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Four years after postal carrier and Navy veteran Harold "Hal" Schroetter vanished, a Ramsey County probate judge has declared the Falcon Heights man dead — murdered on his way to his estate attorney's office to remove his estranged girlfriend as beneficiary.

As with four metro women slain recently trying to leave relationships, Schroetter, 57, was kicking out his girlfriend. His body hasn't been found.

But that hasn't deterred investigators and police from pursuing leads to answer the question of what happened to him.

Investigators say the motive was an inheritance worth as much as $750,000. Ramsey County Probate Judge David Higgs recently blocked the girlfriend, Jacqueline "Jackie" Dubay of St. Paul, from collecting insurance or other benefits from the death.

"By a preponderance of the evidence, the court has determined that Jacqueline Dubay intentionally and feloniously murdered Decedent," Higgs wrote in probate findings and conclusions filed Jan. 31.

Even though the civil probate court concluded that Dubay, 50, is responsible for Schroetter's slaying, she hasn't been charged in criminal court, which requires more evidence.

Dubay did not return calls seeking comment.

"I would like to see this case prosecuted because that would give closure to the family and hopefully bring the person who's responsible for the crime to justice," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said. "But we need more evidence in the Schroetter case."

A $50,000 reward is still being offered for information leading to an arrest and a conviction in the case.

"The investigators and the prosecution have a strong suspicion about who committed this murder, but the reality is that we have to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Choi said. "And we know through past experience that obtaining a conviction when you don't have a body raises a whole host of issues in terms of provability."

The Schroetter case differs from that of Kira Trevino, who was last seen on Feb. 21. Her body hasn't been found, either, but authorities did find "copious" amounts of her blood in her St. Paul home — enough to charge her husband, Jeffery D. Trevino, with second-degree murder. "In the Schroetter case, you don't have a lot of blood and there's potential for explanation of a number of things," Choi said. "We just keep plugging away."

What do siblings know?

Investigators want to talk with anyone who spoke with or saw Jackie Dubay or her brother, Jay Dubay, in late February 2009.

Jay Dubay, 44, of Lake Park, Minn., allegedly replaced a liner in his sister's trunk a week after Schroetter disappeared. Schroetter's blood was found elsewhere in the trunk, said St. Anthony Police detective Tim Briski and agent Mike Wold of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Cold Case Unit.

The investigators say that the siblings are lying for each other and that they declined polygraph exams.

Investigators, St. Anthony Police Chief John Ohl and probate papers say Schroetter was preparing to boot Dubay and her three daughters from his house in the 1300 block of W. Larpenteur Avenue.

Schroetter was worried, he confided to his estate attorney during a phone call on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009. He set up an appointment with her for his day off, Feb. 26, 2009, to change beneficiaries and get a notice of eviction for Dubay.

"He told her that he had mentioned to Jackie that he was going to change his beneficiaries and she made a veiled threat that 'You better think twice about doing that,'  " Briski said. "He wanted to get it on record in case something happened; he wanted her to know."

Schroetter had caught Dubay using his credit card, Briski added.

Schroetter had told post office co-workers that he was breaking off with Dubay and that she had threatened to frame him on bogus child-porn charges, investigators and a co-worker said.

On the last weekend he was seen alive, Schroetter saw his son, Nick Schroetter, 32, and gave him some personal items. He told his son he was changing his will and beneficiaries and mentioned he'd been threatened, but downplayed it.

When he missed his Thursday morning appointment with St. Paul attorney Laura Hage, she spent the day trying to reach him on his cellphone.

The next day, Hage called his house. Dubay answered. She said Schroetter wasn't there. The attorney told her to report him missing or she would. Dubay called police.

"She claims that she slept in the basement that night and heard him up in the kitchen getting ready at 6 a.m. and then he left," Briske said. "She had told us that he had planned on doing some northern Minnesota casino junket, and she assumed that he was gone doing that."

His car, however, was seen that afternoon in his driveway, one of many inconsistencies that investigators noted.

Finding his car

Co-workers knew something was wrong when Schroetter didn't return after his day off. "He never missed a day," Briski said. "He was ex-military, always on time."

On the evening of March 1, 2009, police found Schroetter's car a couple blocks from the Post Office branch on Arlington Avenue near Rice Street where he worked. The red Chrysler Crossfire was left with its doors unlocked — something his family said he wouldn't do — in a lot on Jackson Street at Timberlake Road.

Investigators want to talk with anyone who saw such a vehicle in that area or who saw a white Chrysler 300, the model of car driven by Jackie Dubay.

On March 5, 2009, Jay Dubay picked up a $252 trunk liner from a car dealer, replacing one in Jackie's car days before a police search, Wold and Briski said. Two spots of Schroetter's blood remained in the scrubbed trunk, they said.

Wold said that Jackie Dubay gave a "lame" excuse that Schroeder cut himself while changing lights but that one blood spot was deep inside the trunk.

From around Feb 26 until March 5, 2009, when St. Anthony police interviewed them, the siblings exchanged 250 to 300 texts and numerous calls, but apparently didn't text before or after that, Wold said.

Jay Dubay did not return a reporter's calls.

Nick Schroetter and his mother, Bonnie Schroetter, who divorced Hal in 2000, pray for a break in the case.

"It's an open wound," Bonnie Schroetter said, adding that Hal deserves a military burial at Fort Snelling. "And it can't close because you know that they're out there, and they need to be held accountable."

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038