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How a Dickinson, N.D., woman’s alleged murder nearly escaped public notice

Alma Pluth's death has been investigated as a murder by the Dickinson Police Department.

DICKINSON, N.D - It has taken 254 days for The Dickinson Press to report on the alleged killing of Dickinson resident Alma Pluth and the reason for that prolonged wait is as curious and strange as the case itself.

On April 5, during a review of the Dickinson Police Department's 2018 annual report, The Dickinson Press staff noted an apparent discrepancy. According to page nine of the report, there were zero calls for service related to homicides in Dickinson for the year; however, a few pages later on page 14, there was a listing for one murder in the major crimes report section.

The Dickinson Police Department, once notified of the apparent discrepancy, were transparent on the matter and quickly provided details. According to police, the shuffle of various reporting systems and the original dispatched call for service combined to create a discrepancy in the reports.

Now, for the first time since the incident occurred in the middle of last year, here are the details of the case as they stand today.

Renee Patricia Klein, 67, faces charges of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in the death of her mother, and is scheduled to see a jury trial date on June 19 of this year. Officials have filed a criminal complaint against her in connection to Pluth's death.

The story begins on Friday, August 10, 2018, when Pluth, 91, was found dead at a residence at St. Luke's Home in Dickinson. According to police, attending staff and medical personnel were unable to revive Pluth and she was ultimately pronounced dead.

Four days later, on August 14, a family member of the deceased entered the police department to report what they considered to be the "suspicious circumstances" surrounding the death of their mother, Pluth. Dickinson Police Department listed that report from the family member as a "spoke with officer" call for service in their daily blotter. The information regarding the suspicious death was not made public at the time, and The Dickinson Press was unaware of the significance of a blotter entry under that call for service.

The next day, the Dickinson Police Department was able to obtain search warrants from the Southwest District Court related to the suspicious death of Pluth. Detectives received search warrants for Pluth's medical records, St. Luke's Home employee records, DNA, an oxygen machine and any video or photographs from the day of the death. Within hours of the Dickinson Police Department's obtaining warrants, Pluth was interred at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan.

According to Capt. David Wilkie, Dickinson Police Department, the investigation into the matter uncovered details that led police to classify this matter as a murder, and a subsequent report was forwarded to the Stark County State Attorney's Office. That report concluded that Klein, daughter of Pluth, had intentionally turned down the oxygen level on her mother's oxygen machine, causing her mother's oxygen levels to drop and resulting in her death.

The fast approaching burial was cause for concern for investigators with Dickinson Police Department and, according to them, hampered public notification of Dickinson's lone homicide.

"By the time the officers were notified of the case, it was too late to have the body autopsied. It was determined that the charges of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment would be filed after the investigation was forwarded to the state attorney's office," Wilkie said. "A public notification of this case was not released because the cause of death could not be determined until after an autopsy."

The state attorney's office declined to pursue AA felony murder based on the lack of an autopsy confirming the cause of death.

Whether Klein is, or ever has been, in police custody remains uncertain as of Tuesday. When asked about the status of the suspect, Dickinson Police stated that, "a criminal complaint has been issued against Renee Patricia Klein...for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment." According to Wilkie, Klein's current residence is in South Range, Wisconsin.

A criminal complaint was issued in October 2018 establishing the facts and legal reasons the state attorney's office believed were sufficient to support a claim against Klein.

A preliminary hearing in the case of the State of North Dakota vs. Renee Klein was held March 4 in the Southwest District Court before Judge Dann Greenwood.

The prosecutor in the case is James Allen Hope with the Stark County State Attorney's Office, and Klein has retained Lloyd Clayton Suhr, attorney with Suhr and Lofgren P.L.L.C. in Bismarck.

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