A Killer Was Brought To Justice Thirteen Years After Murdering A Minnesota Woman

Trina Langenbrunner was found on the side of the road in Cloquet, Minnesota on Sept. 3, 2000.

March 22, 2023
Trina Langenbrunner, pictured here, was found on the side of the road in Cloquet, Minnesota on Sept. 3, 2000.

It took 13 years for a grieving family to get justice after Trina Langenbrunner was found dead on the side of the road in Cloquet, Minnesota.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Murder in the Heartland")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Murder in the Heartland")

It took 13 years for a grieving family to get justice after Trina Langenbrunner was found dead on the side of the road in Cloquet, Minnesota.

A passerby found Trina, a 33-year-old mother of three, lying on her back on the edge of a gravel road in Cloquet early in the morning of Sept. 3, 2000. Her pants were unzipped and her underwear was showing. Her shirt was askew, allowing officers to see that she had several stab wounds on her torso. She had also sustained a serious injury to one eye, and it appeared that the killer had tried to set the woman on fire.

An autopsy would later reveal she had suffered more than 20 stab wounds.

One of the officers who responded to the scene recognized the woman as a fellow member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe Native Americans. There had been a missing persons report from the reservation, and the victim in front of him matched the description. In fact, it was someone he knew well.

As authorities began to investigate, they heard from a man who said he and his cousin had encountered Trina before she was murdered. According to the man, he was riding with his cousin when the two spotted Trina walking down the road. They stopped to check on her, but reportedly declined to give her a ride because of how intoxicated she was. Ultimately, they were cleared.

Police also learned that Trina was separated from her husband, Shawn Langenbrunner, and the two were in the process of getting a divorce. They spoke to him the day after Trina’s body was discovered, and while he admitted to slapping Trina during their marriage, he was adamant that he had not killed her. Police were able to clear him too.

The case, sadly, grew cold.

On August 24, 2010, there was a break in a case. Police got a tip from a man named Charlie who reportedly said a man named Joseph Couture confessed to killing Trina. With the new detail in the case, authorities went to speak to Couture’s ex-wife who provided them with some more information: the night of the murder, Couture came home covered in blood and burned his clothes before driving into a nearby swamp to get rid of a knife. The next morning, Couture allegedly confessed to his ex-wife that he had killed Trina and he would kill her too if she went to the police.

Advances in DNA technology allowed police to recheck the DNA found at the scene, and that DNA reportedly came back to Couture. He was arrested in June of 2012.

Ultimately, Couture told authorities that he had been driving home after being at a bar when he saw Langenbrunner walking along the side of the road and picked her up. According to the Duluth New Tribune, Couture claimed Langenbrunner threatened him with a knife when he refused to take her to her destination, and that a verbal fight ensued before he stabbed her twice and shoved her out of the car. He pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder, first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated witness tampering, and aiding and abetting first-degree arson.

Couture was sentenced to 39 years in prison. His earliest expected release date is September 7, 2038.

The occurrence of missing and murdered indigenous women is a crisis in the United States as Native American women who live on reservations are murdered at a rate ten times higher than that of American women who do not live on reservations. You can learn more from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Stream more episodes of Murder in the Heartland now on discovery+.

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