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Donald Albin BLOM

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Serial rapist - Suspected serial killer
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 26, 1999
Date of arrest: June 22, 1999
Date of birth: February 5, 1949
Victim profile: Katie Poirier, 19
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Moose Lake, Minnesota, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on August 16, 2000
 
 
 
 
 
 

Donald Albin Blom (born 1949) is an American citizen, who was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Katie Poirier in 1999.

A registered sex offender involved in five cases of kidnapping or sexual assault prior to Katie's murder, he is suspected to be a serial killer by the case investigators. Blom is serving his prison sentence at a maximum-security facility in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

Early life

Donald Blom's father had abused him when he was around 13 years old. This incident turned Donald into an underage drinker and a problem child. In 10th grade, he went to a reform school where he often skipped classes.

In 1975, Blom kidnapped a 14-year-old girl, gagged her and raped her. He locked her up in his car trunk, but she managed to escape and turned him in. He went to trial and was convicted. Three years later, in 1978, he committed aggravated assault. In 1983, he was arrested again for criminal sexual conduct.

The same year, he also threatened two teenage girls at knifepoint in a remote area. He tied them to a tree, and put socks in their mouths. He choked and revived one of them several times, and said he was going to rape them. The girls were rescued when a police officer saw their car parked the wrong way, and came by. Blom fled into the woods, and later changed his appearance by dying his hair. He was arrested two months later, when one of the girls recognized him. He pleaded guilty to the crime.

During an examination in 1992, a psychologist predicted that if Blom were not closely monitored, he would probably engage in additional anti-social behavior. However Blom managed to change his name, got a job and got married. By May 1999, he had six felony convictions, five of which involved kidnapping and sexual assault.

Katie Poirier's murder

On 26 May 1999, 19-year old Katie Poirier went missing from the D. J.'s Expressway Conoco convenience store in Moose Lake, Minnesota, where she worked as a night clerk. A passer-by, who noticed that there was no attendant present in the store, reported the odd incident.

A grainy black-and-white surveillance video showed Katie being forced out of the store around 11:40 pm, by a man wearing jeans, a backwards baseball cap and a New York Yankees baseball jersey with the number 23 on the back. The man's hand was at the back of her neck, and from the way she touched her throat, there might have been a cord tied around her neck.

The police estimated that the abductor was 5'10" and weighed around 170. He had long light-colored hair, and appeared to be around 25 years old. The witnesses reported that they had seen a black pick-up truck near the convenience store that evening. One of the witnesses gave a partial license plate number (three numbers and a letter).

A composite sketch of the abductor, based on statements of four witnesses, was broadcast on the local media.

Blom's arrest

Donald Blom was checked soon after Katie's disappearance, since he had a pickup truck registered to his name, with a license plate number matching the partial number provided by the witness. But this vehicle was white-colored.

Blom had been working at the Minnesota Veteran's Home under the name "Donald Hutchinson" prior to Katie's death. On June 18, his former co-worker Darrel Brown, called the police tip line. He stated that Donald Hutchison looked similar to the man in the composite sketch provided by the police. He had been absent on the day following Katie's disappearance. He had recently cut his hair, and had stopped driving his black pick-up truck. Shortly after that, he had suddenly quit his job as the janitor without any notice.

Donald Blom owned a 20-acre property in Moose Lake, 12 miles from the convenience store from where Katie had been abducted. The investigators came to know that he had earlier been convicted of abducting seven petite young girls like Katie. They got search warrants. They also learned from the neighbors that Blom had spent a lot of time at the property before Katie's abduction, but not since.

Blom was spending time with his family at a campground 140 miles away from his home in Richfield, Minnesota when initially questioned by agents from Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He was arrested later that same day, June 22, while driving home. Blom was friendly and cooperative, but refused to give a statement and requested an attorney. He was initially held in a county facility but was placed in solitary confinement after his plans to escape from the facility were discovered.

Meanwhile, the investigators searched Blom's residence and his extensive Moose Lake property, supported by over one hundred members of the National Guard and several hundred volunteers from the local community. They were unable to find Katie or her body, despite extensive search in the area. They found some firearms, which Blom was not allowed to carry, given his prior convictions.

On the second day of the search, they found a number of fragments that appeared to be bone, in a fire pit on the Blom's property. The fragments were sent to a lab, where they were identified as pieces of human bones and a charred portion of a human tooth. The DNA tests proved inconclusive, but an examination by the dental experts established that the filling of this tooth portion matched that of the fillings used for Katie. The researchers stated that the tooth belonged to a young female, and the chance of it belonging to Katie was quite high.

