Curtis Lee Krueger had a respected Marine Corps career ― he had risen through the enlisted ranks and eventually earned a commission as a Marine officer.
But then he was charged with murder of man from Murrieta, California.
Krueger, a lieutenant with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 out of Twentynine Palms, California, pleaded not guilty to the murder of 54-year old Henry Stange in December. He is scheduled for another felony settlement conference Feb. 21.
Authorities narrowed in on Krueger as a suspect after the discovery of Stange’s body in a shallow grave in Joshua Tree National Park on June 2, 2018.
According to court documents obtained by Marine Corps Times, Stange’s grave site was stumbled upon by a man hiking through Joshua Tree National Park on June 1. The hiker snapped photographs of the site that was surrounded by vultures, which he believed contained a dead animal. He alerted park rangers to the shallow grave.
A park ranger discovered the site contained a decomposing human body with the upper torso covered in dirt and the lower torso exposed, court documents detailed.
Riverside County Sherriff’s Department was dispatched to the scene. Following a June 4 autopsy, fingerprints confirmed the deceased male was Henry Stange and that he suffered from multiple skull fractures, court documents revealed.
The coroner determined that the cause of death was homicidal violence.
Following Stange’s identification by authorities, evidence began to implicate Krueger and his 27-year-old girlfriend Ashlie Stapp in his death.
Stange was divorced with two children, but, according to court documents obtained by Marine Corps Times, he also was dating Stapp.
Stapp at the time was living with Krueger at a trailer park in Twentynine Palms, California.
Court documents revealed that Stange was an avid Ham Radio operator and his broadcasts were last heard on May 24, 2018, around 8 a.m.
On that day, cell phone records show that Krueger and Stapp drove to Stange’s Murrieta home, and during that same day, Krueger made a call to 911 to check on Stapp’s health, telling authorities she could be suffering from mental health issues.
Authorities believe Stange was killed in his garage after being hit in the head, his body then dragged from the garage to a vehicle and eventually buried in Joshua Tree National Park.
Phone records show that Krueger and Stapp left Stange’s house and drove to Diamond Valley Lake, and they also show the pair driving from Stange’s house back to Twentynine Palms, according to court documents. Authorities noted that T-Mobile does not have service near where Stange was buried in Joshua Tree National Park.
A wire-tap warrant was obtained and shows that on August 23, 2018, the two were captured discussing Stange’s murder, court documents detailed.
On August 29, 2018, the pair were taken into custody.
Stapp told authorities that Krueger hit Stange in the head at his residence on May 24 and that she helped load him, still alive at the time, into Krueger’s truck, and later assisted him in burying the body in Joshua Tree National Park.
Krueger was arrested a second time on Dec. 13, 2018, and held at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta on $1 million bail. He is slated for another felony settlement conference on Feb. 21.
The 1st Marine Logistics Group, or MLG, told Marine Corps Times that local civilian authorities have jurisdiction and are handling the case.
“1st MLG surrendered 1stLt. Krueger to appropriate authorities and is not pursuing charges within the military court system,” Staff Sgt. Rubin Tan, a spokeswoman with 1st MLG said.
There does not appear to be any charges against Stapp at this time.