2 Missing Women Found Dead In Storage Units Had Dated Same Man, Police Say

Manijeh Starren, 34, had disappeared in April, and Fanta Xayavong, 33, was last seen in 2021, according to Minnesota authorities.

Police are investigating after the bodies of two women who had dated the same man were found in separate storage units in Minnesota.

Joseph Steven Jorgenson, 40, was charged with second-degree murder on June 30 for the death of Manijeh “Mani” Starren, 34, whose dismembered body was found in a storage unit in Woodbury, east of St. Paul. Starren, a mother of three, had disappeared April 21, according to a missing person alert. Jorgenson has not yet entered a plea, and the local public defender’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On July 7, police said in a news conference that they had found the remains of Fanta Xayavong, 33, in a separate storage unit in Coon Rapids, north of Minneapolis and 30 miles from the unit where Starren’s body had been discovered.

Manijeh "Mani" Starren (left) and Fanta Xayavong.
Manijeh "Mani" Starren (left) and Fanta Xayavong.
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension / Facebook

Both women had been dating Jorgenson, according to police and their families. A caller told the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that Xayavong, a mother of two who disappeared in 2021, had been “in an abusive relationship with Jorgenson” at the time, police said.

A St. Paul police spokesperson told HuffPost that the investigation into Xayavong’s death is ongoing. Police previously said that Jorgenson was a person of interest.

“When investigators believe they have enough for charging, they will forward their case to the appropriate county attorney where they believe the crime occurred,” Sgt. Mike Ernster said.

Starren’s mother, Ricki Lynn Baehr Starren, said on Facebook that she was upset about Jorgenson being called her daughter’s “boyfriend” in media reports.

“We believe maybe it was mutual at first but then he became more obsessed with her and basically used her,” she said. “Anyone that truely knows her would know that she must of felt extremely threatened by him and couldn’t see a way out!”

According to a police affidavit, a neighbor of Manijeh Starren’s said that she had previously seen the woman with “a black eye and red marks on her neck.” When the neighbor offered to call the police, she said Starren told her it would “just make things worse.”

Police said that surveillance footage from a camera near Starren’s apartment showed her running outside on April 21, and that she was trailed by Jorgenson, who “grabbed her, turned her around, and pushed her back in the apartment.” She was never seen in that camera’s footage again.

But Jorgenson was seen on the video coming and going from Starren’s apartment, where he did not live, in the week that followed, accessing it 28 times, according to remarks by the apartment complex manager cited in the affidavit. On April 28, the footage showed Jorgenson carrying two duffel bags and a suitcase out of the apartment, loading them into a pickup truck, and driving off, police said.

In a search of Starren’s apartment, police said they found “large amounts” of her blood in the living room and kitchen. A TV screen was cracked, microwave glass was broken, and a mattress pad had a “large hole cut and removed from it.”

On May 9 and 11, Starren’s debit card was used at two different Dollar Tree stores to buy a cleaning bucket, six boxes of plastic wrap, paper towels, garbage bags, and other cleaning products, authorities said. When police arrived to search his apartment, Jorgenson allegedly locked himself in his bedroom, started a fire and tried to take officers’ weapons when they broke in. A woman who was at the apartment when police arrested Jorgenson said that he had “strangled and threatened to kill her,” according to police, who said they noticed that she “had multiple bruises, scratches, and her neck was red.”

Chief Axel Henry of the St. Paul police said that cases like this serve as a reminder that “monsters can be real.”

A GoFundMe campaign to help pay for Xayavong’s memorial said: “Fanta leaves behind two beautiful children that will truly miss her. She was such a beautiful soul, and gave selflessly when it came to others. Her vibrant smile would light up the room when she entered.”

In a separate GoFundMe to help the Starren family with funeral expenses, friend Bre Moinicken wrote that April 21, when Starren went missing, “was the first day of the worst 2 1/2 months this family could be put through.”

“Her beautiful three kids have horrifically lost the most beautiful person in their lives,” Moinicken added.

Police have not yet released Starren’s or Xayavong’s cause of death.

Jorgenson is being held in a Ramsey County jail on $5 million bail. His next court date is Aug. 21.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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