On 8 September, Blom confessed to abducting Katie, strangling her and burning her body in the fire pit. Blom's account was somewhat inconsistent with the evidence. The surveillance video showed the man with his hand on the back of her neck. Blom stated that he walked out of the store with Katie: she asked him to let her go several times, but did not fight with him until he started choking her at his property. Blom also said that he killed Katie with his bare hands, and burned her dead body with wood and paper.

However, according to the investigators, wood and paper alone would not have been sufficient to reduce a human body to ash. Blom didn't confess to sexually assaulting Katie, and said he did not know why he had committed the crime. When asked whether the remains in the fire pit were those of Katie Poirer, he said "I guess so". When pressed, he said he "didn't know the answer to this question". When asked "then whose remains are they", he replied "Well, I was asking that myself, man."

Blom soon recanted his words, saying that the stress of the solitary confinement and hallucinations due to "ten medications" had prompted him to make a false confession.

Trial

Donald Blom's trial began in June 2000. Over fifty witnesses were called to testify during the case. The video surveillance, witness reports, testimonies from two women whom Blom had kidnapped in 1983, and his confession were presented as evidence against Blom.

Blom had stated that he never had a New York Yankees jersey with the number 23 on the back (worn by the man in the surveillance video). However, Blom's brother testified that he had given the Blom family a box of old clothing, which included a New York Yankees jersey. The two women whom Blom had kidnapped in 1983, resembled Katie as girls, and testified about how he had treated them.

The forensic odontologist Dr. Ann Norrlander testified that the tooth portion recovered from Blom's property was consistent with Katie's age, gender and dental work. Blom's barber confirmed that his hair had blond tips at the time of the abduction, making him appear younger (the man in the surveillance video was assumed to be around 25 years old).

Blom's defense attorney, Rodney Brodin, presented Blom's wife Amy as his first witness on 7 August. She testified that her husband had come home at 9:30 pm on the night of Katie's disappearance. They had gone to bed, and when she woke up in the morning, the coffee had been ready. Thus, she believed that her husband had been home the entire night. She also accused the police of threatening to take her children away, if she did not answer the questions in the way they wanted. She also denied seeing any baseball jersey in the clothing given to the family by Blom's brother.

Brodin also restated to the jurors that only one of the six witnesses was able to identify Blom in a line-up. He also called upon his own odontologist to counter the testimony of the prosecution's dental experts. He stated that Blom's earlier confession was a mistake and should not be taken into account. He claimed that another man had confessed to the crime, but was not arrested.

During his trial, Donald Blom expressed angrily to the family that he was not the murderer, and got involved in a heated exchange of words with Katie's mother. On August 10, he denied kidnapping Katie. He said that his wife had threatened to commit suicide due to media pressure, and therefore, he decided to make a confession in order to get out of the cell. He said that he had been at Moose Lake in the evening, for fishing, but returned the home by 10:00 pm, well before the time of Katie's abduction.

The prosecutor, Thomas Pertler, cross examined Blom asking questions about his confession, but Blom did not expand on his answers only giving yes or no answers. Blom also said he had never seen the baseball jersey before, and people who claimed to have seen him wear it were mistaken.

After much deliberation, Blom was convicted of first-degree murder and life without parole. He was also given a 19-year sentence for possession of firearms (found at his property) on top of his first-degree murder charge.

Aftermath

By the time of Blom's conviction, over $200,000 had been spent on the case. The case changed the way Legislature charged criminals by tightening Minnesota sex offender laws, by implementing longer prison terms to repeat offenders (informally known as "Katie’s Law").

Donald Blom appealed his conviction, but after the trial ended, his wife Amy sent an email to two Minnesota legislators, stating that she believed him to be Katie's murderer. She said that her husband had abused her for seven years. She had not known that he had been married twice earlier. When he adopted her last name "Blom", she was flattered, and did not realize that it was to conceal his past.

She said he went to the Moose Lake property frequently and told her little. She believed that he had committed other crimes, including murder. Now that she was no longer under his domination, she said she could tell the truth: he had not been home that night. Blom's sons confirmed the violent abuse, describing Amy's bruises and black eyes.

In 2004, an appeals court upheld Blom's conviction. In 2006, Blom expressed his willingness to answer questions about unsolved local crimes, in exchange for transfer to a prison closer to his relatives. However, when the detectives arrived with the transfer letter, he kept talking about other matters for three days, and the confession never materialized.

In December in 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Blom's third petition for a new hearing.

