Zachary Todd Anderson

A 27-year-old Minnesota man admitted to kidnapping, raping, and strangling to death his friend’s 5-year-old daughter, he was given a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

On the morning of August 20, 2016, Zachary Todd Anderson kidnapped Alayna Ertl from her home in Watkins, a small town located about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Alayna’s body was discovered in a swamp later that day.

Anderson faces charges of first-degree murder, criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, and auto theft.

According to Cass County Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom, who prosecuted the case, the obligatory penalty in Minnesota for this offense is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

According to Lindstrom, Anderson confessed to the murder in court in front of his family and government officials.

Anderson was indicted on 19 felony counts related to Ertl’s death in October of 2016. In October, Anderson entered not guilty pleas to all 19 charges against him, including murder, criminal sexual behaviour, felony kidnapping, and tampering with a dead body.

Anderson admitted to murder in the first degree, illegal sexual activity in the first degree, and penetration in the first degree.

Anderson was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole immediately after entering his guilty plea.

Alayna died as a result of homicidal assault, which included strangulation and blunt force damage to her head, according to an autopsy.

According to the criminal complaint, the child had also been sexually assaulted.

The Background Story

Anderson was a friend of the Ertls’ who slept over on Friday night.

On August 20 at 2 a.m., Alayna was last seen going to bed.

By the next morning, she and Anderson had vanished, along with the family’s 2002 GMC Sierra pickup.

There was a neighborhood wide search for Alayna by the authorities. The Meeker County Sheriff’s Office called for backup from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension when they couldn’t find Alayna. At 1:12 p.m., police activated the Amber Alert system.

Alayna Ertl

Anderson’s dad called the sheriff’s office after hearing about the kidnapping and saying he thought his son was responsible.

Anderson, he said, had contacted earlier that day to inquire about visiting the family farm near Motley.

Several hours later, at his family’s cabin near Motley, some eighty miles to the north, he was apprehended.


Authorities said they found the stolen 2002 GMC Sierra in the woods close to the cabin.

A bloody suicide note was also found, and police reported that to the station.

Just minutes after police began looking for him in the swampy area, Anderson was captured. According to reports, he had cuts on his left wrist.

He told the authorities that he had found Alayna in the swamp, squatting under some trash. Then he drove them there. The pink blanket the little girl was wrapped in was found by authorities by the water’s edge.

After searching the area, they found the child’s body face down in the water and surrounded by foliage. The body of Alayna was discovered in rural Cass County, not far from Wilderness Park and the town of Motley.

Alayna Parents
Alayna’s parents

Anderson was Ertl’s father’s coworker who had previously lived at the house. Alayna’s funeral was attended by approximately 1,000 people at the local church in Watkins a few days later.

Anderson was convicted of murdering Ertl by a grand jury in October 2016 and sentenced to life in prison.

Anderson had spent time in the Crow Wing County Prison in Brainerd before being sent to a state prison to serve his life term.

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