We all have our “bucket lists” – the things we feel we must do before we die. But how many of you have murder on yours? Not too many, I hope!
However, that was apparently the motive in the case of the brutal slaying of Dana Laskowski.
Laskowski was a beloved single mother whose life was brutally ended in Puyallup, Washington in 2001. Laskowski’s loved ones first realized something was wrong after she failed to show up to work on August 31, 2001 and neighbors were unable to contact her. Authorities performed a welfare check at her home and arrived to find the back door partially open. An officer walked through the house to be met with a horrific sight — Dana’s dead body sprawled across the living room couch.
Detectives at the scene immediately noticed several strange things. Dana’s body was twisted in an awkward, unnatural angle. There was blood spatter on the carpet. Her neck, elbows, and knees were bruised, and there was blood in her mouth — all signs pointing to an obvious brutal slaying.
The victim’s family, including her father, award-winning artist Bill Ross, was devastated when they heard the news.
“I was pretty much in shock … I didn’t want to believe. You can’t imagine that because there was no reason,” he told the local press at the time.
An autopsy showed Dana had died from strangulation, and the bones of her neck had been nearly crushed, suggesting a crime of passion committed by someone very physically strong.
Armed with this information, authorities got to work investigating the victim’s life in the hopes of discovering who could have wanted to hurt her.
They learned Dana, a single mother of triplets, thrived as an artist and was considered an ideal mother by the community.
“Dana was a very kind, caring person [who] loved her family,” Scott Bramhall, a detective with the Puyallup, Washington Police Department, told producers of the TV series “An Unexpected Killer,” which profiled Dana’s death on a recent episode.
Dana would also frequently let her 17-year-old niece Amanda, who often ran away from home, stay with her in order to keep her out of trouble. Amanda and her friends would visit Dana’s house all the time because she was a trusted adult who was always there to support them amidst any trouble at home.
Investigators first reached out to Dana’s ex-husband, Sam, who had the triplets in his care at the time of the murder. Sam denied having anything to do with her death. He also said on the night she was killed, he’d gone to a gas station before returning home to his kids, and they all went camping the following morning. His alibi checked out, and he was eliminated as a suspect.
The Bucket List Killer
Given the nature of the crime scene, detectives always felt that Dana had to have known her killer. As it turned out, not only did she know her murderer, but the killer was someone she was actually trying to help.
After two other men involved in Dana’s life were eliminated as suspects, the investigation homed in on her wayward niece Amanda.
Apparently, Amanda had left a troubling message in the guest book following Dana’s funeral. In her note, she apologized to Dana for not being a better niece and said she was now sober.
“There was something about the way that she’d written it that suggested it was a communication to Dana of remorse and to make amends for what had happened. It’s something that was significant enough to follow up on,” Stephen Penner, a prosecutor for Pierce County, told producers of the TV show.
Suspecting Dana’s niece Amanda at least knew something about how Dana died and may have even been involved, investigators brought her in for questioning. The teen said she would routinely hang out with a group of troubled kids in the park. When they asked her if anyone she knew would have had the physical strength needed to kill Dana, she pointed to a friend named Blane, who she claimed once attacked her on a couch after she rejected him. She also recalled seeing Blane with scratches on his arms following Dana’s death.
They learned Blane had a violent criminal history, including weapons and drug-related charges. But when police were unable to extradite Blane from a different state, they reached out to someone in prison who knew their suspect, and that person made a shocking claim — it wasn’t Blane who’d killed Dana, but Emily Lauenborg, Amanda’s best friend.
Two other people in Amanda’s friend group soon echoed these allegations saying that it was Emily. The girl was known to be unusually strong for her size, and everyone in the group knew she had been the one to kill Dana. Investigators called Emily in for questioning, and she angrily denied having killed Dana. However, she was also unable to provide investigators with an alibi for the night of the murder.
When police searched Emily’s home, they found a diary with an incriminating list of things that Emily wanted to do before she died – a “bucket list” – and one item on that list was “to kill someone and get away with it.”
They then found a journal entry referencing Emily getting into a fight with Amanda and stating she could “strangle [her] … just like her aunt.”
Another disturbing piece of incriminating evidence was found in Emily’s home – a black shirt she had taken from Dana and worn to the funeral of the women she murdered!
All the evidence said they had found their killer. However, it was all circumstantial. Emily was arrested, but prosecutors wanted to make a stronger case, so they pressed Amanda.
Eventually, the troubled teen broke down. She told detectives on the night of Dana’s death, she and Emily had been high on drugs when they went to her aunt’s house. Emily was rude, and Dana asked them to leave, which was when things took a violent turn. When Dana lightly touched Emily to lead her to the door, Emily flew into a violent rage and attacked Dana, putting her into a wrestling chokehold and strangling her with a scarf. Amanda turned around because she didn’t want to watch, she claimed.
“She heard a crack. And she heard a gurgle. And she heard Dana gasping for her life, and then she didn’t hear anything. And that was because Dana was dead,” Penner said.
The two girls took Dana’s money and then left the house, Amanda claimed. As for motive, authorities speculated that Emily was jealous of Dana because of the influence she had on Amanda and wanted her out of her best friend’s life.
Or maybe the sociopathic teen just wanted to check one more thing off of her bizarre bucket list.