What happened to Michael Krein? Devoted dad in love triangle found dead
10/02/2017 2:23 pm PDT
The grim discovery of Michael Krein's body has sparked a bitter blame game of finger-pointing and dueling accusations.
His death exposed an explosive love triangle between Michael and his new girlfriend -- who just happens to be his ex-wife's close friend. Adding to the chaos, Michael's new girlfriend and her family are taking aim at her ex-husband. And now he's firing back at them. Cops don't know who to believe, and Crime Watch Daily is tracking down all of the players to get their sides of the story.
Home videos and family snapshots are about all Michael Krein's three children have left to keep cherished memories of their devoted dad alive.
"He had a good heart. He was very helpful, and he would do just about anything for his kids," said Michael's ex-wife Debi Branim.
Despite their divorce, Michael's ex-wife Debi still speaks highly of him as both a father and a husband.
"We spent 15 wonderful years together and split up three years ago but still remained best friends," Debi tells Crime Watch Daily.
Debi fondly recalls the many happy years they spent as a family in the San Diego bedroom community of Escondido, where 47-year-old Michael was a sheet-metal worker.
"We always were out camping. We loved to go out and do family stuff," said Debi. "We took trips to San Francisco and Hearst Castle, and every summer we'd do something fun."
And even after their divorce, Debi says Michael rarely went a day without seeing or at least talking to the kids.
"The day he went missing, I was actually wondering when he was going to show up," said Debi.
Michael Krein never did. And those close to him began to fear for his safety after being unable to reach him for several days.
"And when none of us got a response we kind of knew something was wrong," said Debi.
"We were really concerned and called the police department," said Michael's mother Jennie Krein.
Officers treated Michael's disappearance as a missing-persons case.
"We had a family that was very concerned, and this was very out of character for him at the time," said Escondido Police Officer Molly Milliken.
Michael's family last saw him at around 9:30 Saturday morning of March 12, 2016. Michael's girlfriend Jennifer Di Pace picked him up in her car at the home of his mother Jennie.
"Said they were going to go to Knott's Berry Farm, and that was the last time I saw him," said Jennie Krein.
Michael's banking records later revealed that he and Jennifer Di Pace instead went to breakfast at a local bar called the Sunset Lounge. Investigators learned they stayed there for several hours, then left together in the early afternoon before going to Jennifer's home. And in the evening, investigators discover, there was trouble.
"There had been some kind of altercation or some kind of maybe an argument going on between the two," said California Highway Patrol Officer Jeff Christy.
Investigators found evidence that the argument had become very heated.
"There was a door that was broken during the fight at the residence," said Officer Christy.
Jennifer told CHP investigators that Michael decided to leave.
"He called a cab to respond up to the property to retrieve him and then take him back to his house," said Officer Christy. "Our investigation also revealed that the cab did arrive, but Michael was not there. The cab driver spoke with the girlfriend, who said she didn't know where he was, and that he had walked off. The cab driver then actually drove around looking for Michael and couldn't locate him."
"We had flyers made, arranged for 40 volunteers to go out and search for him, and made his 'missing' page," said Brenda Condon, founder and director of the organization.
As the days passed with no sign of Michael Krein, hopes of finding him alive were fading.
"I had hope that maybe he was injured, but he was OK somewhere," said Michael's mother Jennie Krein.
And something his mother Jennie used to say jokingly to Michael was about to turn out to be tragically prophetic.
"I was always teasing him when he wouldn't come home," said Jennie. "'Some day you're going to be the one laying on the side of the road.'"
Eerily, that's exactly how a group of searchers found Michael's body 10 days after he went missing. He was found less than two miles from his girlfriend Jennifer Di Pace's house on a side road that he would have never taken to get to his place, which was almost 20 miles away, in Escondido.
Was Michael Krein the victim of a hit-and-run collision? Or was he killed and then dumped in a ditch?
"[His body] was found approximately about maybe 15 feet, kind of over the side here," said Officer Christy.
Jennie Krein is tormented by what she doesn't know.
"I just hope that he wasn't laying there for two weeks," said Jennie. "If he died quickly, that's one thing, but if he laid there waiting for us to try to find him for days, that's hard."
Ex-wife Debi Branim hasn't had it easy either.
"Devastating," said Debi. "I kind of knew when I hadn't heard from him for two weeks."
Because Michael's body was found on a state road and his death possibly involved a car, the California Highway Patrol took over the case, initially thought to be a likely hit-and-run -- until CHP investigators examined the body and the crime scene.
"You could he had some trauma to his body, but we didn't see any typical signs you would see in a type of investigation like that, with vehicle parts, or tire friction marks or skid marks," said Officer Christy.
