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The wild, murderous story of 'killer grandma' Lois Riess continues to unfold

Lois Riess of Blooming Prairie sent cops on a wild chase across five states after her husband was found shot to death in their bathroom.

Lois Riess of Blooming Prairie sent cops on a wild chase across five states after her husband was found shot to death in their bathroom. Associated Press

In March of last year, people who knew David Riess were wondering where he was. He wasn’t answering many texts or emails, or showing up to work. That was especially weird, because David, an avid outdoorsman, ran a worm farm on his Blooming Prairie property.

His wife assured his co-workers that David was getting ready for a fishing trip, and he was sick besides. She warned them not to bother him at the house. But when he hadn’t been spotted for 16 days, a friend finally decided to call the police.

It wasn’t just the disappearance or the weird radio silence that made his friend pick up the phone. It was the text David supposedly sent weeks earlier. It included punctuation. David never used so much as a period when he texted.

According to court documents, when officials from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office showed up at the farm, they found David stuffed in the bathroom with bullet wounds in his chest. He’d been covered in a blanket, and someone had jammed a bunch of towels into the crack under the bathroom door in an attempt to keep the smell of death at bay.

Even more notable was what they didn’t find: the family’s 2005 Cadillac Escalade and David’s wife, Lois.

Today, she’s better known by the nickname she received during her infamous run from the law: “Killer Grandma.” Much of her story has been recounted in grotesque detail in local publications and the Daily Beast.

While police were discovering the ruin of her husband’s body, Lois was doing a little gambling at the Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa, according to surveillance footage. Lois did a lot of gambling, which isn’t to say she was particularly good at it.

Back in Minnesota, local authorities called her “Losing Streak Lois,” because she allegedly had a nasty habit of stealing to recoup her losses. That included robbing her older sister, who was mentally disabled and under Lois’ care, of more than $100,000. 

While she was in Iowa, Lois spent time at several casinos, and cashed $11,000 worth of real and forged checks from her dead husband’s bank account. From there, she headed south to Fort Myers Beach, Florida, where she did something unexpected. She made a friend.

Her name was Pamela Hutchinson. She was a former car salesperson who'd come to Florida to visit a friend and scatter the ashes of a recently deceased husband. Spookily enough, the two women had more than just dead husbands in common. They also looked similar, with the same silver-blond hair, plumpness, and light eyes and skin.

They were spotted on surveillance footage at a brewery, seemingly having a friendly chat. Then cameras caught them walking back to Hutchinson’s timeshare. But 45 minutes later, Riess left, looking a little distraught. When she returned a short while later, she had a bag in her hand.

A few days after the fact, police found a familiar scene in Hutchinson’s bathroom. Hutchinson was lying dead under a blanket, two bullets in her chest, with towels stuffed under the door. Her car was missing, and someone using Hutchinson’s ID had swiped $5,000 from her account.

For 10 more days, Lois evaded the law, hopping over state lines in Hutchinson’s white Acura. But by this point, her bluffs were catching up to her. Her face had been splashed under headlines alongside her new moniker, and law enforcement was in hot pursuit. It was only a matter of time until they found her—which they did, later that month, sipping a cocktail and gazing out on the Corpus Christi waterfront.

If Lois’ story tells us anything, it’s how fast one’s luck can run out. She’s currently being held in Lee County Jail, indicted for first-degree murder with a firearm and grand theft. The Florida State Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty.

She’s pleaded not guilty, but that’s going to be a hard sell against a lengthy paper and surveillance footage trail. Not to mention the gun found in her Texas hotel room, which detectives say was a match for both Hutchinson and David’s deaths.

Still, whether or not Lois is a killer, she is definitely a grandma—and a mother besides. Her son Braden says she was a “good lady,” but lately her “demons”—her gambling problem—had made something in her brain “snap.”

He hasn’t yet been able to visit Lois, but if he could, he said, he’d tell her he loves her. Even still.