Weather Forecast


Friends: Park Rapids murder victim, suspect had reconnected

Kiela Knowles

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. – Friends hadn’t been able to contact Kiela Knowles last Sunday. Toward the afternoon, one of them texted Harley Leritz and was told that “she was in bed sleeping.” The friends began feeling uneasy.

Knowles’ father, Mel Knowles, found Kiela in bed early Monday morning at her Park Rapids apartment on his way to his job in Audubon. Police were called. Kiela was dead – naked with a pillow over her face.

Videotape from halls of her apartment building showed Leritz going in and out of the residence several times Feb. 23, police said.

On Wednesday, Leritz was arraigned in the strangulation death of Knowles, 19. The 21-year-old who had just reconnected with the victim on Facebook last fall faces second-degree murder charges.

Leritz, of Menahga, showed up at Knowles’ apartment late Monday afternoon and was arrested by officers processing the crime scene.

He said the death was accidental, according to police.

Knowles and Leritz both attended Park Rapids Area High School. Neither received degrees. Leritz’s Facebook page indicates he graduated from Menahga High School in 2011. They met during the summer of 2011.

Knowles’ Facebook page is a testament to a life of deep reservations about relationships, but she was still yearning for the one who left, hoping alternately for a fresh start and to seeing the two-year boyfriend again.

“I still don’t have a heart yet it’s shattered in a million pieces,” Knowles posted Feb. 22. Her ex-boyfriend was seeing another woman, she posted.

But by that night she’d posted: “Can’t wait till I see him again soon its been to damn long almost two years.”

A reconciliation seemed possible.

“Well, tonight turned out to be a very good night,” Knowles posted later that night.

She had given birth to a son two years ago who was staying with grandparents last weekend. The boy’s biological father has never been in the picture, her friends said. The boy remains with his grandparents.

“It’s been really hard on everyone,” said friend Lori Hanson Holder.

According to friends, Knowles and Leritz became reacquainted last fall via Facebook.

Hanson Holder said Knowles “did not do drugs or alcohol.”

As of Friday, no funeral services had been announced.

Neither Weeks nor Hanson Holder can explain a reason for the crime, since both believed the victim and accused had a casual relationship.

“As far as I know they were just friends,” Weeks said.

Hanson Holder said Leritz “was an alcoholic” and seemed to have problems maintaining sobriety.

In 2012, Leritz was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 10 years of supervised probation for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. The victim was between the ages of 13 and 15, court records said.

Hanson Holder said she was shocked to learn of Leritz’s criminal past.

“I don’t deal with people like that,” she said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364