Possible links to other crimes

The investigators believe that Blom may have been involved in a series of murders, probably dating back to the 1970s. They believe that his modus operandi was to change his name and appearance after each incident. Dennis Fier, a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent, had suspected Blom was a serial killer for a long time. According to him, Blom had admitted that he "often would leave for entire nights, would be using alcohol and drugs and would not remember when he came home the next day, where he had been or what he did."

At the time of his arrest, the investigators were looking at similar crimes, including the murder of 19-year old Wisconsin student Holly Spangler. In 1993, Holly's decomposed body was found in the woods of a Bloomington, Minnesota park. Blom was living in the area under the name "Donald Prince", and was a registered sex offender. At that time, he was one of the top suspects in the case.

Another case studied by the investigators was the strangulation of Wilma Johnson, whose body was found near the St. Paul Cathedral in 1983. Blom admitted to being at the crime scene, but denied killing her.

Blom also told investigators he might have killed a man near the St. Paul high bridge, even though a body was never found.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Blom Gets Life Without Parole for Kidnapping and Killing Poirier

News.Minnesota.Publicradio.org

August 17, 2000

CARLTON, Minn. (AP) - DONALD BLOM WAS SENTENCED to life in prison without parole Thursday in the killing of Katie Poirier, after a chaotic sentencing hearing that led the judge to briefly empty the courtroom. Judge Gary Pagliaccetti suspended the hearing for about 40 minutes after a particularly angry exchange between Poirier's mother, Pam Poirier, and Blom. The Poirier family was allowed to address the court during the hearing.

"Get a good look at me. I want my face in your dreams always," said Pam Poirier, turning a speaking podium to face directly toward Blom. She brushed aside defense attorney Rodney Brodin's repeated objections that her comments were improper:

"Give it a rest. It's my turn," she said. The courtroom erupted in applause, and Blom stood up and cursed her.

"You've got the wrong (expletive) guy, lady," Blom said. "You look all you want. I'm not your (expletive) man."

Deputies wrestled Blom back into his seat as Pagliaccetti cleared the room.

When the hearing resumed, Blom repeated his assertion that he is innocent and said his recanted confession was "a stupid thing to do."

"I'm not guilty," he said in a soft, gravelly voice. "If there was something I could do to prove it, I would." To Poirier's family, he said: "I have respect for you, and feel sorry for what you lost ... and I hope someday it will come out."

A life sentence was mandatory for Blom, a repeat sex offender.

After 25 days of testimony and about 10 hours of deliberations over two days, Blom was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder during the commission of a kidnapping.

"We still lost," Pam Poirier told reporters after Wednesday's verdict. "We don't get to bring her home."

"The jury found Donald Blom guilty. Now the system cannot fail another family again," Pam Poirier said.

The case captured the state's attention from the start, with a grainy black-and-white surveillance video that showed a man forcing the 19-year-old Poirier from a Moose Lake convenience store with his hands around her neck in May 1999.

Blom, 51, of Richfield, confessed last year to abducting Poirier, strangling her and burning her body in a fire pit on his vacation property nearby. He later recanted, claiming he made a false confession because of the stress of solitary confinement and from medications he was taking.

Under state law, Blom gets an automatic appeal.

"I think the most appealable issue is the admissibility of the statement (confession)," Brodin said Wednesday, in a reference to his failed attempts to have the confession excluded.

The guilty verdict was unusual in Minnesota because Poirier's body was never found, despite extensive searches of roads, woods, lakes and fishing shacks in the area.

In the days after Poirier's disappearance, spurred by another highly played bit of home video showing a smiling, vivacious Poirier in her family's kitchen, hundreds of volunteers drove from around the state to Moose Lake, joining members of the National Guard and law enforcement searchers.

Numerous human bone fragments eventually were found in Blom's fire pit, along with a charred portion of a human tooth. DNA tests were inconclusive, but prosecution experts later testified that the tooth matched Poirier's dental records. A defense expert disputed that testimony.

Blom was a stranger to Poirier and might not have been caught except for tips from co-workers, who reported to police that Blom resembled the man in the video, drove a pickup similar to one being sought and returned to work acting strangely.

Blom has six prior felony convictions, five of them sex-related. His sentences were relatively short, because at the time of his crimes Minnesota's sexual assault laws were more lenient. (In his confession, he denied raping Poirier and was never charged with doing that.)

The Legislature this spring passed a package of proposals, commonly called Katie's Law, to tighten the state's sex offender laws, chiefly by imposing longer prison terms for the most serious offenders.

The life sentence comes on top of Blom's sentence in federal court in January to 19 years and seven months in prison for being a felon in possession of firearms. Investigators found guns on his Moose Lake property while searching it in the Poirier case.

