Charges: Boyfriend killed missing St. Paul woman, hid her body in storage unit
The boyfriend of a woman who hasn’t been heard from since late April has now been charged with killing her.
Ramsey County prosecutors formally charged 40-year-old Joseph Steven Jorgenson, from Maplewood, with the murder of 34-year-old Manijeh “Mani” Starren on Friday morning.
It comes days after he was arrested and charged with arson, threats of violence and disarming an officer when law enforcement executed a search warrant at his apartment in connection to Starren’s disappearance.
Court documents state Starren’s father told police that he believed Starren was afraid of a boyfriend. An apartment manager confirmed Jorgenson was the man she knew as Starren’s boyfriend.
Surveillance video from the apartment showed Jorgenson run after Starren, grab her and push her back into the apartment on April 21. There wasn’t ever any video of her leaving, and surveillance video showed Jorgenson carrying two duffle bags and a suitcase from the apartment on April 28, a criminal complaint states.
It adds that investigators found Starren’s EBT card had been used for several transactions since she was last seen, and Jorgenson was determined to have used it each time. One of the purchases involved him buying a cleaning bucket, plastic wrap, paper towels, garbage bags, liquid cleaner, latex gloves and disinfectant wipes.
Jorgenson also was found to have searched online, “jugular,” “What do police do with a missing person’s report,” “How to clear cookies from android phone,” “how to remove gps lime scooter,” “Lime for soil,” in the days and weeks following Starren’s disappearance.
“The one piece about Jorgenson is that he did not report her missing to police. Instead, he just went on with his life without saying anything to anyone,” St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster said.
Additionally, the manager of Jorgenson’s apartment complex told police there was a “foul smell” that impacted the entire building on May 15 or 16 that smelled like something died, and Jorgenson physically denied maintenance employees access to his bedroom. They gave him a week to clean it up and he complied, although the complaint notes that the manager and an employee saw him dragging the large bags out of the apartment and told each other it looked like he was “carrying a dead body.”
Investigators later found blood stains in his apartment and padlock keys. Data showed he’d been to a storage unit in Woodbury on May 18. Inside that, officers found two coolers and a duffle bag that smelled of decomposing flesh. Starren’s body was found inside them, according to the complaint.
Jorgenson is scheduled to make his first court appearance on the murder charge on Friday afternoon. Prosecutors are requesting a $5 million bail.
He faces up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder if convicted.
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family and friends,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement Friday. “The tireless work of our partners in law enforcement, especially the Saint Paul Police Department, made charging this tragic and horrific case possible; we appreciate the hard work of investigators and also our prosecution staff in quickly bringing forward these new charges.”
“We also can not fathom the pain that the family is feeling at this point but we do hope that this investigation’s result will bring them some level of solace,” Ernster added.
Ernster also confirmed that a woman who has been missing since 2021 — identified by police as 33-year-old Fanta Xayavong — was found to have last been seen with Jorgenson, too. St. Paul police checked in with that woman’s family and confirmed they haven’t heard from her in about two years.
“To put it bluntly, we’re concerned for her safety also,” Ernster said.
Xayavong is described as 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds. Police say her last known location may have been Shoreview.
Anyone with information regarding her whereabouts is asked to call police at 651-291-1111.