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Superior police investigation shows Magdzas was troubled before killings

April Oles and Matthew Magdzas are interviewed for a 2006 Superior Telegram story before Magdzas was deployed to Iraq. (2006 File Photo / Superior Telegram)

Matthew Magdzas had a history of suicide attempts and serious depression, according to a 2009 letter believed written by his wife, April Oles, that Superior police uncovered while investigating the deaths of the couple and their child.

Police say Magdzas, 23, killed Oles, 26, and their 13-month-old daughter Lila and three dogs before turning a gun on himself Aug. 17 in their Superior home. Oles was nine months pregnant and due to deliver their second child that week. The department says the motive of the Superior man remains unknown. Police last week closed the majority of the investigation on the deaths.

Capt. Chad La Lor said Magdzas' medical files confirmed he was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder from his time serving in Iraq.

Magdzas, a non-drilling member of the Army National Guard who deployed to Iraq in 2006, shot his wife and daughter in a bedroom of their home probably within an hour of Oles arriving there from a meeting at Duluth East High School, where she was a cheerleading coach, the report says.

Oles' 2009 letter says she witnessed a change in Magdzas' memory retention and that he had increased paranoia and depression.

"Matt has scratched, elbowed and choked me in his sleep, and often talks in his sleep as if he is still in combat," she wrote. "When I talk to him about these things in the morning, he has no memory of doing so. ... He is convinced that they (guns) need to be near him at all times."

In a June letter to St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman regarding a gun permit, Magdzas wrote that the Twin Ports Veterans Affairs clinic had prescribed him gabapentin for PTSD in 2008, but he was no longer on it and hadn't been since December 2008. He wrote that he was counseled on dealing with the deaths of comrades and had learned to deal with PTSD by talking about it.

Gene Oles, April's father, said Monday that Magdzas had been denied a permit to carry in Minnesota but carried a pistol anyway.

"I thought about that -- if someone tried to take his gun away, what would he do? I thought he was looking for attention, not that he would really do something," Oles said.

Investigators found no evidence that Magdzas had a traumatic brain injury as he reportedly told some friends and neighbors, and he never received a Purple Heart from the military during his year of deployment. He did receive a combat action badge. Wisconsin Army National Guard documents included an e-mail in which Magdzas wrote that in Iraq he had endured mortar fire and an improvised explosive device attack and witnessed the suicide of a Marine.

No documentation was found to support his claims, and other soldiers in his platoon weren't aware of the alleged incidents. The report also stated that Magdzas was "likely" to be discharged from the Guard for reasons that were not disclosed.

The report shows that two women said they had affairs with Magdzas, one ending the relationship a week before the August deaths.

Oles' father was aware the separated couple was having difficulty, but said the two were attending church together and working on their relationship. Her mother, Susan Ulsby, said in the report that the couple was seeing a counselor at church, and was meant to have a session the afternoon they died.

Two reports from Carlton County showed Magdzas and Oles had difficulties dating back to 2007. In August that year, Cloquet police responded to a call for a threat of suicide. The details were redacted but the report says Magdzas, who was taken to a hospital, told police he was upset with Oles because he believed she was dating another man while he was in Iraq.

In April 2008, Carlton County deputies were called by Oles' brother, Ben Oles, to a domestic dispute between April Oles and Magdzas. They found Magdzas standing in a bathroom with a semi-automatic military-style rifle. Officers were able to talk him into surrendering the rifle and they seized that and other firearms. He claimed to officers that he had a traumatic brain injury from serving in Iraq and was having issues with Oles.

A friend of April Oles, Michelle Gapp, said Oles told her Magdzas recently had been sleeping with a loaded gun in his bed, and she was sleeping elsewhere because she was afraid he would have a nightmare and pull out the gun by accident. She also told her that she knew about an affair and had moved out. Gapp said in the report that Oles told her she was going to bring Magdzas to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Superior after the meeting for therapy.

The conversation happened at the cheerleading meeting on the day Oles died.

Calliope Kilpela, one of the women who said she had an affair with Magdzas, told police Magzdas told her two weeks before the killings that he had held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He said the gun jammed. She asked him if he was getting help, and he said he was.

Gene Oles said he wishes now he had been more inquisitive and had kept a more watchful eye on Magdzas, especially after he returned from military duty in Iraq. He said he hasn't seen the results of the police investigation and has no plans to seek it out.

"The investigation being closed doesn't matter to us at all," he said. "They're gone."