"We all feel great. I guess that sums it. We all feel great," a smiling Lloyd Simich, Katie's grandfather, said after the verdict. "We got a first-class bum off the street."

 
 

Donald Blom: A Repeat Sex Offender Finally Stopped

BY Katherine Ramsland


Where's Katie?

Winter's chill was freshly off the air after the Memorial Day weekend in Moose Lake, Minn., on May 26, 1999. Katie Poirier was working a late shift alone at the convenience store in D. J.'s Expressway Conoco service station. Only 19, the popular girl hoped one day to become a corrections officer. After midnight, a passerby called the police to report that the night clerk was not present at the store. Officers arrived and found the store empty. They checked the grainy videotape from the security monitor and saw Katie leave the store around 11:40 p.m. with a man. He was wearing jeans, a backwards baseball cap and a New York Yankees jersey with the number 23 on the back, and his hand was at the back of her neck. From the way she touched her throat, it appeared he might have tied a cord around it to guide her. Clearly, the petite blond had been forced to leave. Her family was notified, and officers formed a plan to search for the girl.

Witnesses said they had seen a black pick-up truck near the convenience store that evening, driven by a man that one person admitted had made her nervous. She gave a partial license plate number, with three numbers and a letter. Police estimated the abductor's height to be about five foot ten and his weight around 170. He had longish, light-colored hair and looked to be around 25. A composite sketch was made from four witness statements, and this image was broadcast on local television stations and placed in area newspapers with a plea for information.

While tips were being called in, hundreds of people arrived from around the state to assist in searching the wooded area around the Conoco station. The police used tracking dogs and helicopters, but found nothing. Posters with Katie's image went into more newspapers and onto billboards around the region, turning it into a high profile missing persons case. A local facility for sex offenders reported that all inmates were accounted for.

Among truck drivers checked out was Donald Blom, who had registered a pick-up with a license plate number matching the numbers offered by the witness, but the truck in his driveway was white. His wife, Amy, said they'd gotten rid of the truck with that plate some time before.

On June 6, after searching a 5-10 mile radius, the official search concluded, but many volunteers continued, setting up at booth at the state fair to pass out fliers. They believed that someone somewhere had seen something that would make the right connection and bring the girl home. The perpetrator had been bold or stupid, taking a girl out of a store equipped with a surveillance camera, and investigators believed he had probably made other mistakes as well. It was also likely, since he was in this remote area at night, that he was a regular there, probably a sportsman. They were certain someone had seen this man either before or after the abduction.

A search headquarters was established at the Hope Lutheran Church in Moose Lake, and staff there assisted in handling tips. Maps were placed on the wall with large Xs indicating the areas that searchers had covered. Boxes of maroon and gold ribbons, already handed out to hundreds of people, stood ready for new volunteers. But despite the efforts and hope of so many, Katie did not turn up.


The Next Step

To keep public interest high, the police turned to a sports figure for help. Two weeks had passed without success, and, since the suspect appeared to be a sports fan, police asked Minnesota Twins legend Paul Molitor to make a public service announcement. His appeal to Minnesotans across the state got the attention of Darrel Brown, who worked at the Minnesota Veteran's Home, who began thinking. On June 18 he called the tip line to report his co-worker, Donald Hutchinson, who had recently stopped driving his black pick-up and who resembled the composite sketch. He had been absent on the day following the abduction and had recently cut his hair. Shortly after that, he had suddenly quit his job there as a janitor, without giving notice.

Hutchinson, investigation proved, was actually Donald Blom. Investigators now knew they had a good lead, since he'd been the driver of the truck matching the suspect license numbers. It turned out that he still had a black truck, after all: his wife apparently had covered for him. He also owned property twelve miles from the Moose Lake convenience store where Katie had been working. With more digging, investigators learned that Blom had convictions for sexual offenses — specifically for abducting petite young girls like Katie. In five incidents, he had abducted seven. Detectives worked quickly to get search warrants.

Agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) went looking for Blom, finding him with his family at a campground 140 miles from Richfield. In the early morning hours, agents roused him to ask some questions. He was arrested that afternoon, June 22, as he drove home from the trip, and taken in for questioning. Blom had purchased the Moose Lake property about two years earlier, and neighbors said he'd spent a lot of time there prior to the abduction, but not since. In fact, uncharacteristically, the place had been neglected in recent weeks.

Blom was not charged with Poirier's abduction immediately, but the sheriff told a reporter for the Star Tribune that he was "confident that we have the right man," and expected to file charges shortly. When charges were filed, Blom was held in a county facility. He set to work making escape plans, which were discovered, so he was placed in solitary confinement.

