Minot police: “Compelling evidence” points to murder of Minot 3-year-old in 2006

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The Minot Police Department on Tuesday closed the books on a 15-year missing persons case, determining that 3-year-old Reachelle Smith, who disappeared on May 17, 2006, was murdered.

Using terms such as “compelling” and “overwhelming,” police officials detailed the timeline and evidence they say points to Leigh Cowen as her killer.

According to police, Cowen killed himself several days after Reachelle disappeared, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in a van he took from Reachelle’s legal guardian.

At the start of a news conference on the investigation, Minot Police Chief John Klug said they hoped to offer closure to the family of Reachelle Smith.

Klug also noted, after 15 years, a body has yet to be recovered. However, he said the evidence in the case is compelling, including a red cooler that contained Reachelle’s blood. The bottom line, police said, “there is no other explanation other than the fact that Leigh Cowen murdered her.”

Cowen lived downstairs in the home where Reachelle lived with her aunt and legal guardian, Stephanie Smith.

Smith last saw Reachelle on May 16, 2006.

Cowen claimed his mother had taken Reachelle for a few days.

Smith grew concerned and contacted Cowen’s mother and learned she didn’t have the 3-year-old.

Later, Smith discovered Cowen had taken her van, leaving a note saying he was going out to buy some items and would be back. He never returned.

Days later, the van was found at the Upper Souris River Wildlife Refuge, with Cowen’s body inside and no sign of Reachelle.

Officials said during the news conference, two questions that may never be answered are Cowen’s motive and actions involving Reachelle.

“Only two people know that and, unfortunately, they’re both deceased,” said Minot Police Captain and primary case investigator Jason Sundsbak.

You can watch a replay of the news conference here:


Original story: 05/25/21, 10:25 a.m.

The Minot Police Department will hold a news conference Monday on the 2006 missing person case of 3-year-old Reachelle Smith.

The conference will be at 11 a.m. in the Council Chambers at Minot City Hall.

KX News will be carrying the news conference live on the website.

Reachelle was last seen by her aunt and legal guardian, Stephanie Smith, on May 16, 2006. At that time, Smith’s roommate, Leigh Cowen, claimed his mother had taken Reachelle and would be keeping her for a few days.

After a few days, Smith contacted the mother who said she didn’t have the child. Smith also discovered Cowen had apparently taken her car and disappeared, which made him the prime suspect in the disappearance of the child.

When Smith’s car was found, Cowen’s body was discovered inside. Authorities believe Cowen had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. There was no sign of Reachelle and her case remains unsolved to this day.

KX News will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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