Detectives still probing leads in murder of La. fire chief's wife

Sheriff Randy Smith said Nanette Krentel's death remains the parish's only unsolved homicide of 2017

By Sara Pagones and Ashley Rodrigue
The Advocate

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said Wednesday that his department is running down all leads in the case of Nanette Krentel, the woman who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the burned wreckage of her Lacombe home in July.

Her death remains the parish's only unsolved homicide of 2017, Smith said in his first in-depth interview on the case. He called the investigation challenging because of the extensive damage the fire caused to evidence.

Nanette Krentel's death remains the parish's only unsolved homicide of 2017. (Photo/St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12)
Nanette Krentel's death remains the parish's only unsolved homicide of 2017. (Photo/St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12)

It has also been high-profile case because the victim was married to St. Tammany Fire Protection District 12 Chief Steve Krentel.

In fact, Smith said, the involvement of a public official was the reason that the FBI offered its assistance when Krentel was still the main person of interest in the investigation.

The day after her death was ruled a homicide by Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston in September, Smith held a news conference in which he said that Steve Krentel was no longer a person of interest in the crime.

That remains unchanged "for now," Smith said Wednesday. He said that his statement was based on confirmed alibis. He also said that polygraphs have been done on more than one person and that those have been turned over to the FBI.

The FBI is also examining another potential piece of evidence, the hard drive from a home surveillance system that Steve Krentel said provided complete coverage of the home's exterior.

The drive was damaged in the fire, Smith said, making it questionable whether any images can be recovered from it, but it remains in the hands of FBI.

The Sheriff's Office on Tuesday released a few additional details about Nanette Krentel's activities on the day she died, including a trip to the Northshore Boulevard area of Slidell from which she returned home shortly after 9 a.m. The Sheriff's Office said she was not followed.

Smith confirmed that there is video evidence placing her in that area but would not say what the video shows, its source or exactly what her destination was.

The Sheriff's Office has declined to say where in the home the 49-year-old woman's body was found or what the source of the fire was. The state Fire Marshal's Office has said that the fire was intentionally set but has not classified it as an arson.

A source close to the investigation said Tuesday there was only one source of ignition in the home where Krentel's body was found along with those of two cats and a dog.

Detectives have interviewed people they believe were the last ones to see or talk to her, officials said.

The fire was called in to 911 at 2:30 p.m. that day after it was spotted by a young neighbor riding a bicycle, officials said.

Major George Cox, chief of investigations, said that detectives began combing through rubble from the fire scene while it was still hot, literally sifting through the ashes in a search for evidence.

Smith downplayed questions about whether investigators think Krentel may have committed suicide. "The coroner ruled this a homicide, and that's what we're continuing to investigate it as," he said.

The day the coroner announced that the death was being classified as a homicide, Smith released an email saying that he did not necessarily support the coroner's conclusion.

But he backed off that stance the next day, when he held the press conference clearing Steve Krentel, flanked by the coroner and a representative of the Fire Marshal's Office. At that point, he said that he did not dispute the coroner's "expert opinion."

No soot was found in the victim's airway, according to the Coroner's Office, which determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death to be homicide.

In a news release in September, the Coroner's Office said that investigators had found firearms "near" Krentel's body. "After examining the weapons and projectiles, at least one of the weapons found cannot be ruled out as the weapon used to kill Nanette Krentel," it said.

The Sheriff's Office declined to elaborate on the exact position of the firearms but said they were in "close range" to the body.

Copyright 2018 The Advocate

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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