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Mercer Island man defrauded before being killed, police say

The suspects are accused of using Engeland’s phone to tell family and friends that he would be traveling for three to six weeks and “unable to respond” to calls.

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — The suspects in a Mercer Island man’s disappearance and subsequent death schemed to kill the victim and move into his home, all while using his financial accounts to make lavish purchases, police said.

Philip Brewer, 32, and Christina Hardy, 47, face charges of murder, kidnapping, identity theft, theft, criminal impersonation, possession of stolen property and forgery in the death of Curtis Engeland.

According to court documents, Brewer and Engeland met through a dating app in January. The two met up for a second date and ended up at Engeland’s home to watch a movie together. Engeland fell asleep and when he awoke, his wallet, keys and cellphone had been stolen.

He provided police with screenshots of his financial accounts, showing thousands of dollars being transferred into a PayPal account that appeared to belong to Brewer. When police tracked unauthorized transactions on Engeland’s account to a Fred Meyer in Renton, Brewer and Hardy could be seen conducting those transactions on surveillance video.

On Feb. 24, just over a month after Engeland reported the theft, officers responded to his home after a roommate reported him missing. The man said he had gotten a suspicious text at 3 a.m. from Engeland that said he would be traveling for three to six weeks and unable to respond due to “taking care of a memorial service,” according to court documents. The text also said someone named “Christina” would be renting out the downstairs of Engeland’s home while he was away.

The roommate, who told police he was in a relationship with Engeland and in the process of moving in with him, said the texts did not appear to have been written by Engeland because they did not match how he normally would write a text message. Engeland’s car was also missing, and a rental car was in the driveway that the roommate had never seen.

A note was left on Engeland’s nightstand that read, “Will be back later on the week. Unexpected matters have come up [phone number] Please call me.” The roommate had access to Engeland’s laptop and showed detectives emails with information about money transfers to Brewer and the purchase of new Apple products, which were being shipped to Engeland’s home. Engeland’s luggage was still in the home, court documents say.

The roommate called 911 later that day and told police Brewer had shown up at Engeland’s home. Police contacted Brewer, Hardy and Hardy’s son. Hardy told police she met Engeland a few months ago through a Craigslist advertisement to house-sit his home and they struck up a friendship. Hardy said she was over $20,000 behind on rent and was being evicted, so Engeland offered to rent his basement unit to Hardy and Brewer for $500 a month.

Hardy and Brewer told police they got the same messages from Engeland about going away on a weeks-long trip. When asked why they were linked to transactions on Engeland’s accounts, they told police he added them to his financial accounts so they could pay for utilities while Engeland was away.

Two of Engeland’s siblings arrived at the home while Brewer and Hardy were there. They told detectives Engeland’s supposed text messages were not written by him, as he was a former English teacher who always spoke in complete sentences. They also told police Engeland would never have rented out a portion of his home.

Mercer Island police eventually located Engeland’s car in a QFC parking lot, where Brewer and Hardy said they parked it after using it supposedly with the victim’s permission. The trunk contained a cardboard box with a large amount of blood and a white towel, which also appeared to be partially soaked in blood. Fingerprints found on a soda can in Engeland’s vehicle belonged to Brewer, per court documents.

Detectives said around 3 p.m. on the date Engeland’s disappearance was reported, Brewer was seen on surveillance footage purchasing a 2017 Chevrolet Impala with Engeland’s credit card from a dealership in Renton.

Cellphone data gathered by detectives showed Engeland’s phone and Brewer and Hardy’s devices all traveled together from Mercer Island down Interstate 5. They were located on Highway 101 toward Cosmopolis.

Detectives used coordinates from the cellphone data to track down and find Engeland’s body, which was wrapped in a blanket. 

An autopsy revealed Engeland was stabbed in the neck and had blunt-force trauma to his face and an undetermined amount of fentanyl in his system.

Court documents say Hardy sold her and Brewer’s cellphones to a GameStop location in Salem, Ore. four days after speaking with detectives. Further investigation showed a day prior, Hardy pawned Engeland’s cell phone at an ecoATM machine.

On March 14, Hardy’s daughter’s boyfriend was pulled over by California Highway Patrol (CHP) for speeding. The man told a CHP deputy he was running from Brewer and Hardy. 

He said he was with them for several days in Blythe, Calif., which is on the border of California and Arizona. He said Brewer and Hardy told him they killed Engeland in Washington and were planning to “kidnap” Hardy’s daughter so she could watch their children while they were going to prison. 

The man said Brewer and Hardy told him they killed Engeland by injecting him with fentanyl and drove him to Cosmopolis to dump the body. The man said he was told Engeland was still alive when they opened the trunk in Cosmopolis, so they stabbed him in the neck.

Brewer and Hardy were taken into custody at the Riverside County Jail and are expected to be extradited to Washington to face the charges. 

Charging documents say Brewer has 33 misdemeanor convictions on his record as well as numerous felonies in Washington state. 

The state requested both suspects be held on $5 million bail.

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