Catfish Couple Allegedly Drugged Man Before Stabbing Him to Death and Trying to Take Over His Home (Exclusive)

Even in retirement, Curtis Engeland was always on the move

Published Time: 07.07.2024 - 18:31:05 Modified Time: 07.07.2024 - 18:31:05

Even in retirement, Curtis Engeland was always on the move.

The 74-year-old Mercer Island, Wash., resident kept active by doing CrossFit, hiking and mountain climbing, trekking up the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park last summer and Mount St. Helens last fall.

"We did some strenuous climbs together," Engeland’s close friend and hiking buddy, Richard Sater, 63, tells PEOPLE. "He was very, very fit. He certainly took his fitness seriously.”

The 2021 death of Engeland’s partner of 41 years forced him to rebuild his life, including seeking companionship, Sater says.

In January, he told Sater how he tried online dating and met a younger man named Philip Brewer, 32, on a site called Scruff.

But the happy retirement years Engeland envisioned for himself ended in tragedy when was found dead on March 7, 110 miles away from his home in Grays Harbor County after being reported missing on Feb. 24.

"It's horrible," says his neighbor Laurie Goeken. "He was a youthful 74 with many years ahead of him still."

Investigators soon learned that Engeland had allegedly been the target of online criminals who met him on a dating website only to steal his identity and drain his accounts, a probable cause affidavit obtained by PEOPLE alleges.

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“It’s just so sad because he was just the best,” says Engeland’s niece, Tara Mirante, 44. “He was fun. He was just so involved with our kids, wanting to know every bit about their lives and what they were doing. When my kids were home from college, he would sit and have conversations with them for hours at the table.”

Engleland’s ordeal began in January when he met Brewer online and then in person for coffee and for a hike, inviting him back to his home on Jan. 13 to watch a movie, the affidavit says.

Engeland said he fell asleep and when he woke up, Brewer was gone — and so were Engeland’s wallet, phone and car keys.

He called the police when he learned that thousands of dollars had been transferred out of his accounts, checking in with detectives about the investigation from time to time, Sater says.

Six weeks later, Sater and Engeland’s family members received imprope -

rly worded texts purporting to be from him in the middle of the night, saying he was going to be away for the next three to six weeks.

Knowing what a stickler Engeland was for proper grammar, his loved ones knew something was wrong.

They became further alarmed when Engleland purportedly said someone named “Christina” would be renting out his basement. When they couldn't reach Engleland, they called the police and reported him missing.

Using phone records and GPS, authorities found his remains at a dump site near Cosmopolis.

In the ensuing homicide investigation, detectives started looking into Brewer and a woman named Christina Hardy, 47, who they found at Engeland’s house, the affidavit says.

They told officers they were renting Engeland’s basement and didn’t know where he was, according to the affidavit. 

After receiving a tip from a witness, authorities said they believe that Brewer and Hardy snuck into Engeland’s house in the middle of the night and after a “violent confrontation,” the affidavit alleges, injected him in the neck with a potent dose of fentanyl.

They drove more than 100 miles to Cosmopolis with Engeland in the truck of his own 2003 Camry, the affidavit alleges.

When they arrived at the dump site, they realized he was still alive. As a result, “Hardy held him down while Brewer stabbed him in the neck with a knife,” the affidavit alleges.

The pair was arrested on March 14 in Southern California and pleaded guilty to charges of  murder, kidnapping and identity theft.

They are each being held on a $5 million bond in a King County jail.

As they await trial, Engeland’s friends and family are still dealing with the aftermath of his brutal killing.

“We lost a really lovely human,” says Goeken, who remembers how Engeland would bake cookies and bring them over to her house and share tomatoes, peas and rhubarb with her and her family. 

She still tends to the garden he loved so much to honor his memory.

“His daffodils are blooming,” she says, adding that she couldn’t believe someone so generous and caring came to such a terrible end.

“If it was just over money,” she says. "How is that worth a person’s life?”

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