When 90-year-old farmer Earl Olander was found murdered in his rural Minnesota home in 2015, investigators had very little evidence and no leads for weeks.
Everything changed when a family Bible belonging to Olander was discovered and led the police to crack the case and arrest the men responsible. Some of the investigators told “20/20,” which explores the case with a special Nov. 11 episode, that the breakup was divine intervention.
“You’re still looking for that nugget, that one thing that lets you solve the case,” said Jim Olson, a retired sheriff with the Carver County Sheriff’s Office who worked on the investigation. , “20/20.”
Olander was found dead inside his home on his farm in Carver County, Minnesota on April 11, 2015, with his hands and feet bound with duct tape. The 90-year-old had been a farmer on the property all his life and continued to bale hay even into his old age, according to friends and neighbors.
Although he lived a modest life, investigators looking for a motive for his murder soon discovered that Olander had millions of dollars to his name, from inheritance and his years of farming, according to investigators.
“You could tell the suspects spent a lot of time in the house going through all the drawers and cupboards,” said Chris Wagner, the former lead investigator for the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, “20/20.” “Money has always been in many of the crimes you investigate.”
Detectives had little evidence at the scene, with shoe prints left by the suspects being the only major clues.
For weeks, investigators said they were frustrated with advice and leads that were going nowhere, but then they received a call on May 9, 2015, from someone in St. Paul. Barry Kyles told police he found a Bible in an apartment he was paid to clean. The Bible had a savings link with Olander’s name on it, according to Kyles.
Kyles searched the internet for Olander’s name and quickly discovered that he had been murdered and there was a reward. Olson told “20/20” that the Norwegian Bible is over 100 years old and belongs to Olander’s family.
Investigators turned their attention to Edson Benitez, who lived in the apartment Kyles cleaned. When questioned by detectives, Benitez initially claimed that a friend who had moved to Mexico gave him the Bible, but investigators pressed on when the details of his story did not match.
Benitez eventually reveals the truth and admits that the Bible was stolen. He told detectives that his friend Reinol Vergara called him a few days before Olander’s murder because he needed help with something. Vergara was a painter who worked on Olander’s home and knew the farmer had plenty of money, Benitez told investigators.
Vergara was suspected in an unsolved burglary that took place at Olander’s neighbors earlier in 2015. Vergara also worked for the neighbors.
Benitez said he waited in his car while Vergara entered Olander’s home with a black duffel bag that allegedly had tape on it and a gun, according to investigators.
Twenty minutes later, Benitez said Vergara returned to the car and asked him to come inside and help get the money. Benitez said as he walked inside, he saw a man with his face covered with a blanket and his hands and feet tied up with duct tape.
The man was struggling on the ground when Vergara hit him with the gun, Benitez told investigators.
“He said to the old man, ‘Are you going to die?'” Wagner asked during the interview.
“Yeah, ‘You’re gonna die,'” Benitez said.
“He threatened to kill him?” asked Wagner.
“Yeah,” Benitez replied.
Benitez told investigators the man was still on the move when he and Vergara left the house with the items.
Police arrested Vergara and questioned him, but when asked about the attack, Vergara claimed he never hit Olander during the incident and that there was a third person.
“There was an awful lot of finger pointing in this case,” Olson told 20/20.
Cell phone records and a match to their shoe prints further implicated the couple was at the home at the time of the burglary and murder.
Both Vergara and Benitez have been charged with four counts of murder. The couple pleaded guilty to one of those charges and were sentenced in 2016 to 37 years in prison.
Investigators today are confident that there was no third party involved.
“After law enforcement fully investigated the murder and followed up on every lead, there was no reliable or credible evidence that a third party was involved in Earl Olander’s murder,” he said. the Carver County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement to “20/20.” .”
Olander’s friends and neighbors told “20/20” they were grateful that justice could be served through this Bible.
“To me, there are no coincidences. There are only ‘divine incidences,'” Olander’s longtime neighbor Bill Boecker told 20/20.