The medical examiner couldn't say for sure that Michael was killed by a car either, declaring the cause of death undetermined, and concluding: "given the location where he was found, and the injuries incurred, it is possible he was struck by a motor vehicle. However, the possibility that he met with foul play cannot be ruled out."
"He definitely didn't look to me like he was hit by a car," said ex-wife Debi.
And she noticed something else.
"He didn't have his sunglasses, which seemed really weird to me," said Debi. "Mike was known for wearing sunglasses. He had super-sensitive eyes. He didn't have a ring on that he has had on for 17 years. He didn't have cigarettes, which he would always have cigarettes and a lighter."
Jennie Krein made another, similar observation.
"There's two things Michael never went anywhere without, and that was his backpack and his phone, and those two things were never found with him," said Jennie.
"If someone did hit him right there where we found him, his personal stuff would be with him," said Debi.
That information from Jennie and Debi led CHP investigators to develop an alternate, and more troubling, theory about Michael's death:
"That he was killed somewhere else and was dumped on the side of the road," said CHP Officer Jeff Christy.
Is Jennifer Di Pace a person of interest in this death?
"Yes, she is. In addition to anybody else that could have been involved in this. She's not 100-percent ruled out," said Christy.
Neither Jennifer nor anyone else has ever been charged in Michael's death. But the news that Michael was with Jennifer the entire day he went missing would come as a terrible shock to his already-grieving ex-wife Debi.
She says Jennifer was one of her best friends, but had never told her she'd been dating Michael.
She tells Crime Watch Daily she didn't find this out until a week after Michael Krein went missing.
How did she feel?
"Devastated," said Debi.
In fact, Debi says Jennifer denied it when she confronted her over the phone.
"To this day she would never admit to dating him. Not to me. She told the detectives but she would have never mentioned it to me," said Debi.
And Debi says now she wonders if Jennifer might have had something to do with Michael's death, even though police have never charged her.
"And until you tell me otherwise, I'm going to think that," said Debi.
But Debi would find an unlikely ally in Jennifer Di Pace's ex-husband, who agreed to talk to Crime Watch Daily with the promise we wouldn't show his face.
"I'm praying that she had very, very little to do with that situation," said Jennifer's ex-husband.
At first he defended his ex-wife Jennifer -- until she pointed the finger at him as a possible suspect, telling police she thinks her ex might have killed Michael because he was jealous.
"She did mention that," said CHP Officer Jeff Christy.
All investigators working this case agree that something is off, and that there seems to be more to the story.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions that are still going on," said CHP Officer Jeff Christy.
There's also a lot of finger-pointing among those closest to Michael, with his ex-wife suspicious of girlfriend Jennifer Di Pace, and Jennifer deflecting blame toward her ex-husband, who is trying to throw it back on Jennifer and her family.
"There was a lot of rumors and speculations that were flying around, and those were all looked at and ruled out, or ruled in, as part of the investigation," said Officer Christy.
Much of the talk was sparked by Jennifer Di Pace's admission to police that she'd had a violent argument with Michael Krein the night he went missing, and the CHP says Jennifer is the last known person to have seen Michael alive. Jennifer has never been charged and denies having anything to do with Michael's death.
She tells police they should instead take a closer look at her ex-husband. Investigators had already wondered themselves whether he might have been jealous over Jennifer's relationship with Michael.
Was Jennifer's ex-husband ever questioned as a possible suspect?
"Yes he was," said Officer Christy.
And on the condition that we not show his face, he now tells Crime Watch Daily what he told authorities.
"When the investigators said exactly these words to me, verbatim, 'What would you say if we told you that she's saying that you might have had something to do with it?' And I said, 'Well, not only would she be wrong, that would tell me that she's trying to point the attention away from her,'" he tells Crime Watch Daily.
Jennifer's ex-husband vehemently denies having anything to do with Michael's death.
"Where in your right mind would you ever make that allegation, based on what?" he said.
He also denies speculation that he was jealous about his ex-wife dating Michael.
"It didn't bother me because he was actually one of the characters I trusted, because his daughter and my daughter were friends," he said.
And Jennifer's ex redirects the suspicion right back at her.
"Jennifer needs to come forward with the truth," he said.
Then something we never expected: In this shocking, bitter blame game, he makes a startling allegation about her parents, the owners of a family winery where their daughter also has a house.
"Her parents know something about this, and somebody at that winery where they live on has some information," he said.
The last known place where Michael Krein was with his girlfriend Jennifer Di Pace was on the property of her family's winery. We're going here to see if she or her family has something to say to sort things out.