Blom's supervisor at the Veteran's Home reported that he had not known of Blom's criminal record, in part because Blom had used the name Hutchinson. He said that Blom had kept to himself and few people knew him. This was apparently Blom's modus operandi: after each incident, he would change his identity and appearance and keep to himself.

Word came out that while Blom had been friendly and cooperative upon being arrested, he refused to give a statement and had requested an attorney. In the meantime, the authorities organized a number of searches.


The Tooth in the Fire Pit

Investigators searched Blom's residence and took various items, although no official statements were made at the time about what the items were or how they figured into the investigation. Another search was conducted on Blom's 20-acre Moose Lake property, and over one hundred members of the National Guard and several hundred volunteers participated. They went several miles beyond his property, into the woods, but by evening they had to call it quits. The next morning, the search was resumed with renewed vigor, and Katie's mother said that she had a gut feeling that they would find her daughter alive. Apparently, some hoped the girl was being held somewhere against her will, but the sheriff was less optimistic.

That morning of the second day, among ashes inside a fire pit on Blom's property, searchers found fragments that appeared to be bone. These went to a lab for further testing. They were positively identified as bone fragments and possibly a tooth, which was sent to odontologists, experts in dental remains.

Board-certified forensic dental expert Dr Ann Norrlander undertook the time-consuming and expensive examination of the tooth. At first she did not think the item was even a tooth, but the more she looked, the more she thought it could be. She knew that under the conditions from which the tooth had been recovered, any DNA that might have been extracted from the tooth pulp would have been destroyed, so she had to resort to other methods. When she came across what appeared to be filling material, this confirmed it to be a human tooth and made it possible to determine if it might have been Katie's.

Tooth-fillings consist of an organic matrix and an inorganic filler material. The organic matrix burns off, leaving the filler particles behind. This allows an analyst to identify a brand or at least brand group. Manufacturers use as many as fifty different filler types, any of which will show up brightly on a dental x-ray. Once identified as dental filling, the elemental composition and microstructure can be studied for its classification, based on a distinct chemical signature. While this is still class evidence (indicating one of a group) rather than uniquely identifying evidence, it does allow investigators to narrow down possibilities. Katie could at least be eliminated if it did not match her dental work.

The composition of the filling of the tooth from Blom's fire pit matched that of the fillings used for Katie. In addition, researchers managed to identify it as tooth #18 and to determine that it was from a young female. The chance that it had once been in Katie's mouth rather than someone else from that area, was quite high.

While this type of analysis differs from the highly precise DNA probability estimates, and thus cannot deliver statements with such impressive mathematical calculations, it provides another level of certainty that investigators did not have before the analysis. Since they had few other physical clues, a lot would hang on it.


The Sex Offender

Blom's problems started early in life. In the tenth grade, he went to a reform school because he was a frequent truant and an underage drinker. In 1975, he kidnapped a fourteen-year-old girl, gagged her and molested her. He locked her in the trunk of his car, but she escaped and turned him in. He went to trial and was convicted. Three years later, he committed aggravated assault, and five years after that was arrested for criminal sexual conduct. He also took two teenage girls to a remote area where he threatened both and sexually assaulted one at knifepoint. They were rescued only because a police officer saw their car parked the wrong way, scaring Blom off. But he was later caught for this one as well. Thus, Blom had five convictions for sex offenses that involved kidnap or sexual assault. For some reason, he had been left free to continue.

In 1992, a psychologist conducted an extensive examination, learning from Blom that he'd been abused by his father when he was 13, and had been a heavy drinker ever since. The professional predicted that if Blom were not closely monitored, he would probably engage in additional antisocial behavior. Why he was out of prison after abducting seven different girls was anyone's guess, and the scandal of his lenient treatment by the legal system would go right to the heart of the case. Had the system worked better, Katie would be alive. Instead, Blom had managed to change his name and shake off the taint of his criminal history, getting jobs, getting married and his new identity as a cover to continue to harm.

In the case of Katie Poirier, Blom was charged with kidnapping and the illegal possession of a firearm, a federal charge—given his prior convictions, Blom was not allowed to carry any firearm. He was offered a plea agreement, but he still would not talk. But then in September, he said he wanted to make an admission. He worked out a deal where he would talk after he called members of his family.

His attorney, Rodney Brodin tried to dissuade him from making any deal, since Blom would probably still receive a sentence of life in prison, but Blom insisted he wanted to put the matter behind him. He was told he would receive incarceration in North Dakota, so he would be near family. While three defense attorneys sat in the room, watching as Blom was given several chances to think it through and was fully advised of his rights, Blom went forward. He seemed clear-headed to all witnesses.


