Suspects accused of first-degree murder, kidnapping, ID theft and theft

MI resident Engeland’s death is ruled as homicide.

More details have emerged since the Reporter’s last account in the homicide of Mercer Island resident Curtis Engeland through King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charging papers that were filed on March 14 in Superior Court in Seattle.

On that day in the southern California city of Blythe, Philip Brewer, 32, and Christina Joel Hardy, 47, were arrested in connection with Engeland’s murder, and have since been accused by the prosecuting attorney Leesa Manion of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree identify theft and first-degree theft charges. Prosecutors have ordered that the suspects be held on $5 million bail each and have no contact with each other or Engeland’s family.

According to the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD), authorities will extradite the suspects back to Washington to face homicide charges. At press time, the suspects remained in custody in California.

A representative from the prosecuting attorney’s office said on March 20 that they currently don’t have a set date for extradition proceedings; the date may be established in the next two days by the authorities in California.

Court documents state that Engeland, 74, was killed on or about Feb. 24 and MIPD detectives joined a team of law enforcement agencies — including cadaver dogs and handlers — in searching for and recovering the local resident’s body on March 7 in the Grays Harbor County city of Cosmopolis.

Engeland was last spotted at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 in his residential area as noted in a report that his housemate filed with the MIPD on Feb. 24. Engeland, who resided in the 3000 block of 62nd Avenue Southeast, sent his housemate text messages on Feb. 24, but they “did not match how he would normally write a text message, both in style and grammar,” court documents state.

Engeland met Brewer on the Scruff dating app and the pair initially connected in person on Jan. 12 at a Starbucks in Renton. Documents add that the following day the two men went on a hike on the Cedar River Trail and then spent time at Engeland’s Island home watching a movie. Engeland reported to MIPD on Jan. 16 that Brewer swiped his cell phone, wallet and a set of keys, some of which were for his house, car and safety deposit box. Unauthorized transfers were made on two of Engeland’s bank accounts (about $11,000 total), about $1,000 was withdrawn from one account and approximately $2,000 was transferred from a checking account into Brewer’s PayPal Account.

Hardy was spotted with Brewer on video footage from the Renton Fred Meyer while he conducted some fraudulent transactions from Engeland’s account. Also in court documents, Hardy stated — while she, Brewer and Hardy’s son were stationed in Engeland’s driveway on Feb. 24 — that she and Engeland became friends a few months prior through a Craigslist advertisement to house sit his residence.

According to documents regarding the suspects’ presence at Engeland’s home on the day he was reported missing, “Brewer and Hardy stated they had been communicating with Engeland and also received text messages from Engeland similar to (the housemate’s), stating he would be gone for 3-6 weeks. Hardy and Brewer stated they had a rental agreement with Engeland. When questioned about the numerous emails appearing to connect them to Engeland’s bank accounts, Brewer and Hardy stated Engeland had added them to his financial accounts so they could pay for utilities while Engeland was away.” They soon departed the home at the family and housemate’s request in a black 2017 Chevy Impala.

Later on Feb. 24, MIPD discovered Engeland’s 2003 Toyota Camry — which the suspects said Engeland permitted them to drive — in the parking lot at the Island’s north QFC and when they opened the trunk a large amount of blood was spotted inside. Surveillance video obtained from the Island McDonald’s “shows what appears to be Brewer cleaning the interior of Engeland’s car by removing unknown items and placing it in a neon green bag. The video shows (Hardy’s son) Nick throwing away a neon green bag in the McDonald’s trash can.”

Detectives then obtained judicially authorized search warrants on Engeland, Brewer and Hardy’s cell phones, and the data showed them traveling on Feb. 23 from Mercer Island, along Interstate 5 toward Olympia and then on westbound Highway 101 toward Cosmopolis. On that day, video surveillance at a Chevron gas station in Cosmopolis captured Brewer and Hardy with Engeland’s Camry and examining the trunk area and Brewer pressing on the trunk to ensure it was shut.

On March 7, authorities descended upon the Cosmopolis area where the cell phones’ GPS coordinates were captured during the data search — where the phones were present for a 19-minute time frame — and located Engeland’s body.

The King County Medical Examiner Office’s March 8 autopsy determined Engeland’s death as a homicide from a stab wound to the neck, documents note. The medical examiner “advised Engeland appeared to have suffered blunt force trauma to his face, had a yet to be quantified amount of fentanyl in his system, and a stab wound to his neck that partially severed a vein.”

A previous Reporter story notes that during their robust investigation, detectives came to believe that the suspects departed Washington immediately after Engeland was killed, fled south in different rented vehicles and swapped out new cell phones to cover their path across two state borders and deep into California, MIPD noted.

After being stopped for speeding by a California Highway Patrol sergeant on March 14, Joshua Hampton said he was running from Brewer and Hardy — who planned to “kidnap” Hardy’s daughter (Hampton’s girlfriend) and transport her to Washington to watch their children because they would soon be incarcerated.

When questioned about the situation, Hampton informed the sergeant that the suspects told him they killed Engeland with a fentanyl injection, placed him in the trunk of the Camry and dumped the body. “When they got to the dump site, Engeland was still alive, so Hardy held him down while Brewer stabbed him in the neck with a knife,” documents read, adding that the murder stemmed from their fraudulent activities against Engeland.

According to the Blythe Police Department Facebook page, at about 1 a.m. on March 14, officers were apprised of the suspects’ presence in Blythe and given a vehicle description, spotted and halted their vehicle and detained Brewer and Hardy. After MIPD confirmed that arrest warrants were issued, the suspects were booked into the Blythe Jail without incident.