Family friend murders their 5-year-old daughter, hides body in a swamp

The confessed killer was staying at the home and played softball with the victim’s father the day before the murder

A Minnesota man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the brutal rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl, the Star Tribune reports.

Zachary Todd Anderson, 27, pleaded guilty Friday to the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

As part of the peal deal, Anderson admitted to authorities that he kidnapped and killed 5-year-old Alayna Ertl in rural Minnesota on Aug. 20, 2016.

Ertl’s mother told police that she last saw her daughter around 2 a.m. that day and discovered her missing at about 8 a.m.

The family’s pickup truck was also gone.

Anderson was a co-worker of Ertl’s father, Matt Ertl, and had been staying at the family’s home, the newspaper reports.

The previous day, Anderson and Matt Ertl had played softball and later went out with friends before coming home, court records show. The two were up until 4 a.m. talking and then Matt Ertl went to bed.

By 8:30 a.m. the next morning, the Ertls notified police that their daughter was missing and an Amber Alert was issued at 11:15 a.m., which referenced Anderson and the missing pickup truck.

After learning of the Amber Alert, Anderson’s father contacted police and informed them that Zachary had asked to use the family cabin that day.

Two sheriff’s deputies went to the cabin and found the pickup truck. They then broke into the cabin and found a gun, ammunition and a suicide note with blood on it.

But neither Anderson nor Ertl were there.

A tracking dog later found Anderson in a swamp. He initially denied knowing anything about where the girl was located, but then admitted that she was in the swamp.

Police found the girl’s pink blanket and then her body, which was entirely under water and concealed by debris and brush.

An autopsy revealed indications that she was strangled and endured blunt force trauma to her head.

Anderson had been scheduled for trial in April, but the plea deal means that a trial will no longer take place. As part of the agreement, some charges will be dismissed.

Cass County prosecutor Ben Lindstrom said it was best for Ertl’s family to avoid a lengthy trial that likely would have included graphic descriptions of the crime.

“It’s never going to be over for them because they don’t have Alayna anymore,” Lindstrom said of the family.



[Feature image: Alayna Ertl/Facebook]