What Blom Said

On September 8, Blom made a tearful confession, which lasted two and a half hours. He said that on May 26, 1999, he had gone fishing, and then driven home to Richfield. However, later that evening, he had returned to his Moose Lake property. On the way, he had stopped to purchase liquor and have a beer at the bar. He had seen Katie in the store, doing some chores. He had not known her, but had made a grab for her, and he said, she had run outside. He had followed and forced her into his pick-up. Then he had driven her out to his mobile home.

"I don't know if it was just out of guilt or somethin' or whatever, feelin' stupid," he said, "but then I choked her and killed her." He had choked her from behind, saying it had taken about twenty minutes. He did not admit to any other type of assault. Once he knew she was dead, he had placed her body in the fire pit, in a fetal position, and then gathered wood and paper to make it burn.

Blom's account was somewhat inconsistent with the evidence, both from the videotape and the burn pit. He claimed he had walked out with her, with his hand on her arm or shoulder, but the videotape showed two people emerging from the back of the store, the man behind the girl with his hand on the back of her neck. Blom claimed he recalled her asking him several times to let her go, although she had not fought him until he was choking her on his property. He said he had managed to kill her with his bare hands. His account of the incineration of the remains was also problematic, since wood and paper alone would have had difficulty reaching a sufficiently high temperature to reduce a human body to ash.

He admitted, when prodded, that the whole thing made little sense to him. He did not know why he had done it. He confirmed with "I guess so," that the remains in the fire pit were those of Katie Poirer, the girl he abducted. When pressed to say why he only "guessed so," he said he didn't know the answer to this question. He was then asked, "Then whose remains are they?" He replied, "Well, I was asking that myself, man."

When the interview was concluded, Blom called two local television stations to report what he had done and request that reporters now leave his family in peace. The deal also gave seized property back to Amy Blom, including the Moose Lake acreage, the home in Richfield, and the family vehicle. Authorities did not yet say whether Blom was a suspect in other kidnappings or murders, and the plea deal did not include any further statements from Blom on this matter.

For the Poirier family, the confession was devastating, because they had held out hope that Katie was still alive. Blom had now averred that she had been murdered and cremated, for no reason other than his late-night impulse. The maroon and gold ribbons, once given to searchers as inspiration, were now handed out in memorial for kidnap victims like Katie. But the family's sense of closure, such as it was, was to be short-lived.


The Confession Collapses

Blom soon recanted, claiming he made a false confession because of the stress of solitary confinement and the "ten medications" he was taking. He said he'd been hallucinating and had believed that his only way to escape the cell was to tell authorities what they wanted to hear. But he'd not been in his right mind, he now claimed, and had not known what he was saying. The plea deal was rescinded, and attorneys on both sides prepared for a trial. However, allegedly at his behest, the defense team had already spoken to the press, reporting that Blom was guilty and that the remains from the fire pit were Katie's.

There are different types of false confessions, and sometimes people just confess spontaneously to something they did not do. It's usually in response to a high profile case where fame is a possibility, but it may also occur to protect someone or to expiate one's own sense of guilt for other things. Some people anticipate that the interrogation will be too stressful so they give in quickly to the pressure to confess, but there's another type of phenomenon that can occur: people may internalize assertions of guilt from the police and come to believe that they committed a crime in which they had no part.

False confessions commonly occur under certain conditions: sleep deprivation, feigned friendship, isolating the suspect by refusing a lawyer, using leading questions, excessive use of threats, exposure to graphic crime scene photos, and the suggestion that law enforcement already has evidence against the person. Also, if promises are made contingent on the person talking, he or she may do so just to relieve the stress, and in that moment the consequences may not occur to them.

The characteristics of those most likely to offer up a false confession include youth, a low IQ, mental illness or confusion, a high degree of suggestibility, a trusting nature, low self-esteem, high anxiety, and poor memory. Some of these traits are exacerbated by the fatigue of lengthy interrogations, and anxiety may become confused with guilt.

Whether Blom had actually confessed falsely or recanted falsely would now be for a jury to decide. Blom was headed to trial.


The Prosecution's Case

The trial began in June 2000, taking five weeks to select the jury. The trial proper took an additional five weeks, with over fifty witnesses called to testify, including several key witnesses who would make all the difference. Assistant Carlton County Attorney Thomas Pertler opened the case.

Among the early witnesses, Blom's brother testified that he had given the Blom family a box of old clothing, including a New York Yankees jersey. Blom had earlier said he'd never had such a shirt.

