The trial of a former Twentynine Palms Marine accused of killing a Murrieta man he knew his girlfriend was cheating with — and then burying the body in a shallow grave in Joshua Tree National Park — begins Monday, court filings show.
The prosecution characterizes the trio’s relationship as a love triangle fueled by drug use and jealousy, while the defense casts it as the deterioration of a couple’s relationship amid addiction, according to trial briefs filed in advance of opening statements at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.
Curtis Lee Krueger, 32, is charged with one count of murder in connection with the May 2018 killing of Henry Alan Stange, 54. He is also charged with one count of assault, as investigators believe he attacked Stange with a hammer months before Stange’s death, officials said.
Krueger has pleaded not guilty.
Trial briefs from Riverside County Deputy Public Defender Brian Cosgrove and Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Daniel DeLimon reveal a grim series of events that preceded Stange’s death.
“On May 24, 2018, Krueger drove two hours to Stange’s home, broke in, and stabbed and bludgeoned Stange to death,” DeLimon wrote in court documents. “Krueger then placed Stange’s mutilated body in his truck, bought a shovel, drove two hours back to (Twentynine Palms), and buried his body in the Joshua Tree desert.”
Ashlie Nicole Stapp, the 29-year-old woman involved with both Krueger and Stange, pleaded guilty last year to acting as an accessory to covering up the crime after the fact. She was sentenced to 36 months of probation and committed to a substance addiction rehabilitation program.
Among the few details the prosecution and defense agree on is that Stapp’s relationship with the two men, complicated by her opiate addiction, was a motivating factor in the conflict that ultimately resulted in Stange’s death.
What role Stapp will play in the trial remains unclear, as she is only included on a list of defense witnesses and could possibly refuse to testify.
Defense attorney Cosgrove, in court records, believes Krueger was devastated by his fiancee’s addiction and the parties she would have with Stange on occasion. Krueger worried about her mental health and called the sheriff’s department the day of Stange’s death to report he feared Stapp was suicidal.
Cosgrove contends the prosecution’s version of events mischaracterizes Krueger’s relationship with Stapp, as well as his concern for her when she disappeared on the day Stange was killed.
“If Ashlie Stapp elects not to testify in this matter, it is the position of the defense that she should be ordered to do so,” Cosgrove wrote in a defense filing.
‘She literally seems perfect…’
Prosecuting attorney DeLimon describes Krueger’s love for Stapp as “totally obsessive” and “highly distrusting.” When he failed to end their relationship, despite her repeated infidelity with Stange, “Krueger ended Stange instead,” DeLimon said.
The picture DeLimon paints of the two men is one of stark contrast: Krueger was a “jealous, controlling, and violent” young Marine and martial arts instructor; Stange was a middle-aged “struggling divorcee with a passion for music, radio, drugs, and sex.”
“Stange and Krueger knew Stapp was sleeping with them, but neither man walked away,” he wrote.
Stange became addicted to prescription pain medication after a debilitating car crash, according to DeLimon. “Stange was broke,” the prosecutor wrote, and unemployed. When he met Stapp, he thought he found the “love of his life,” as well as someone he could share his addiction with.
Meanwhile, Krueger struggled with “his own demons,” DeLimon wrote, which led him to make “a list of all the qualities he desired in a woman,” and develop a rating system for grading Stapp on her physical, mental and emotional attributes.
DeLimon wrote that Krueger rated Stapp a “94.8% match,” later reflecting that “she literally seems perfect.”
His infatuation led to constant surveillance, DeLimon wrote, adding that Krueger tracked Stapp’s phone, read her emails and threatened several men he suspected she was seeing.
Cosgrove, the defense attorney, agreed Krueger went “to great effort to track her movements and social contacts” but countered that he did so “to put an end to her addiction.”
Krueger threatened Stange by text message in January 2018, DeLimon said. Days later, the prosecutor added, Krueger drove from Twentynine Palms to Stange’s Murrieta residence and assaulted him with a hammer.
Cosgrove argues that before this alleged incident, Stapp told Krueger Stange “frequently provided her with illegal drugs and had sexually assaulted her on a previous occasion.”
Stange never reported the attack, but DeLimon wrote that a family member told investigators Krueger called her and spoke to her about the confrontation.
Two weeks after the incident, DeLimon contends Krueger wrote a note to himself on his phone — part of a kind of log on Stapp’s behavior: “I’m a goddamn fool for thinking we could work after you already cheated on me twice by (expletive) Henry for drugs.”
Krueger’s digital notes, written over subsequent months, purportedly track Stapp’s trips to her parents’ house in Canyon Lake and speculated on what she was doing when she went to Stange’s house.
“I loved her so much, but I had trouble trusting her,” Krueger wrote in March 2018, according to DeLimon.
Two months later, authorities said, Stange was killed.
A shallow grave in the desert
On the day Stange was killed, Stapp texted Krueger telling him she was going to her mother’s house in Canyon Lake to get suitcases, DeLimon wrote.
“Suitcases,” Krueger responded. “Seriously?”
The prosecution said Krueger likely thought this was a ruse from Stapp, to cover her continued drug use with Stange.
However, according to the defense account of events, Krueger grew worried that morning when Stapp never came to the base for a “pre-planned family day at the golf course.”
When Stapp failed to respond to his texts that afternoon, both the prosecution and defense said, Krueger was granted permission by a senior officer to drive to the Murrieta area for a family issue.
According to defense attorney Cosgrove, Krueger tracked Stapp’s phone to her parent’s house and called the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to report that she might be suicidal; deputies told Krueger they could not find her. Krueger then received permission from Stapp’s mother, who was out of town, to enter her home, Cosgrove wrote.
Krueger found her “cell phone in a house plant,” Cosgrove wrote, where it appeared she left it “in order to go instead to the residence of Henry Stange undetected.”
Emails retrieved during the investigation, Cosgrove said, show Stange invited her to his house for an “oxy party.”
Meanwhile, Stange, an avid amateur radio broadcaster, made his last broadcast around 3:30 p.m., saying “beautiful, lovely, and smart Ashlie was here,” according to DeLimon.
DeLimon alleges Krueger arrived at Stange’s home around 5:20 p.m., found him in the garage and “unleashed a violent attack that left Henry with several sharp force injuries to his chest and neck, and numerous blunt force injuries that fractured and collapsed his skull and left him bleeding on the floor.”
Krueger entered the home and got Stapp to help him, DeLimon wrote.
Stapp, DeLimon wrote, later told police that Krueger told her he “did something bad.”
The couple rolled Stange’s body in a blanket, removed surveillance equipment installed at the home, cleaned the crime scene with bleach and loaded the body in Krueger’s truck, according to the prosecution.
The two stopped at a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Hemet, where Krueger bought a shovel, according to DeLimon.
“Krueger drove to Joshua Tree National Park and buried Stange’s mutilated body in a shallow grave less than 10 feet from the road,” DeLimon wrote.
Stange’s partially buried body was discovered June 1, 2018 by a hiker.
Investigators later found evidence of blood and a struggle in Stange’s garage.
Investigators conducted a wiretap investigation in August 2018 and captured Krueger and Stapp discussing the killing, according to DeLimon.
DeLimon claims Stapp has provided inconsistent statements to law enforcement and retracted some of her early confessional statement.
“Stapp also made every effort to protect Krueger by making up false details about Krueger’s motivations for committing the murder,” DeLimon wrote.
If convicted as charged, Krueger could be sentenced to life in prison, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Desert Sun reporter Christopher Damien covers crime, public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at @chris_a_damien.