Bachelor-party bound, a group of young men pulled into Winona on Thursday night with dreams of juleps, thoroughbreds and hitting the trifecta at the Kentucky Derby.
They were as yet unaware of the gruesome stowaway in their rented motorhome.
When the men stopped in the parking lot of the Winona Shopko to pick up friends, they discovered the dead body of a man in an exterior compartment of their rented RV. The men called the Winona Police Department late Thursday to report the body.
The department was investigating Friday, with the cooperation of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department, the county where the RV was rented, and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The body was taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for an autopsy; the results were not released Friday, and it wasn’t clear whether the man had been identified.
The RV was being treated as a crime scene, said Winona police chief Paul Bostrack, but he stressed that the initial investigation indicated there is no danger to the public.
One of the men picked up the 32-foot motorhome Thursday in Anoka, “rented from a friend of a friend of a friend,” said Dan Trainor, 26, the engaged guest of honor for the intended weekend excursion to Louisville and the Kentucky Derby. Trainor said he believed it was the first time the motorhome had been rented during the season.
The motorhome started south, picking up the friends along the way.
Trainor was picked up at his home in Rochester and on the way phoned his father in Winona to make arrangements to pick up the Winona contingent and continue south, after meeting up at the Ground Round to “have a drink and start off right,” Trainor said.
The Shopko parking lot was a convenient location to park and rendezvous with the rest of the group.
Jake Wanek, 25, said up until they finished their drinks about at 10 p.m. or so and went to finish loading the RV, the trip was pretty uneventful.
“We didn’t smell anything or anything like that,” Wanek explained.
Trainor said he was one of the last to leave the bar. As he walked toward the parked RV, his friends rushed up to him. “’Hey, look in that hatch!’ they told me,” Trainor recalled. “I thought it was some kind of joke.”
“I saw legs ... essentially from the knees down. My mouth dropped open. I said, ‘That’s a dead body. What are we gonna do?’”
What they did was call the Winona police, who soon arrived on scene.
“They told us to step away,” Trainor said. They looked in the hatch. “’Yes, there’s a deceased person in your vehicle,’ they told us.”
Then they took the 11 downtown. At the Law Enforcement Center, each was fingerprinted, a DNA swab taken, and questions were asked. About 3 a.m., they were allowed to leave.
“We had quite the night,” Wanek said.
By Friday noon, their RV a crime scene, their travel gear impounded and their plans in shambles, the 11 reconvened at a downtown restaurant to reevaluate the weekend.
“Kentucky is out of the question,” Wanek said.
But on Sunday the ponies will run closer to home, and on Derby Day, with Churchill Downs out of reach, Minnesota’s Canterbury Downs will do.
“We said we wanted the weekend to be memorable,” Wanek said, “but we weren’t expecting this.”
“I hope the worst is over,” Trainor said, looking ahead now to the next big event in his life — his September wedding date.
“I hope there’s nothing more to go wrong.”