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Authorities find body of missing Cottage Grove native Danielle Jelinek

Authorities remove a woman's body about 7 p.m. Friday from a swamp a few hundred yards from where Cottage Grove native Danielle Jelinek went missing Dec. 8. The Chisago County sheriff said the Anoka County Medical Examiner's Office was identifying the body. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 4
Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan leads Danielle Jelinek's father, Ed, (second from left) and others to a law enforcement trailer on Friday near where Danielle Jelinek's body was found in a swamp. Danielle Jelinek has been missing since Dec. 8. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente3 / 4
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Authorities on Friday found the body of Danielle Jelinek, ending a six-month search for the Cottage Grove native.

Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said Friday evening that local and state law enforcement located a female body in a swamp a few hundred yards from the home of Jelinek's ex-boyfriend, Aaron Schnagl. Authorities believe he was the last to see her before she disappeared Dec. 8 in Chisago Lakes Township, north of Washington County.

The Anoka County Medical Examiner's Office identified the body as Jelinek, Duncan said.

"At least we get closure for the family," he told reporters.

Duncan said the body was spotted by authorities conducting a search by helicopter about 3 p.m. They then used an air boat and wore waders to retrieve it from an area of reeds on the edge of a swamp and moving bog, Duncan said. The body was clothed but did not have shoes. Jelinek left behind her shoes, purse and cellphone when she disappeared, according to authorities.

Earlier Friday, Duncan said finding Jelinek's body would bring to an end an agonizing, search that was complicated by poor weather conditions. Snow, cold and other difficult conditions hampered the search from the start.

Duncan said the area where Jelinek's body was found had been searched previously, but not since snow and ice melted.

Jelinek, 27, went missing after spending an evening in Minneapolis with Schnagl, whom Duncan has called a "person of interest" in her disappearance. They returned to his home early the next morning, but then she disappeared. Schnagl said he last saw her early that morning but then he passed out. He has denied any involvement in her disappearance, but Duncan has continued to call Schnagl a "person of interest" and said he has not helped with the investigation.

Family reported Jelinek missing Dec. 9, a Sunday, after she had not contacted relatives. Her father, Cottage Grove resident Ed Jelinek, said at the time it was unlike her to go without keeping in touch.

Ed Jelinek and Danielle's sister, Cory, with whom she was living in Oakdale at the time of her disappearance, were among relatives who went to the scene Friday evening. Duncan said he wanted to inform them of the discovery, but they were not there to identify the body.

"The family is pretty shook-up," Duncan said. They remained out of sight in a law enforcement trailer.

Relatives and friends of Jelinek, a Park High School graduate, helped authorities search for her over the six months since her disappearance. A reward was established and was supported by a number of fundraisers and groups, including the Cottage Grove Crime Prevention Board.

Duncan's office also had conducted underwater searches and used a plane to search the fields and wooded areas near Schnagl's home. Friday was the first time they used a helicopter.

Duncan kept in frequent contact with Jelinek's parents since December and said it was very difficult for the family. Investigators struggled with it too, he said. "As the search went on and on, it wears on you."

Schnagl is currently imprisoned in the St. Cloud Correctional Facility for violating probation in an unrelated drug case. He was arrested the day after Jelinek went missing when authorities searching his home found marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy, according to court records.

Check back for updates to this story.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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