By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
SLIDELL – Press releases in the past week from the St. Tammany coroner and sheriff in connection with a Lacombe homicide led to the shortest press conference in memory last week at the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Complex in Slidell.
Nanette Krentel was found dead in a Lacombe fire on July 7 in what initially was ruled a homicide, but took investigators over two months to positively confirm that suspicion.
Coroner Dr. Charles Preston issued a press release on Wednesday morning stating that three autopsies all confirmed Krentel was the victim of a gunshot wound and the death was confirmed as a homicide.
Later that day, Sheriff Randy Smith issued a press release that conflicted somewhat with Preston’s, noting “At this time, the Sheriff’s Office investigation does not necessarily support the Coroner’s conclusion in this case.” He followed that statement by announcing a press conference on Thursday morning.
As news media from the region prepared for the press conference, including all major newspapers and television stations, Smith issued a statement of approximately one minute stating he was “not disputing the Coroner’s expert opinion on the cause of death, but was concerned about the timing of Wednesday’s release because of pending lab results.”
Preston stood next to Smith at the podium during the sheriff’s short statement before Smith announced “due to the ongoing investigation I cannot take any questions.” Both men, along with a representative from the state Fire Marshall’s Office, left the room with no further comment. In virtually all past press conferences called by the sheriff his initial statement was followed with an open question and answer session.
While the two parish leaders seemed to have mended what difference of opinion there might have been, the facts in the case have now cleared the individual who was initially considered the prime suspect—the victim’s husband, St. Tammany Fire District #12 Chief Stephen Krentel.
“At this time, our initial primary person of interest, the victim’s husband, has been cleared. Stephen Krentel has been fully cooperative with this investigation,” Smith said “We have worked this case tirelessly and aggressively as a homicide since day one, and will continue to do so.”
Krentel was found dead in the rubble after a fire destroyed her home north of Lacombe. Coroner’s Office investigators have treated the case as a homicide from the beginning, but due to the extent of damage to the remains, significant examination was required in addition to the initial autopsy.
Preston did say shortly after the fire that they were certain Nanette Krentel did not die due to smoke inhalation since there was no soot or particulate matter in her airways, leading to the conclusion she died before the fire started. “That is a critical detail,” he said.
Following an autopsy at the Coroner’s Office in Lacombe, Krentel’s remains were sent to the FACES Lab at LSU, where anthropologists conducted further study. Preston received the report from FACES – an acronym for Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services – in early September. Preston also met with investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office to review their findings from the scene.
Last week, Preston asked a second pathologist in his office to conduct an autopsy and she reached the same conclusions. Also this past week, a pathologist hired by Krentel’s father and sisters also autopsied the remains.
“Even before the second and third autopsies and the FACES Lab’s report, there was adequate evidence to rule the death a homicide,” Preston said. “Because of the complexity and sensitivity of the investigation, however, we wanted to give this case the utmost attention and thoroughness.
“The victim’s remains have now undergone three autopsies and a forensic reconstruction. Based on information I have received from FACES anthropologists, the State Fire Marshal, and our two pathologists, I am entirely comfortable in declaring this death a homicide,” Preston explained.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the case, and Preston will not release additional details of the autopsies or FACES Lab findings. The independent pathologist did not disclose his findings, but agreed to send his report to Preston’s office.
Smith said, “We will do everything in our power to bring justice for Nanette Krentel and closure to the family.”
Anyone with information about the death of Nanette Krentel is urged to call the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office at 985-898-2338 or Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111. You can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward through Crimestoppers.