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Published March 08 2012

Daughter says slain Fargo woman had secret plan to leave husband, return to Washington

FARGO - The daughter of a slain Fargo woman whose husband allegedly confessed Wednesday to stabbing her to death says her mom secretly planned to leave him and return to her family in Washington.

Karena Magnuson said her 52-year-old mother, Kathye Deniger, also was assaulted around Christmas by her husband, Henry Deniger, 49. He remained in jail Thursday in St. Cloud, Minn., pending extradition to Cass County.

In an affidavit included with charging paperwork, police said Deniger confessed to killing his wife after he was arrested in St. Cloud.

Deniger was charged Thursday in Cass County District Court with Class AA felony murder and Class C felony tampering with physical evidence.

Documents state that police discovered a knife at the crime scene “with some apparent blood on it.” It appeared the knife had been washed.

In a phone interview Thursday, Magnuson said her mother had a hard childhood but got her life together by the age of 30, only to have it unravel after a longtime lesbian relationship ended.

Kathye Deniger had a mental breakdown and met Henry Deniger at Washington’s Western State Hospital, forging a relationship that would eventually land her in Fargo under less than ideal circumstances, her daughter said.

“Raising me and my three siblings, she dedicated her life to nursing and helping everybody else,” Magnuson said, crying. “She was the kindest person you would ever meet. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She met the wrong guy and was smitten by him. And then he killed her.”

Kathye Deniger grew up in the Vancouver, Wash., area. She was adopted by foster parents and attended reformatory school, her daughter said.

After school, Deniger moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where she met her first husband. He was “a very violent person,” and her mother fled to Orlando, Fla., where she gave birth to Magnuson, her only biological child, Magnuson said.

They moved to Richmond, Calif., where Deniger raised her daughter and partnered with a woman who had three children of her own. The combined families moved to Vancouver, Wash., about 20 years ago, Magnuson said.

There, Deniger cared for the developmentally disabled, handicapped and elderly, her daughter said.

“Anybody that she could help, she helped,” she said.

After Deniger and her partner split, her life spiraled downward. She had a mental breakdown and admitted herself to a mental hospital, where she met Henry Deniger, who also was a patient there, Magnuson said.

When they got out of the hospital, she brought him home to meet the family. Magnuson said he immediately asked the family for “drugs and stuff.”

“She was so embarrassed that she was going to go on a new adventure and go to Maine where he was from and start all over, ’cause nobody approved of him,” Magnuson said.

On their way to Maine, the couple got into a fight and Henry Deniger kicked Kathye Deniger out of the car in Fargo, Magnuson said. Her mother ended up in a homeless shelter.

“I mean, she could have called us at any time, but we didn’t know where she was. We didn’t know what was going on. And she was so embarrassed,” Magnuson said.

She said her mother was on her own in Fargo for about six weeks – long enough to find an apartment and get back on her feet – before Henry Deniger returned to make amends.

Magnuson said her mother contacted her about a year ago.

“She got over the embarrassment and everything like that and called me, and we’d been talking to each other every day, and things seemed like they were fine,” she said.

Kathye and Henry Deniger wed about a year ago, and they had arguments “like any married couple does,” Magnuson said.

“But about a couple months ago, he had gotten off of his medication and he ended up assaulting my mom, and he ended up in the mental hospital to get him back up on the meds and everything like that,” she said.

The Forum was unable to corroborate Magnuson’s version of events with police, who aren’t releasing details of the investigation or a possible motive for the killing, or with Cass County Social Services, which said privacy rules would prevent it from disclosing any involvement with the couple. Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said police had not received any specific calls for service to the Denigers’ apartment at 2601 14th St. S. in reference to an assault.

Attempts to reach Henry Deniger’s family members were unsuccessful.

Magnuson said that because Henry Deniger’s name was on the apartment lease, he ended up back at the apartment.

“They even paid for a cab for him to be dropped off with my mother, which I don’t understand,” she said. “If somebody was removed from my house for abuse or whatever, I don’t understand why you would deliver that person back to me, for fear of situations like this.”

Unbeknownst to her husband, Kathye Deniger devised a plan to leave him in May, Magnuson said. On the day of her escape, she would act like she was going to work and would never come back. She began saving money so she could pay her own way when she got back to Washington.

“He didn’t know about it. It was a secret,” Magnuson said.

Deniger’s best friend in Vancouver had even cleared out a room for her, Magnuson said, adding that she also offered to let her mom stay with her in Gresham, Ore., a suburb of Portland.

“She was so excited,” she said.

But tragedy intervened.

Magnuson said she was contacted Wednesday by police and asked if there was anyone who would want to harm her mother.

“The only person that I could think of at the time that gave me any type of uneasy feeling was Henry,” she said.

Magnuson said she was told her mother had been dead for about a week, that she’d been stabbed to death and that it “wasn’t a pretty scene.” She said the morgue told her the body was so deteriorated, cremation was the best option.

An account has been set up with Wells Fargo to accept donations to help cover the cost of cremation and travel expenses so Magnuson can retrieve her mother’s remains, she said.

The account name is Kathye Raven Magnuson Memorial Fund.

Ironically, Magnuson said, she had been waiting for her fiancé’s tax return to arrive so she could afford to take the train to visit her mother in Fargo.

“I didn’t get the funds fast enough,” she said, her voice breaking. “Had I gotten them faster, maybe I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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