Woman's remains found in storage unit, Maplewood man charged with murder

The investigation of missing Manijeh Starren is being investigated as a homicide after her remains were found inside a storage unit, the St. Paul Police Department said on Friday. 

Ramsey County prosecutors charged Joseph Jorgenson, 40, on Friday with second-degree intentional murder in connection to the death of 34-year-old "Mani" Starren. Charges say her remains were found in a storage unit in Woodbury nearly two months after she was reported missing.

"Our investigators worked hard to find her, but unfortunately the end was the worst possible outcome," St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster said.

Police said they are concerned for the safety of another woman, 33-year-old Fanta Xayavong. Ernster said Xayavong was last seen with Jorgenson in July 2021, but she was not reported missing until May 2023.  

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to call 651-291-1111 or 911.

"No tip or information is too small," said Ernster. 

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Mani reported missing

According to court records, Starren was reported missing on May 1 after her family hadn’t heard from her since mid-April. The family member told authorities she seemed paranoid and afraid, possibly of her boyfriend, Jorgenson.

Investigators began looking for Starren at her apartment on the 1400 block of 7th Street East in St. Paul. Inside, authorities found a cracked TV, broken microwave, and blood evidence in various rooms of the apartment that someone appeared to try and clean up. Family members noted the messy apartment was out of character for Starren as she was normally a "neat freak," charges explained.

A person close to Starren told investigators he last heard from her on April 21. Starren told him "Joe" had wrapped a rope around her neck as "things got out of hand" and she ran from the apartment, charges allege. He thought she was referring to an incident that happened weeks prior, but that wasn’t the case. 

Digital evidence

Investigators say surveillance video captured the last moments Starren was seen alive. On April 21, Starren was running from her apartment as Jorgenson ran after, grabbed her and pushed her back into the apartment, charges allege.

She went back into the apartment around 5:55 p.m. but there is no video of her leaving the apartment again. 

In the following days, Jorgenson was allegedly seen multiple times coming and going from the apartment. On April 28, authorities say surveillance video captured him leaving the apartment with bags, loading them into a pickup truck and driving off, charges said. 

Investigators obtained Jorgenson’s phone data showing he allegedly Googled "What do police do with a missing person’s report," "How to clear cookies from Android phone," and the term "jugular," which is a major blood vessel in the neck.

Cell phone data also pinged him at a storage unit in Woodbury.

Search of Jorgenson’s apartment 

On June 26, SWAT teams executed a search warrant at Jorgenson’s apartment in Maplewood to search for evidence in the case. Jorgenson allegedly barricaded himself in the bedroom and started a fire in the closet. He fought with officers and attempted to disarm an officer’s AR-15 firearm. Two officers suffered minor injuries in the incident, according to police. 

Officers were able to extinguish the fire, but it caused damage to the apartment, water covered the floor and residents had to evacuate the building. Jorgenson was charged with first-degree arson, threats of violence, and disarming a police officer for the incident.

St. Paul police forensic unit processed his apartment and said there was blood located in the closet he started on fire and additional blood in the front closet which the manager complained a "foul order" was coming from.  

Storage unit in Woodbury

On June 28, investigators executed a search warrant at the storage unit in Woodbury and found multiple containers, including the bag Jorgenson was allegedly seen carrying from Starren’s apartment, along with cleaning supplies. 

Starren’s remains were found wrapped in plastic inside different containers, according to charges. The medical determined her manner of death as a homicide. The cause of death has not yet been determined. 

Jorgenson was charged with one count of second-degree murder.

"Any crime that occurs in our community is horrific. A homicide is among the worst of all crimes for family, for our community, and even our investigators," said St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry. "Our department is committed to bringing those who cause harm to justice, and now a very dangerous person is under arrest. The apprehension of this suspect illustrated the danger he posed to the public, and the dedication of our officers to protect our community."

Jorgenson made his first court appearance Friday afternoon. The judge set his bail at $5 million. 

He has not been charged in Xayavong’s disappearance.