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Northern Minnesota woman charged with murder, arson after body found next to burned camper

A 42-year-old Ball Club woman has been charged with second-degree intentional murder and first-degree arson for an incident that took place on Monday near Deer River.

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BEMIDJI — A 42-year-old Ball Club, Minnesota, woman faces murder and arson charges after she allegedly set fire to a camper because she thought she was “burning a witch.”

Crystal Marie Wilson, 42, has been charged with second-degree intentional murder and first-degree arson after the incident Monday, July 18, near Deer River in Itasca County.

At about 9:30 a.m. Monday, law enforcement responded to a call that a camper was on fire in Ball Club, about 50 miles east of Bemidji.

Authorities discovered a man’s body near the camper and that he had injuries unrelated to the fire, according to a press release from the Itasca County Attorney’s Office.

According to a criminal complaint charging Wilson, a police officer from Deer River was first on the scene and found the man’s body with severe burns on his hand and arms. The officer also saw puncture wounds on his back and arms. Witnesses on the scene said they pulled the man from the burning camper.

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After canvassing the area, law enforcement found another witness, who said Wilson had come to his home wearing bloody clothes. The man told investigators that Wilson asked if she could shower, and added that when he and Wilson watched the smoke and burning camper, she made the comment that “He will not be able to hurt anybody again.”

The complaint said investigators found bloody clothing, Wilson’s ID, a pair of scissors and a blood-stained notebook bearing the victim’s name after they talked to the witness.

Wilson was arrested Tuesday afternoon after she was seen coming out of the woods near the crime scene, documents said.

In an interview with authorities, Wilson said that on Sunday, July 17, she attended the Mii Gwitch Mahnomen Days powwow in Ball Club. She said that she used methamphetamine and alcohol Sunday morning. Sometime after the powwow on Sunday, she went to the victim’s camper because she knew it was a place where she could get something to use, whether methamphetamines or alcohol. She said she didn’t know what time it was, but it was dark. She said she and the victim may have used meth. At one point, Wilson told authorities, she started to think the man was going to attack her with a butcher knife.

Wilson said that she began to stab the man “multiple f--ing times” with a pair of scissors all over his chest, back, shoulders and head, the complaint said, and then used her fists and punched and kicked the man.

When asked how many times she stabbed him, she said “I just kept going. And if he tried to move, I’d do it again wherever I could reach.”

She also said that she head-butted the man and urinated on him. She said they both fell asleep or went unconscious on the floor of the camper, the complaint said. She awoke next to the victim, and she told authorities that at one point, she probed one of his stab wounds with her finger “because the entire experience seemed surreal,” the complaint said.

She told authorities that she believed the man was dead and lit the camper on fire by igniting curtains and a blanket that was on top of the bed. She told investigators that she believed she was “burning a witch.”

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At the burned out camper, investigators found a significant amount of blood on the floor and retrieved a pair of needle nose pliers. Officers also noted that no butcher knife was present in the camper or surrounding area.

The victim’s manner of death was classified as homicide, with the cause of death being multiple blunt, sharp and asphyxial injuries including several broken ribs.

Bail for Wilson was set at $1 million without conditions and $500,000 with conditions, based on the seriousness of the offense and the potential risk to public safety if Wilson was released without the assurance of bail and conditions, officials said.

Wilson’s next court appearance is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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