By Jon Tatting
ECM Post Review, North Branch
Jan Jelinek, of Cottage Grove, last spoke to her youngest daughter, Danielle, on Saturday, Dec. 8. The 27-year-old called about a new town house in Woodbury that she was interested in and work she wanted done on her car that day.
Older daughter Cory, 31, of Oakdale, heard a different story. She was under the impression that her sister was going to hang out at a female friend’s house that night. After all, the daughters and their mother were close, and they never let the sun set on a day without a call, e-mail or text about their plans and life in general.
Then they didn’t hear from Danielle, who never stopped by her friend’s house. Rather, she visited the home of 28-year-old Aaron Jude Schnagl, with whom she had an on-again, off-again relationship, in Chisago Lake Township.
“It is our presumption that she went to see (Schnagl) to get her car detailed,” said Jan in an interview with the Post last week.
What happened that night or early the next morning is a mystery, one that has caused many sleepless nights and sick days ever since for the Jelineks, including father Ed. While they blame Danielle’s disappearance on Schnagl, who must know something, they claim, Schnagl remains firm in saying he does not know what happened to her or where she is.
Still, the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office says Schnagl is a person of interest in the case, while he’s facing unrelated drug charges.
The sheriff’s office initially got involved that Sunday, Dec. 9, when the Jelinek family requested a welfare check at Schnagl’s home. Uncooperative during the check, he was later arrested for 5th degree drug possession when authorities returned with a search warrant.
During the search, officers found bags containing about 12 pounds of marijuana and items including Jelinek’s purse, shoes and cell phone. Also discovered was her car, which was parked outside the residence.
On Monday, Schnagl appeared in Chisago County District Court where not guilty pleas were entered to the complaint. An amended complaint also was filed this week adding an additional count. Schnagl is charged with fifth degree sale of marijuana; fifth degree possession of a controlled substance; and aiding and abetting first degree possession of a controlled substance, according to Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter.
The matter was continued to an omnibus hearing Feb. 11 and trial on March 4. He remains held on his charges.
For the Jelineks, his time in jail on the unrelated drug charge has been a “blessing,” they say, since it has kept him behind bars. “That would have killed me if I knew he’d be out free,” said Cory with parents Jan and Ed Jelinek at her side.
What happened that night?
Cory owns the Oakdale home where Danielle had been staying. She knows her sister would not have mentioned Schnagl by name to her, since Cory claims there was an unhealthy past between the two.
“So that’s obviously our fear,” Cory noted. “We know something happened that night, but we don’t know what.”
Jan thought it was strange Danielle never returned her calls, texts and emails after their phone conversation on Dec. 8. “We spoke every day by phone, text and e-mail. She would call me on her way to work. She knew I was always worrying about her.”
On Sunday, Dec. 9, Jan went to early mass and immediately texted both daughters upon arriving home. She sensed something was wrong because she didn’t hear from either of them. She then called their cell phones.
“I was anxious; it felt odd,” said Jan. “I told Ed, ‘something is wrong.’”
Eventually, Cory and her 4-year-old son pulled into Jan and Ed’s driveway. “Where were you?” asked her mother. “We can’t find Danielle.”
A friend of Danielle’s arrived at the same conclusion.
Cory then got Schnagl’s number, and she called him. “What the hell is going on? Where is she?” she asked him. Another concern was Danielle’s use of daily medication for her asthma.
“It didn’t add up,” said Cory of the information, or lack of information, she and family were receiving about Danielle.
She added, “All day Sunday I just felt sick. I thought she would come back. She always texted or let her family know where she was. She would call or text early in the morning, then go back to bed to sleep in.”
Meanwhile, Ed got on the phone with Schnagl and attempted to get his address so he could make the drive north. “He said he was going to call the police about Danielle missing,” said Ed. “But he sent us to the wrong place. It was a business.”
So Cory called the dispatcher who had the correct address. It was then they requested a welfare check for Danielle at Schnagl’s residence.
“It sounds like they were hanging out at Aaron’s house Saturday night after they went to dinner,” said Cory.
Said Jan, “With Danielle’s friends not hearing from her, that was a complete a red flag.”
Throughout the ordeal, the Jelinek family has greatly appreciated the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office for its time and dedication to the case. They have been meeting off and on since Danielle’s disappearance and have been following up on tips and leads that continue to come in to the office.
Law enforcement also is working on accessing the text messages on Danielle’s phone for any helpful clues.
“The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office has been great,” said Jan.
Danielle worked as a manager at Wells Fargo in Maplewood.
Jan described her a very forgiving person, a ball of energy and one who kept herself strong and in great shape. She trained for the Tough Mudder competition, a grueling fitness contest involving a 12-mile run with 20 military obstacles mixed in, in Hudson, Wis. She finished it. It was great for her because of her asthma, she explained.
“She would befriend anybody,” added Jan, noting a clerk from a clothing store once talked about Danielle and how she took time out of her life to help her out with a problem.
“She was personable.”
Mom and big sister said Danielle was very affectionate; she would give people hugs. Customers loved her, said Cory.
Both sisters graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove.
Perhaps the toughest part for the Jelineks is they don’t have closure. While they are accepting the idea that they will never likely see their Danielle alive again, they are hoping for answers and for someone, anyone, to stand up and talk.
“We want justice served. We want him to stand up and be a man, so we can have closure. We can’t have a funeral or anything. We fee like we’re stuck,” Cory stressed.
Cory said the family has had “an incredible support system” with family, friends, church, colleagues and people they don’t even know. They have appreciated the volunteers who searched for any signs of Danielle in the days following her disappearance. They have appreciated all the cards, prayers and well wishes in the mail, in person and on Facebook.
“Some people have even offered to bring us meals,” said Cory.
She noted, too, her family has been in touch with the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, which helped create and distribute flyers. “They helped us think about things,” she said.
And the family is planning a 5K run and memorial service in Danielle’s honor some time this spring or summer.
“We already did a vigil with 500 people attending in Woodbury,” Cory noted.
As mentioned, the case has had a tough impact on Cory. She has since dropped out of grad school with six months left before graduation in May. She was able to take some time off from work.
“Danielle wouldn’t want me to quit,” Cory said. “She was a great aunt. She smothered my son in hugs and kisses.”
Reward offered in case
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the disappearance of 27-year-old Danielle Jelinek, of Oakdale, who was last seen in south Chisago Lakes Township Dec. 9.
The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office is asking for assistance from the public while continuing to interview people and search areas of interest that have been generated from information gathered in the ongoing investigation. All tips and leads from the public are followed up on by the sheriff’s office.
Crime Stoppers is offering the $1,000 reward to assist in the investigation.
The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office can be contacted at 651-257-4100 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) with any information.