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Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities
August 6, 2000
Author: Jim Adams; Staff Writer
The severely burned man stumbled for help to the door of a rural Cass County house last December. From the beginning, the man presented a puzzle, and sheriff’s deputies began piecing it together that day. The man’s car was parked nearby, with a trail of blood leading from the car to another house. Inside that smoke-filled, ransacked house lay the bludgeoned body of Carrie Nagel, age 92.
It was enough for authorities to charge the man, Michael (Mic) R. Ebinger, 31, a former car salesman from Anoka, with murdering Nagel. But the investigation wasn’t over.
Another elderly woman, Nellie Bobendrier, 82, had been found beaten to death three days earlier near Elk River. Investigators linked Ebinger to that killing, and last month charged him in that case.
Now, as Ebinger awaits trials in two counties, family members and friends struggle with a deeper mystery.
How did a man who once held a good sales job, served as a building caretaker and worked in a youth ministry end up preying on the elderly?
Court records portray Ebinger as a troubled man who had begun to steal from older people even before the killings. He told Anoka police he burglarized the apartments of two elderly people in his apartment building in early 1999. He pleaded guilty last fall to one of those thefts.
The suspect “seems to prey on elderly people,” said Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly, who will prosecute one of the homicide cases. “I can’t believe it was just coincidence that he hit the isolated homes of two elderly women who lived alone and were bludgeoned to death.”
At the time of those deaths, Ebinger should have been serving a 30-day work-release sentence for an earlier burglary. But he disappeared shortly before he was to begin the sentence on Nov. 29, his mother and sister said.
Mental illness questions
Family members said Ebinger suffered a serious head injury in a July 1998 car accident. During treatment, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition that causes mood swings, family members said.
One of his attorneys this month asked a Cass County judge to order a mental evaluation to determine whether Ebinger is competent to assist in his defense.
His attorneys said they are considering mental illness as a possible defense. Ebinger remains in jail with bail set at $1 million.
When Ebinger disappeared last November, he left behind the antidepressant drugs and painkillers he had been taking, according to his mother and a sister.
Within a week, Nagel and Bobendrier, were found dead in their rural homes. Like Nagel, Bobendrier lived alone in an isolated home that was burglarized before her death. Bobendrier lived on an Otsego farm near Elk River. It was an area that Ebinger knew.
Ebinger grew up with three brothers and four sisters on the Elk River horse farm of his mother and stepfather. He loved riding and drawing horses, and he won some ribbons showing Arabians at horse shows, said his mother, Judi Anderson. He was active with his family at a Catholic church in Elk River.
“He is caring and loving; the best brother I could have asked for. The things he is charged with, that’s not the Mic we know,” said Amber Anderson. She said her brother had highs and lows in his life but was never aggressive.
While attending Elk River High School, Ebinger sometimes took friends to Otsego to look at the car collection at his uncle’s horse ranch, classmate Jamie Negus said. Anderson said her brother also did odd jobs there. The ranch is less than one mile from Nellie Bobendrier’s 105-acre farm where she had lived more than half a century.
“She said, `I will live here and die right here,’ ” her son, Clarence Bobendrier Jr., 63, said. He said he didn’t think his mother, who was under 5 feet tall and partly blind, knew Ebinger.
Shortly after graduating from Elk River High School in 1987, Ebinger followed his older brother, Wayne, to Big Sky, Mont. The young Minnesotan had some troubles in the West, but nothing like the charges he faces now.
In July 1991, he was convicted of stealing $3,185 in cash from the Big Sky Conoco station his first day of work. He had closed the store alone that night, and the manager found empty bank bags the next morning, Gallatin County court records say.
Ebinger served 30 days in jail and paid restitution, court officials said. He moved to Boise, Idaho, in 1992.
He met Linda Ross in Boise and married her Nov. 27, 1993, records show. She had three children from a previous marriage. Four years later, the couple declared bankruptcy. They listed more than 50 creditors, including numerous credit agencies, a jewelry store, two hospitals, a dentist and state and federal tax agencies, bankruptcy records state. It’s unclear what caused the bankruptcy.