More damaging was the testimony from the two women whom Blom had kidnapped in 1983, who had agreed to testify about how he had treated them. Jurors heard firsthand what he was capable of doing. He had tied them to a tree, threatened them with a knife, and put socks in their mouths. He choked one several times, each time reviving her, and was preparing to complete his assault — he said he was going to rape them—when a deputy happened to come by, causing Blom to flee into the woods. He had been arrested two months later when one of the girls recognized him, despite his having dyed his hair, and he pleaded guilty. Both women, as girls, had resembled Katie.

Forensic odontologists then testified that the partial tooth was consistent with Katie's age, gender and dental work. Dr. Ann Norrlander admitted she had been uncertain at first that the item was even a tooth. When she concluded it was, she had not initially thought it was Katie's, but then had changed her mind. She admitted that odontological matching was more an art than a science, but maintained that greater information offered greater ability to make an identification. She testified that to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the tooth was Katie's. It was the discovery of the chemicals in the filling material that had led her to this conclusion.

A videotape from another store's security camera, which had captured Blom back in May, showed that around the time of the abduction his hair, now gray, had had blond tips, as affirmed by his barber, making him appear younger. The image identified as Blom by credit card receipts with time stamps, resembled the image of Katie's abductor at the Conoco store, but, for reasons not explained, theses images were not placed side by side for the jury.

Most incriminating was Blom's confession, which the judge allowed into evidence. Each juror was given a transcript to follow along. Afterward, the courtroom was silent, save for quiet sobs from Katie's relatives. The case against Blom at this point seemed fairly strong.


Blom's Defense



Rodney Brodin, the lead defense attorney, called his first witness on August 7. Amy Blom took the stand to testify that her husband had been at home on the night that Katie had disappeared. She smiled at Blom when she entered and he smiled back. On the stand, she claimed she was able to recall where her husband had been that day because the following day she had seen a broadcast about the girl's disappearance. She gave it some attention because the location of her disappearance was not far from the vacation property they owned at Moose Lake, 110 miles from their home. Since Blom had a criminal record, she had figured he would be a suspect, so she considered precisely where he had been the evening before.

He had come home at 9:30 p.m. and they had gone to bed. When she had woken up in the morning, the coffee had been ready, so it had seemed to her that he'd been there the entire night. She could not say for certain, but she had no recollection of him getting up and leaving.

She also testified that the police had bullied her with threats that they would take her children away if she did not answer questions in the way they wanted. "They called me a liar," she said. She also denied that she had ever seen a baseball jersey in the clothing her brother-in-law had given them and said she'd never seen her husband wear one. As she spoke, Blom shed a few tears, noticeably wiping his eyes.

The lead defense attorney told jurors that while one witness had identified Blom in a line-up, five others had not. Then he had his own odontologist counter the testimony of the prosecution's experts regarding the tooth. As for Blom's confession, the attorney called it a "stupid" mistake. He claimed that another man had confessed as well, but had not been arrested.

On August 10, Blom took the stand in his own defense. Under oath, he denied he had kidnapped Katie Poirier and refused to let the prosecutor lead him into talking about the details again. He was on the witness stand for over three hours, alternately talking and crying. He claimed that his life had been falling apart and he had been feeling sick at the time he confessed. He added that his wife had threatened to commit suicide because of the pressure from the media, so he'd decided to do anything he could to be free of the cell in which he was imprisoned. He spent quite a bit of time trying to get the jury to feel sorry for him, as if he were the victim.

He agreed he had made a confession but said he had also recanted it. He had not been at Moose Lake on the night of the murder, he now claimed, but rather had been at home asleep with his wife, just as she had testified. Although he'd been fishing there earlier in the evening, he was home by 10:00 p.m., well before Katie had been taken from the store.

Pertler cross-examined him about his reasons for making the lengthy and detailed confession. He led him through the details, but Blom gave only abbreviated yes or no responses. Finally Blom told him he was getting "upset" with her queries. Pertler also asked him about his past criminal record and asked about the jersey. Blom claimed he had lied about it during his bogus confession and that people who claimed to have seen him wear it were mistaken. He now claimed he had never seen it before.

In short, Blom was forced to admit to lies and inconsistencies in his statements to police early in the investigation, so taking the stand had done him little good. He came off to many as a whiner trying to wriggle out of punishment yet again. When the questioning was finished, Blom seemed frustrated. He turned to the judge, swore, and asked if he was allowed to make just one statement. He was told he was not. After closing statements, the case went to the jury.


