COTTAGE GROVE, Minn.-Bail was set at $1 million Wednesday for a Cottage Grove man who authorities accuse of a complex plot started on the "dark side of the web" to hire someone to kill his wife before he ultimately poisoned and shot her himself and staged her death as a suicide.
Stephen Carl Allwine, 43, was charged with second-degree intentional murder in the Nov. 13, 2016, death of his wife, Amy Louise Allwine, 43, at their 110th Street home. He appeared Wednesday for a brief first appearance in Washington County District Court. He is being held in Washington County jail.
District Court Judge Susan Miles set Allwine's bail at $1 million without conditions or $500,000 with conditions, including that he wear a GPS tracking device if he posts bail, remain in Minnesota and have only supervised contact with the Allwines' 9-year-old son.
Allwine's attorney, Kevin DeVore, sought a lower bail that he said his client could afford. Working with Allwine will be more difficult if he is in jail, DeVore said.
"This is a complicated case," he told Miles.
Fred Frink, criminal division chief for the Washington County Attorney's Office, had requested a $2 million bail because he said circumstances suggest Allwine is a flight risk. Fink said Allwine has the funds to flee and recently liquidated silver coins for cash.
Fink also referenced the sophistication involved in Allwine's alleged actions, saying it "appears to be an absolute determination to kill this woman."
The criminal complaint's eight-page narrative details a complex investigation led by Cottage Grove police, who had assistance from the FBI and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as they conducted deep digital forensic testing and dug into the dark side of the internet where murder-for-hire jobs are paid for in virtual currency.
"I think the big difference between this and a more common murder is the Dark Web," Cottage Grove detective Sgt. Randy McAlister said. "It's the internet connection. That's what's really been taking a lot of time."
As many as five Cottage Grove detectives have worked the case for over two months, setting aside much of the rest of the caseload because of the Allwine investigation's complexity. They were full-time on the case for the first month, McAlister said.
"This is the first case involving death threats on a purported Dark Web website that we've ever dealt with," McAlister said. "This is definitely the most in-depth."
DeVore said after the hearing that he has not had an opportunity to review the complaint in detail with his client.
"Obviously we're going to be investigating the matter and following up on all these numerous allegations that the state has been making, or has made, and then we'll bring to light eventually what the truth is," DeVore said.
Started with a call
According to the criminal complaint against Allwine:
About 7 p.m. Nov. 13, police responded to a report of a gunshot wound at the home and were met by Allwine and his son in the garage. Allwine said his wife was in the rear bedroom and he was uncertain of her injuries. He told the police a 9 mm handgun was used.
Amy Allwine was found lying on the bedroom floor in a pool of blood with a gunshot wound to her head. The handgun was found near her left arm. One shell casing was found near her right foot.
Allwine told police he had asked his in-laws to pick up his son shortly before 2 p.m. because he had to get some work done in his basement office. He told police that his wife had said she was dizzy and not feeling well that afternoon. Allwine said he last saw his wife about 5 p.m., when she said she was fine and did not need to be checked on anymore.
Allwine said he left the home about 5:30 p.m. to pick up his son in Woodbury and go to a gym. He initially told police he stopped to get gas on his way to get his son when he realized he had forgotten the son's shorts for the gym class. Allwine said after picking up his son, they stopped for dinner at Culver's instead of going to the gym, and then they returned home and found his wife.
Police received separate information from two of Allwine's employers indicating he did not report any work activity that afternoon.
Amy Allwine's parents arrived at the scene and told police their daughter was right-handed, which police said was inconsistent with how the gun was found and also inconsistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound that exited the right side of her head.
The complaint states that when Cottage Grove detective Sgt. Randy McAlister arrived at the scene, he noticed the wood floor outside the bedroom appeared very clean, while the bedroom carpet appeared dirty.
Dark Web contacts
Allwine said he and his wife had an alarm system installed on their house after she had received threats, but they had gotten lax in setting it. He said that earlier in 2016 the FBI contacted Cottage Grove police about activity on the Dark Web - a part of the internet not indexed by search engines - indicating someone was attempting to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
Allwine denied knowing anything about hacking or the Dark Web, though police say examination of his computer revealed he had accessed the Dark Web as early as 2014.
Police also learned Allwine applied for and received a permit to purchase a firearm, and in August 2016 he bought the gun found next to his wife's body.
Two days after her death, police executed a search warrant at the home and found a large amount of sophisticated computer equipment in the basement, as well as five additional cellphones beyond two located the day of the 911 call.
A video and audio security system captured no footage at the front door of the home before Amy Allwine was found dead, but police learned the video doorbell system was connected to a cellphone found in the basement.
A detective found on the phone a "bitcoin" application to trade or pay in the alternative, digital currency. Police said bitcoin is often used on the Dark Web to pay for illegal services, and it's largely untraceable to the seller and buyer.
About two weeks after the death, police learned that a gunshot residue testing sample had detected a "particle characteristic of gunshot residue" on Stephen Allwine's right hand. He had given a sample to police after the death.
As the investigation continued in late November, police met with the BCA to discuss information from the FBI indicating that in February 2016 someone using the username dogdaygod contacted a Dark Web site called "Besa Mafia" known to solicit murders and assaults for hire. The user inquired about the cost to have Amy Allwine killed and to make it appear like a car accident.
Police report that on Feb. 16 several cookies were installed on Stephen Allwine's cellphone from bitcoin websites. That same day, the online user dogdaygod posted information on the Besa Mafia site about Amy Allwine's planned trip to Moline, Illinois, for a dog training competition.
Amy Allwine had operated a business called Active Dogs Sports Training.
The user dogdaygod corresponded with Besa Mafia in March about two possible attempts to kill Amy Allwine, but neither transpired.
In May, the username dogdaygod created an account on another Dark Web site and inquired about purchasing a drug called scopolamine, primarily used to treat nausea after surgery, and payment would be via bitcoin.
The complaint states that in July, Amy Allwine received emails from an anonymous, Dark Web email address that threatened her and her relatives. The messages included detailed information about her family and urged her to die by suicide.
During a "forensic extraction" of the cellphones, investigators found a contact for a woman with whom Stephen Allwine admitted to having an affair. Investigators talked to the woman, who said she met Allwine through the Ashley Madison dating website and they had a relationship for several months. The woman told police that if the murder-for-hire plot was true, Allwine "was smart enough to pull it off," the complaint states.
Investigators detail in the criminal complaint how further investigation in the home uncovered areas where blood had apparently been cleaned from surfaces but was still detectable. DNA analysis confirmed it was Amy Allwine's blood.
Stephen Allwine said he had no information about blood found on the wooden floor outside the bedroom and no explanation why blood found in the home would have been cleaned up.
Police requested that the Ramsey County medical examiner test Amy Allwine's blood for scopolamine. It was present in her system at a concentration 45 times higher than a prescribed dose. Amy Allwine was never prescribed scopolamine, police reported.
The medical examiner concluded the gunshot wound was inconsistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. There was no soot or traces of gunpowder or unburned gunpowder on her hands. Her time of death was estimated at around 3 p.m., four hours before police were called.
Allwine returns to court Feb. 13. The case is assigned to District Judge B. William Ekstrum.
Second-degree intentional murder carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.