ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. ― Mystery and suspense make for good TV, and “People Magazine Investigates” appeared to deliver both to viewers who tuned in this week to the premiere episode of the new season, which documented the unsolved slaying of a Louisiana fire chief’s wife.
“Is it possible someone figured out how to commit the perfect murder?” narrator and People editor in chief Jess Cagle teased during the show, which aired Monday night on the Investigation Discovery cable network.
The episode spun an intriguing web of sex, lies and death in the case of 49-year-old Nanette Krentel ― details that likely captivated every armchair detective watching.
However, as fascinating as it might have seemed to watch pieces of a real-life puzzle being shuffled from one theory to the next, the program failed to assemble a complete picture of the case. According to an investigator who spoke with HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, this is due to the fact that it’s “all for naught.”
“We know what happened,” said the investigator, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case and didn’t want to be named.
“There’s no mystery” about who is responsible for taking Krentel’s life, the investigator added. If anything, the source said, mystery surrounds a decision made in the days following Krentel’s 2017 death.
Krentel, a former preschool teacher, was found dead by firefighters picking through the remnants of the burned-out home she had shared with her husband, Steve Krentel. At the time, he was chief of St. Tammany Fire District 12. He’s since resigned.
The fire was reported shortly after 2:30 p.m. on July 14, 2017. Firefighters from several fire districts were dispatched to the home, which was fully ablaze when the first units arrived, according to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators initially speculated that Nanette Krentel, whose body was found in the master bathroom, died while trying to save her cats, Baby Kitty and Smokey, and her chihuahua, Harley, who was found nearby.
Nanette Krentel’s body was burned beyond recognition. DNA was used to confirm her identity, a spokesman for the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office told HuffPost at the time.
But the case took a sinister turn on July 21, 2017, when authorities announced that the autopsy showed Nanette Krentel died of a gunshot wound. Investigators also determined the fire had been intentionally set after fuel had been poured throughout the living room and master bedroom.
“We are diligently working on this case, and our detectives will continue to work until we have all of the answers,” Sheriff Randy Smith said at the time.
Dr. Charles Preston, the parish coroner, found neither soot nor ash in Krentel’s lungs, which he said clearly indicated she was dead before the fire. He ruled her death a homicide.
Nanette’s father, Dan Watson, who was on “People Magazine Investigates,” said he’s convinced someone killed his daughter.
“The minute I heard that she had died, I knew she had been murdered,” Watson told People.
Investigators initially looked at Steve Krentel. Although he freely admitted he had an affair prior to his wife’s death, he had a solid alibi and passed a polygraph test. Nanette’s family said she was considering ending the marriage due to the affair, but Steve Krentel said the couple had worked through it.
Investigators next turned their attention to Steve Krentel’s son, Justin. There were reportedly issues between Justin and his stepmother, but he was cleared when it was proved he was out of state when she died.
Steve Krentel’s brother, Brian Krentel, also fell under suspicion. He had a lengthy criminal record and supposedly suspected Nanette of calling the cops on him in 2015, which led to him being jailed for drug paraphernalia.
“Brian was definitely somebody that I was worried about because Brian had strong contempt for Nanette,” Steve Krentel said on the episode of “People Magazine Investigates.”
But Brian Krentel was cleared. He was on electronic monitoring at the time, and law officers viewed surveillance camera footage of him at his parents’ house, about 15 miles away, on the day of his sister-in-law’s death.
A surveillance system had been installed at the Krentel residence prior to the fire. Although it might have captured what happened on the day of the blaze, the recording was so damaged that not even the FBI could salvage it.
“People Magazine Investigates” implied that whoever is responsible for Nanette Krentel’s death had taken steps to ensure that the fire destroyed the surveillance footage. It could also be argued that an intruder would have taken the video recorder instead of risking leaving the footage to be found by investigators.
Sheriff Smith made an appearance in the “People Magazine Investigates” episode, but offered no new information in the case. According to the law enforcement source who spoke with HuffPost, this was because investigators disagreed with the coroner’s ruling of homicide in Nanette Krentel’s death.
“A handgun was found next to her body, and it appears the [bullet] entered here,” the source said, placing a finger below and to the left of this reporter’s right temple.
“The bullet did not exit the skull ― it lodged in the soft tissue ― but the fire was so intense that [ballistic tests] could not be performed on the handgun,” the investigator added.
The caliber of the bullet, authorities said, matches the gun found next to the body. They didn’t elaborate.
Investigators firmly believe Nanette Krentel died by suicide, according to the investigator who spoke with HuffPost. They discount the theory that she was dead prior to the fire. As the source said, investigators believe Krentel could have set the fire, then stepped into the master bathroom and fired a fatal shot into her head.
“We don’t understand the coroner’s ruling,” the source said. “This is a suicide.”
“He said it’s 70% murder, 30% suicide … you’re either pregnant or you’re not,” Nanette Krentel’s sister, Wendy Watson, said of authorities in an August interview with New Orleans WVUE-DT.
Nanette Krentel’s best friend, Lori Rando, told “People Magazine Investigates” that her friend had exhibited signs of depression.
“The last few months of her life, Nanette started pulling away,” Rando said. “There was less and less contact between her and her friends and family.”
Steve Krentel described his wife as being proficient with firearms. He said she owned four or five guns and never went anywhere without one.
The day the coroner announced he had classified the case a homicide, the sheriff released a statement saying he did not necessarily support that conclusion. But the sheriff backed off the next day, The Advocate reported in January.
It’s unclear whether law enforcement will continue to treat the case as a whodunnit. The sheriff’s office declined to discuss the unnamed investigator’s contention that authorities believe the death was suicide.
“The Nanette Krentel case is an active and ongoing investigation, and no additional information is available at this time,” said sheriff’s Capt. Scott Lee.
The coroner, in a Thursday email to HuffPost, declined to comment on specifics of the investigation. Preston said he disagrees with the information the source shared with HuffPost and contended he ruled the case a homicide after “careful consideration of the totality of the evidence.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office at 985-898-2338 or Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
CORRECTION: An early version of this article mistakenly attributed the “70% murder, 30% suicide” comment to the coroner.