We were greeted by Jennifer's younger brother, Frank Cordiano. Jennifer's father Gerardo Cordiano joins his son and gets right to the point.
"If anything was done, committed, that is unlawful, the police should have been on us and tell us what we've done wrong," Gerardo Cordiano tells Crime Watch Daily. "You see no police out here."
Jennifer's brother Frank scoffs at her ex-husband's accusations against her and her family.
"Her ex-husband is probably willing to say anything to disparage my sister because they're in a custody situation right now over their daughter," said Frank.
Now Jennifer's mother is listening as we tell the family the ex-husband suggested her husband may be covering up the crime for his daughter, or even have had something to do with Michael Krein's death.
"I think it could be greater towards the father that had a lot more to do with this than her, because he told me on several occasions, 'I don't like Mike and I've chased him off this property several times,'" said Jennifer's ex-husband.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I think I've ever heard," said Frank Cordiano.
"Look at my face, and how calm I am, and how there is nothing more important to me in my life and in my family that to have steadfast belief in the law, and abiding by the law," said Gerardo Cordiano.
Jennifer's ex-husband made another sensational allegation against his former father-in-law.
"You're talking about a very rich man with a lot of power, with ties to Mafia in New Orleans," said the ex-husband.
"It's absolutely not true," Frank said.
"Of course it's not true," said Rosa Cordiano, Gerardo's wife. "My husband, I've known him for 46 years. He worked hard since he came from Italy. From day one, he busts his ass. Not like him."
Despite the allegations, no one in Jennifer's family has ever been charged, and now they're firing back at Jennifer's ex-husband, claiming he was in the middle of a bitter custody battle over the kids, and may have killed Michael.
In this bitter game of he-said/she-said, Jennifer Di Pace and her family think her ex-husband himself could have killed Michael Krein out of jealousy.
"He would come up here, he's screaming and yelling, and you know, he might have thought he saw a car in the driveway over there, thought she was dating," said Frank Cordiano. "It wouldn't be a stretch to think that he came up there and found the two of them, and you know?"
But California Highway Patrol investigators say there's no evidence to connect Jennifer's ex-husband to Michael's death.
"We determined that he had no involvement based on our interview that we had with him," said CHP Investigating Officer Jeff Christy.
The California Highway Patrol doesn't know exactly what happened to Michael Krein. He could have been killed in a hit-and-run accident. But once the coroner revealed Michael's cause of death to be undetermined, the finger-pointing began. And one person of interest is Krein's girlfriend Jennifer Di Pace.
"She's not 100-percent ruled out," said Officer Christy.
And Jennifer's former husband and Michael's mother Jennie Krein and Michael's ex-wife Debbi Branim all still suspect Jennifer Di Pace might have killed her boyfriend, even though cops have never filed charges.
"I haven't heard anything she's had to say. Not one word. She has never called us once to say 'I'm sorry' or anything," said Michael's mother Jennie.
"She just left the situation and has never been seen or heard from since the father of my kids died," said Debi.
The family has so many questions for Jennifer that we're going to her home, where Michael was last reported being alive, to see if she has any answers for us. She was angry we were there. But Jennifer did break her silence about Michael's death.
People are making allegations, saying that she might have killed Michael.
"That's ridiculous," said Jennifer. "Absolutely not. I would never do anything to hurt anyone. So that's ridiculous."
Jennifer Di Pace has denied having anything to do with Michael Krein's death. She asked us to leave her property, and we did.
Neither Jennifer, her family, nor anyone else has been charged in connection with Michael Krein's death. And now, 18 months after Michael was found dead, California Highway Patrol investigators are still trying to learn what happened to him.
Do they have any other leads that they're following? Any other persons of interest?
"At this time, no. We've pretty much exhausted everything we've had, all the leads, and unfortunately we're kind of at our dead-end right now," said Officer Christy.
But that doesn't mean they believe Michael was killed in a hit-and-run, or that their investigation is over.
"We all agree that there's something more to it," said Officer Christy. "It's just a matter of time, but I think it eventually will work its way out, and we'll find out exactly what happened."
Michael Krein's ex-wife Debi Branim and his mom Jennie Krein are living for the day they finally learn who killed him.
"They took away a loving father, a loving son," Jennie said. "He had a long life to live yet -- took away part of my heart."
"Every day, it just doesn't seem fair. It's not fair," said Debi. "And somebody's just walking around living every day, enjoying, and we're just kind of lost, and we just need answers."
Michael Krein's family and the California Highway Patrol are hoping someone watching this story can provide those answers.