single shot 20 gauge shot gun on the kitchen table with multiple 20 gauge rounds spilled about. Officers also observed numerous 12 gauge rounds but no 12 gauge shot gun. Also on the table was an apparent suicide note with apparent blood on the upper corner. The keys for the GMC were also on the table.

During this time, Cass County Investigator Murray and other officers arrived on scene. Officers were able to observe that it appeared that there had been recent foot traffic leading past the residence into the woods to the North as well as to the SW of the truck.

Officers were aware that 2 K-9 units were en-route and elected to briefly suspend the search so as not to put additional scent in the woods that could confuse the dogs. A short time later a unit from Cass County and a unit for Baxter PD arrived and began to search the two areas where it appeared that there had been recent foot traffic going into the woods.

Deputies and K-9 unit began to search the area past the truck.

At approximately 4:23 p.m., officers made contact with Defendant in knee deep water in a swampy area. Officers observed Anderson to have fresh lacerations to his left wrist, and was arrested without incident. He was read his Miranda warning at that time and was asked the location of “the girl.” He initially responded with, “What girl?” He was led out of the swamp and placed into a squad car.

Investigators from the BCA subsequently spoke with Anderson. Anderson indicated, when asked, that the child was hidden in the swamp under some debris. He agreed to show officers the approximate location of where she was hidden. He walked with officers to the edge of the swamp and pointed in a general direction indicating that she was “over there.” Officers were able to observe areas of freshly trampled swamp grass and began to search in that vicinity. Investigator Murray followed the trampled grass for approximately 80 yards from the location, previously described by Anderson, where he observed the corner of a pink Disney blanket consistent with what was described by the victim’s mother. The blanket did not appear to have been in that location very long as it did not have signs of deterioration.

Officers continued to search the area and discovered the deceased, naked body of the victim completely submerged in water and hidden under some brush and other debris.

Further investigation revealed that Anderson was observed at approximately 8:30 a.m. at a convenience store in Browerville, MN. He is observed on video surveillance, entering the store alone and purchasing a bottle of water. He is shown to be wearing a softball type uniform. He subsequently appears in video surveillance obtained from a common clubhouse at Wilderness Park. He is seen entering and exiting, the clubhouse wearing the same softball type uniform as he was wearing in the convenience store video. During a search warrant executed at the family cabin, officers discovered, additional to the items previously noted, wet clothing. The clothing included a pair of apparent softball uniform pants consistent with the pants that Defendant was wearing in surveillance video. Officers also discovered wet shoes and socks.

An autopsy was performed on the Victim, Alayna Ertl, the initial findings of the autopsy indicated that the cause of death was homicidal violence due to strangulation with other evidence of blunt force trauma to the victim’s head. The forensic examination of the victim also revealed evidence of sexual assault including sexual penetration.

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