‘Terrible blow’: 2 arrested in connection with Mercer Island man’s murder

Mar 15, 2024, 10:29 AM | Updated: 2:26 pm

Mercer Island man kidnapping...

Washington State Patrol's Silver Alert for Curtis Engeland. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

(Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

Two suspects are now charged with murdering a Mercer Island man who went missing last month.

The Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) announced the arrests late Thursday night of 32-year-old Philip Brewer and 47-year-old Christina Hardy.

According to charging documents filed by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the suspects were taken into custody in California on suspicion of defrauding, kidnapping and killing 74-year-old Curtis Engeland.

Previous coverage: Mercer Island man believed to be kidnapping, homicide victim

Prosecutors say Brewer and Hardy “appear to have concocted a scheme to kill the victim and then move into his home, all while taking over his financial accounts and making extravagant purchases just hours after killing him.”

The court documents also allege the suspects appear to have been using Engelund’s cell phone, after his was murdered, to concoct fake conversations between themselves and the victim in an attempt to throw off police.

Additional background on the case

Engeland, a retired University of Washington professor, was first reported missing from his neighborhood of 62nd Avenue Southeast on Mercer Island on Feb. 23. The Washington State Patrol (WSP) issued a Silver Alert, classifying Engeland as an “at-risk” person. Days later, police confirmed they were investigating the disappearance as a possible kidnapping.

Laurie Goeken said she has been Engeland’s neighbor for more than 10 years.

“He was a friend of ours, a neighbor, and just a wonderful person all around,” she told KIRO Newsradio. “Just a very, very special person. An avid gardener and a hiker.”

She said Engeland lived alone since the death of his husband several years ago. From the beginning, Goeken said she and other neighbors were suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance.

“The fact that he was missing was highly, highly unusual. He had cats that he loved. And we would look after his cats when he was gone. He would look after ours. He would never leave them unattended.”

On Mar. 7, weeks after he vanished, a team of investigators found Engeland’s body in the small city of Cosmopolis in Grays Harbor County – more than 100 miles from where he was last seen.

“It was a terrible, terrible blow – and reality set in,” Goeken said of her reaction to the body’s discovery. “Just the fact that this can happen. It happens here and it happens everywhere,”

Investigators say Engeland died from a stab wound to the neck, and that Brewer and Hardy dumped the body in Grays Harbor County before fleeing Washington. Court documents say the suspects spent time in Salem, Oregon, before heading to southern California near the Arizona and Mexico border.

How Engeland and Brewer met and connected

An MIPD report states Engeland and Brewer first connected in mid-January on the dating app “Scruff” before meeting in person at a Renton Starbucks on Jan. 13 and spending time together that evening at Engeland’s home.

Engeland called police later that night, saying he had woken up on the couch to find Brewer missing, along with Engeland’s wallet, keys and cell phone. Investigators later tracked Brewer using Engelund’s bank cards to make multiple fraudulent transactions.

More than a month later, on Feb. 24, Engelund was reported missing from his home. Engelund’s family and friends reported receiving suspicious texts from his cell phone saying he was handling a “personal matter” and would be away for a period of time. His family also told police they were unable to contact Engeland directly.

Another 911 call came later that afternoon at Engeland’s home, where officers arrived to find Brewer, Hardy, and Hardy’s son in the driveway. The three told police they were friends with Engeland and that he had offered to rent them the basement of his home.

During that time, two of Engelund’s siblings arrived at the home. They told police they did not believe the texts sent from Engeland’s phone were written by him, as “he was a former English teacher and always texted in complete, grammatically correct sentences,” according to the police report. It states Engeland’s siblings said they did not want Hardy and Brewer at the home, and the suspects left. Cell phone data obtained by law enforcement shows the three drove to Oregon immediately after being interviewed by the officer, later selling both their own cellphones and Engeland’s.

On Thursday, a week after Engeland’s body was found, California Highway Patrol stopped a man for speeding. The man said he was on the run from Brewer and Hardy. He told law enforcement the suspects had admitted to injecting Engeland with fentanyl, putting him in the trunk of a car, and driving him to Cosmopolis, where they stabbed him to death and dumped the body.

Police then located and arrested Hardy and Brewer in Southern California. Goeken calls it a “painful, but huge relief.”

“It’s very, very good for us to know that he’s going to hopefully find justice through this,” she said.

Brewer and Hardy now await extradition back to Washington on multiple charges, including murder and kidnapping.

Contributing: Sam Campbell, KIRO Newsradio

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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‘Terrible blow’: 2 arrested in connection with Mercer Island man’s murder