In early 1998, Ebinger moved with his wife and her two juvenile children to Minnesota to make a fresh start. While living in Anoka, he became active with Summit Student Ministries there.
Besides being a Summit youth leader, he participated in a weekly Bible study and attended Sunday services with his family, Amber Anderson said.
He also had a job selling cars at Miller Chevrolet in Rogers, his mother said.
New troubles back home
Ebinger’s fortunes turned in July 1998. Anderson said her brother was driving her GMC sport-utility vehicle when he swerved into a ditch to avoid hitting a car that pulled in front of him in Elk River.
Afterward, he had migraine headaches and began taking antidepressants and painkillers, the family members said.
His former attorney, Carol Weissenborn, said Ebinger had to quit his job because he no longer could sell cars. A doctor diagnosed Ebinger after the accident as having a bipolar disorder, and he received counseling said Judi Anderson of Elk River.
“It’s like there’s two people,” she said. “There’s my son and this other person.”
After the 1998 accident, Ebinger found work as a night security guard in Anoka. He also drove a forklift at Aveda Corp.’s warehouse in Blaine, police and family members said. He and his wife, Linda, had $9-an-hour jobs, court records said.
The burglaries began in January 1999.
Ebinger admitted to an Anoka police detective that he forged $5,500 worth of checks he stole from an elderly man living in the apartment building where Ebinger was the caretaker. He also admitted taking $540 from an 84-year-old resident while she was out playing cards.
Ebinger said he needed the money for bills, Anoka police detective Gary Patterson said. He said Ebinger drove an older car and his family lived in a modest apartment.
“He did kind of want to clear it up,” Patterson said. “He didn’t seem like a serious criminal.”
Resigns youth ministry
At Ebinger’s sentencing last November for the theft, his attorney told an Anoka County District Court judge that Ebinger had resigned his youth leadership position at Summit Student Ministries.
“He thought that his actions were inconsistent with him being presented as a role model for young people,” Weissenborn said.
Ebinger, who pleaded guilty to theft, told Judge James Morrow last fall that he was sorry. “The last year has been really hard. I just want to be, I want to take my medicine, so to speak, and be a good role model for my kids,” Ebinger said. “I just want to do what’s right.”
On Nov. 12, Morrow sentenced Ebinger to 30 days in jail with work-release privileges and ordered him to get financial counseling and to continue taking antidepressant medication as prescribed by his doctor. Because the theft was his first Minnesota offense, he was released without bail until his sentence began Nov. 29. Then he disappeared.
On Dec. 1, Bobendrier’s daughter, Susan Merriweather, visited her mother’s Otsego farm. She returned that evening after Bobendrier didn’t answer phone calls. Merriweather found her mother dead and a dog beaten, her brother Clarence Bobendrier said. The only thing missing was his mother’s purse, he said.
Living alone, she kept busy tending to her cats and dogs and milking two goats twice a day, her son said. She had a big garden and shared vegetables with everybody, he said.
At first, police had no suspects in the killing. That soon would change.
On Dec. 4, Ebinger was found badly burned near Nagel’s home in Cass County. Police suspect he burned himself after dousing the house with gasoline and lighting it. Police found a broken window and followed a trail of blood to Ebinger’s car, court papers say.
Burned clothing was found in his car, court papers say. He spent more than two months in Hennepin County Medical Center being treated for severe burns over most of his body. He was moved to the Cass County Jail in February.
The charges offer no explanation for why Nagel became a target.
Wife files for divorce
Grand juries have indicted Ebinger on first- and second-degree murder charges. The first charges were brought in Cass County in December, followed by the Wright County charges in June. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail in the Cass County Jail. He told jail administrator Ron Meeks he didn’t want to talk to a reporter.
Linda Ebinger, 36, said through a Summit Ministries leader that she wouldn’t comment about her husband. In May she filed for divorce in Anoka County District Court. Her attorney, George Riggs, said a hearing, scheduled because her husband hasn’t responded, is set for this month to end the marriage.
As the family awaits Ebinger’s fate, his mother, Judi Anderson, said she thinks about the two dead women’s families, who “are in our prayers.” She said she supports her son, but is not defending him.
Staff Writer Jim Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Record Number: 993195