‘Bombshell’ reopens Michigan cold case of mother murdered after donating kidney on ‘Dateline’

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(NBC News) – Tonight on “Dateline,” Sarah Pagel is only seven when her mother, Renee Pagel, is found stabbed to death. After the case goes cold for more than a decade, a bombshell reignites the investigation and a daughter’s journey to learn the truth about her mother’s murder.

Here is a preview of Andrea Canning’s report:

DISPATCHER 1: Emergency. Can I help you?

RENEE’S FATHER: Uh, my daughter, we just found her in bed, and she’s got, a lash on her arm, and uh, she’s all bloody.

DISPATCHER 2: She’s not conscious?

RENEE’S FATHER: She’s cold, she’s cold.

DISPATCHER 2: Is she breathing?

RENEE’S FATHER: No, I don’t think so.

41-year-old Renee Pagel was dead. Her father tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

DISPATCHER 2: She’s cold to the touch?

Renee’s father: Yeah, I think she’s, I think she’s gone.

DISPATCHER 2: OK sir, we’ll be on the way.

On his way, was Detective EJ Johnson of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

ANDREA CANNING: What happens as you arrive on the scene?

EJ JOHNSON: I just saw a lotta police cars. Everybody was out here towards the road. And they had taped it off just to secure the scene so that way no one’s in and out. They’re gonna wait for us detectives to get here.

Officers on the scene told him the deceased woman’s name.

ANDREA CANNING: Did you know Renee?

EJ JOHNSON: I knew of Renee. We were actually the past few weeks praying for a member at the church, my church, that was gettin’ a kidney transplant and she was the one that was donating.

ANDREA CANNING: Oh wow. So how did you feel when you realized that there was that connection there?

EJ JOHNSON: Well, I was pretty shocked by it because the daughter of the gentleman that received the kidney was at my house at a youth activity. They were doin’ a swim party at my place.

That’s right, in this small town where there were lots of connections, Caitlin, the nursing student was at Detective Johnson’s house, as he was responding to the call.

What he saw told him right away, this was no complication from surgery. No medical calamity. This was murder.

You can watch “Dateline” Friday’s “Window of Opportunity” on 22News at 9 p.m.

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