The Verdict and a Surprise

After ten hours of deliberations, three of which were spent listening to the confession tapes again, the jury found Blom guilty. All in all, detectives had followed 3,500 leads and spent over $200,000 on the case before its successful conclusion. But Blom would continue to insist it was not over and predicted he would one day be exonerated. He again proclaimed his innocence to reporters as he driven to serve a mandatory life sentence without parole at a facility in Waynesburg, Penn. "I have never killed anyone," he insisted. He was certain he had a good case for an appeal, but he did not count on losing an apparent ally.

Blom appealed his conviction on half a dozen grounds, including that his attorney had not worked hard enough to suppress his confession and that the court had not allowed him to present evidence that another man had committed the abduction and murder. He also believed the defense team had made statements to reporters that had corrupted the jury pool before the trial started. They had made statements, but supposedly at his behest.

Apparently his wife now feared he might win. No longer frightened of what he might do to her, Amy Blom now sent an email to two Minnesota legislators, stating that Donald Blom had abused her for years and that she believed he had murdered Katie Poirier. She admitted that, due to her state of mind at the time of his trial, she had been unable to tell the truth. She had falsely stated that he'd been at home with her that night, but now she was ready to recant that testimony. She was no longer married to him and no longer under his domination. Now she could tell the truth: he had not been home that night.

Amy claimed she had endured Donald Blom punching and kicking her for seven years. She felt guilty that she had allowed it, and ashamed, but had felt helpless to do anything else but endure living with him. She hoped one day to ask Katie's family for their forgiveness, but understood if they did not wish to hear from her. She believed that ultimately she could not have prevented what happened to Katie, as she had no control over her husband. He went to the lake property frequently to fish. He told her little, and she had not even known before the investigation that he'd been married twice before. He had taken her last name to try to conceal his past, but she had merely thought it flattering.

"I now know," she said to a reporter, "that I was in many ways his hostage, paralyzed to speak up." Such feelings are common among women subjected to verbal and physical spousal abuse, especially if they have children and have few or no resources to help them leave. They feel trapped and demoralized. Blom's sons affirmed the violence, describing Amy's bruises and black eyes. She had attributed his foul moods to a bipolar disorder and had learned to behave in submissive ways that did not provoke him.

She admitted that after the authorities discovered human bone fragments in the fire pit, she had asked Blom about them and he'd turned on her with, "You're not f stupid, are you?" To her, that had been an incriminating statement, but she had desperately wanted to believe that he was innocent. She now believed, she wrote, that her husband had committed other crimes, including murder. The authorities did, too. Blom had led Katie easily from the store, as if he was used to doing it. They suspected he might be a serial killer.

In 2004, an appeals court issued an 81-page ruling that upheld his conviction. While his trial had not been perfect, the justices determined, it had been fair. They saw no reason to reverse the decision or grant a new trial.


Blom Seeks Attention

During the summer of 2006, Blom appeared ready to offer more. In a letter, he said, "It is time to talk," and Bloomington Police Sergeant Mark Stehlik said Blom had supposedly been willing to answer questions about some local unsolved homicides. Apparently Blom wanted to deal. He hoped that in exchange for information he would be transferred to a prison closer to his relatives. Investigators agreed to the deal and arranged for the transfer. Then they went to see him in the hope of closing cases from as long ago as thirty years.

Yet they also knew that Blom was a manipulative con artist. During his days as a criminal, he'd often changed his looks, name, and general presentation. As a registered sex offender, he'd been living under the name Donald Pince, but that had changed when he married Amy. He was a suspect in the sexual assault and murder of a nineteen-year-old student, whose corpse had been left in the woods near where Blom had lived. In another murder in 1983, Blom had already admitted observing part of the assault, and he also said he might have killed a man whose body was never found.

However, when detectives arrived with the transfer letter, the expected confession never materialized. Instead, Blom talked about other matters. He did this for three days, effectively killing the deal as well as dashing hopes for case resolutions.

But he has advocates who maintain that he's innocent. On some Websites, advocates claim that he was railroaded and that his trial was a travesty of justice. It's often difficult to know in such cases when a killer is lying or telling the truth. Clearly, Blom has managed to convince people on both sides.

At the end of December in 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Blom's third petition for a new evidentiary hearing. He claimed that his confession had been coerced and that he had been improperly denied the opportunity to gather evidence demonstrating his innocence. He also complained about the fact that his imprisonment in another state hindered him from working on his appeal.

However, the court decided that Blom's claims were procedurally barred, so he has effectively run out of options. Whether Blom will one day be charged or convicted of other killings remains to be seen.

TruTV.com

 
 


Donald Blom

 

Donald Blom

 

The victim


Katie Poirier, 19.