‘Losing Streak Lois’ back in Florida to face charges in ‘lookalike’ slaying

A Minnesota grandmother accused of spending weeks on the run after authorities say she killed her husband -- and then killed a woman to steal her identity -- is back in Florida to face murder and theft charges in the woman’s death.

Lois Ann Riess, 56, made her first Lee County court appearance on Sunday, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. She is charged with second-degree murder with a firearm, grand theft of a motor vehicle, grand theft and criminal use of personal identification in connection with the slaying of Pamela Hutchinson.

Riess is being held without bail in the Lee County Jail. She was picked up from Texas last week after waiving extradition to Florida, the News-Press reported.

Riess, described by authorities as a compulsive gambler, wore a dark green jail smock and had her hands behind her back Sunday as she made her court appearance via video from jail. Her trademark silver locks appeared disheveled, and she was quiet as the judge read off her charges and asked if she would like to be screened to see if she qualifies for a public defender.

See Lois Riess’ court appearance, obtained by the News-Press, below.

She asked him to repeat the question, which she listened to through a telephone receiver.

“Sure,” she responded in a halting voice.

Her temporary lawyer sought bond, but Hamid Hunter, an assistant state attorney assigned to the Florida case, told the judge that her flight risk makes her a bad bet if granted bail, the News-Press reported.

Texas authorities also allege that Riess suffered from apparent psychosis while in their custody, but refused to take medication.

"She has no ties to the community, no property, no job, no family," Hunter said, according to the newspaper. "She is a danger to the community."

It is unclear if Riess has a history of mental illness.

ExploreRelated story: ‘Losing Streak Lois,’ killer grandma wanted in 2 slayings nabbed near U.S.-Mexico border

On top of the Florida charges, Riess is also suspected in the slaying of her husband, David Riess, who was found shot to death March 23 on their worm farm in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota. The victim, 54, had been dead for several days.

Riess is suspected of forging several checks and using them to take $11,000 from her husband’s bank accounts after he was killed. Authorities said she was spotted gambling at Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa, the day his body was found, but left before deputies could get there.

Charges in the Minnesota case are pending, but officials with the Dodge County Sheriff's Office said last week that Lois Riess would be heading to Florida to face trial there while his investigators "continue to build the strongest case possible against her here in (Minnesota)."

"(Second) degree charges will be filed once we get forensic results back from the BCA (Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension). We will bring her back to MN to stand trial when FL is done," read a statement from the department on its Facebook page.

See Lois Riess’ April 19 arrest inside a South Padre Island restaurant below.

Riess’ demeanor during her hearing Sunday was markedly different from that which she displayed in the surveillance photos and videos obtained as investigators in multiple jurisdictions, including the U.S. Marshals Service, sought her capture. Riess smiled and laughed in footage obtained over the span of her run from the law and released to the public.

Video released by the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office shows Riess at a gas station next to the Iowa casino she visited the day her husband’s body was found. It is the only surveillance footage in the case in which her voice is heard.

She asked a gas station employee for the quickest route south.

“If you want to start heading south, would you take 35 south?” Riess asks. “Just to keep going on down to the next state?”

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Authorities said Riess drove her family’s white Cadillac Escalade south to Florida, where she abandoned it in a Fort Myers parking lot sometime before she befriended Hutchinson, who was in Fort Myers to help a friend who was grieving the recent death of her husband.

Investigators believe Hutchinson looked enough like the fugitive that it led to her death.

Explore>> Related story: Minnesota grandma sought in deaths of husband, Florida ‘lookalike’ killed for ID

Riess smiled broadly in April 5 footage from the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery in Fort Myers Beach, where investigators believe she first met Hutchinson. The footage from the bar, which is two blocks from the condo where Hutchinson was slain, shows the women sitting at the bar and chatting.

Lee County officials believe Riess killed Hutchinson that same day. Surveillance footage from the condo shows Riess walking into the parking lot and getting into Hutchinson’s Acura, which she drives away.

Riess is accused of going to a Fort Myers bank and using Hutchinson’s identification to withdraw $5,000 from the woman’s bank account before leaving town.

She was next spotted the following day at an Ocala Hilton hotel, where she used Hutchinson’s identification to check into a room, Lee County officials said. She stayed there the nights of April 6 and 7, according to investigators.

Surveillance footage from inside and outside the hotel show both Riess and the stolen Acura. While in Ocala, Riess is accused of withdrawing another $500 from Hutchinson’s bank account.

From there, Riess is accused of making her way west across the southeastern U.S., making several stops in Louisiana before being seen driving the Acura around Corpus Christi, Texas.

She attempted to get $200 from Hutchinson's account at a Louisiana gas station, but failed, the News-Press reported.

Riess used her own ID to claim a $1,500 jackpot at a casino there, the newspaper reported.

Riess remained at large until April 19, when she was arrested on South Padre Island in Texas. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said a man recognized Riess when she walked into a restaurant on the island, located about 25 miles from the Mexican border, and looked at a menu.

Riess did not stay to eat at the restaurant, identified as Dirty Al’s Seafood, but the man called police to report the sighting. A South Padre Island police officer and a federal marshal responded to the area and spotted the white Acura TL that had been stolen from Hutchinson at another nearby restaurant, the Sea Ranch.

Riess was taken into custody as she sat at the bar inside, eating a meal and chatting with fellow patrons.

George Higginbotham, the Dirty Al’s manager who first spotted Riess, said it was her silvery blonde hair that gave her away.

"We were very lucky to notice her white hair," Higginbotham told Inside Edition following Riess' arrest. "She liked to throw it back with her left arm and all."

She was seen flipping her hair in that same manner in the footage from the Smokin’ Oyster.

South Padre Island Police Chief Randy Smith said Riess seemed relaxed when law enforcement officers found her.

"She seemed to have let her guard down a little bit," Smith said, according to Inside Edition. "By the time she realized what was going on, I believe it was out of her control."

Riess’ own family has been silent about the case, but members of Hutchinson’s family have expressed grief and, once Riess was arrested, relief that no one else would be hurt or killed.

“The American people are safe,” one of her cousins told the TV newsmagazine. “She’s not going to have a chance to kill again and keep this going.”