April 17, 2021
David Riemens once lived in a treehouse in the woods of Watertown, TN. He was a soft spoken and artistic genius where he lived with his dog. The two slept under the stars. He opted out of the tech life, choosing instead to communicate with loved ones with antiquated post cards.
Though well-loved by his small community, his mysterious ways became a serious problem when he slipped through the cracks of his small town.
Remains discovered, no graphic details: 17:00-
David Riemens – Stonemason in Watertown, TN.
Laura and Donny Nuessle – The couple that owns Quietude farm where David lived in his treehouse.
Kodi – David’s Dog
Toni – David’s friend who he bumped into at Dollar General
Marvin – A friend of David’s
Janet – David’s sister
Sheriff Robert Bryan – The person who made the press announcement
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Hello everyone and WELCOME to Milk and Murder, a NOW once-a-weekly true-crime podcast that covers lesser-known true crime cases.
Holy crap. Can you all believe it’s been 5 months? My heart has been with Milk and Murder every single moment of every single day. Like that Amy Grant song- every heartbeat bears your name, et cetera.
I’ve had to spend the last few months trying to figure out how to really make podcasting work as a mom and trying to get my website done and trying to figure out where I wanted this podcast to go and what I wanted it to do…
It was like a pregnancy, I hoped it would go fast but it went soooo longggggg.
But NOW my website is done and if you’re reading this right now you’re HERE OMG. My plan is to blog about true crime and parenting here but lord knows it took me 5 whole months just to start posting episodes again.
I have been fortunate enough to speak to several family members of victims from cases I’ve covered so far, and- vulnerability time- I’m always somehow worried they’ll be angry with me?
So I’m scared when I get a message in my inbox and I almost can’t even open it. Instead, I hear incredible stories about the kind of people they used to be and case updates, and endless kindness. For that, I’d like to say a genuine thank you.
I hope I can follow these cases with you to the very end in resolution and justice because you are on my mind each morning when I get up and each evening when I go to bed.
In podcast news, I wanted to share that I’ll be revamping my Patreon situation. It turns out cranking out extra episodes with four children was embarrassingly difficult for me. I’m working on fulfilling my Patreon commitments, and I’m changing over to BuyMeACoffee which is lower cost to maintain + less obnoxious for everyone to use + will allow me actually get everything I need to get done FINISHED.
Finally, I want to say thank you to my listeners who have kept up with me on Instagram and have pushed for me to get this next episode done. I love you and I can’t wait to hang out with you via earbuds in the years to come.
Now, on to the episode.
The morning of August 8th, 2012 started out warm and had the temperature stayed that way through the afternoon, it would have been a balmy summer day in Watertown, Tennessee. There, David Riemens started his day in a treehouse that he built with his own hands on Quietude Farm owned by his friends Laura and Donald Nuessle.
David lived an eccentric and off-the-grid lifestyle. It was a very Chris McCandless way of living if you’re a fan of John Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I tend to romanticize this lifestyle IRONICALLY since I can barely stand the sensation of dry grass scratching my legs.
This way of living was simple and intentionally disconnected from the rest of the world. He didn’t bother with a cell phone or social media, he didn’t use a credit card, carried minimal cash, and preferred corresponding with his friends and family through what added up to THOUSANDS of homemade postcards.
He spent each night in his treehouse, rain or shine, snow or scorching heat, with only a handful of exceptions, each due to severe inclement weather. At 60 years old, he was set in his ways and committed to his wild and free ways and his intentionally unplugged lifestyle.
His dog, Kodi, was his constant companion and baby, and the Nuessles were his chosen family. As a creature of habit, he shared coffee and breakfast with them each morning. The watched together until Kodi’s bedtime around 9 pm.
Whatever you imagine as the norm, you should know that David was considered to be very youthful. He was a freelancing stonemason by trade and an incredibly talented one at that.
I’ll admit I didn’t completely know what a stonemason was or did, so if you’re also not sure, I’ll save you a Google:
he built structures and buildings using big rocks as his primary material.
His magnum opus started out as a root cellar he was building for Laura. He fashioned it into an entire handcrafted stone Hobbit House on the grounds of Quietude Farm…which he then filled with hardwood floors and intricate paintings.
He was well-loved by Watertown residents, many of whom had some of his art in one way or another. Whether he sent them a postcard with a picture he snapped, gifted them one of his paintings, or was hired to do stonework on their property, his creativity was woven into the fabric of the town.
I realize this was a lot of background and set up for one person. However, I it’s crucial to the surface of who David was in this way. It really contributes to the gut-punch many felt by the jolt of his abrupt disappearance from their lives in that summer of 2012.
On that day in August, his plans were a little different than usual. He planned to take his little white pickup on a drive to Michigan to visit his siblings. He was one of six kids, and they had a close relationship, partially maintained by David’s postcards.
There’s a really great, thorough six-part article about David’s life written in The Wilson Post– Wilson County’s local newspaper. I tried not to rely too heavily on this article or the Disappeared episode about the case. I hunted down every cookie crumb I could find online. However, this series by Ken Beck dives deep into David’s life in Watertown and I can’t recommend it enough.
According to this article, David had plans to stop at the Dollar General in Watertown.
There, he bumped into his friend Toni who is now known to be the last person to see David. She was leaving just as he arrived, and they spent a few minutes catching up in the parking lot. She reports that he seemed like he was in good spirits and eager to get on the road.
This was the second time that David had met the man he was meeting that afternoon about the quote. The first time was when he was out gathering stones for another project. He followed the man out to a location to find some antique bricks behind a barn. It was an hour-long round trip David made several times thereafter to acquire these bricks.
He shared few details about the man with his friends- mostly that he was older. He shared that he was meeting the man in the early afternoon of August 8th to talk numbers on this job.
The plan was for David to head back to the treehouse afterward, pick up his dog Kodi, grab his packed bag, and hit the road to Michigan.
The heat of the day peaked at a humid 95 degrees before tapering off into the evening. Donny and Laura were starting to feel their concern rise as David never returned home as planned. It was especially strange that he didn’t return for his dog. They brought Kodi in for the night, hoping to hear from him soon.
When he hadn’t arrived home by the next morning, Thursday the 9th, the adrenaline beginning to flow. They began calling around town to see if anyone had heard from David. Inconveniently, he didn’t carry a cell phone so there was really no way to easily reach him.
They reached out to his friend Marvin who reported that no, he hadn’t heard from David but he knew where his white truck was parked- he had seen it parked at Dollar General just that morning.
Creeping up on the 24-hour mark, the Nuessles made the decision to reach out to the Sheriff’s office. It was time to file a report about the abandoned truck and their missing friend.
A search of the truck didn’t reveal much. David’s sketchbook that he used to plot out work was left on the front seat, and his keys were missing.
There aren’t many details about the first searches for David, but here are the facts that I do know. I just can’t speak to the exact sequence of events.
First, three of David’s siblings drove down from Michigan to join the search.
At some point, the police bring in scent dogs, but their trail ends almost immediately when the dog walks to the spot next to the passenger’s side of the vehicle.
In David’s Disappeared episode on Investigation Discovery, they demonstrate that path. It seems like he stepped out of the truck, and walked around the front of the car parked to his right. Then, he climbed into the passenger’s seat.
The working theory, in the beginning, was that the two might have got into the mysterious man’s truck to head to a site. The immediate concern was that there was a car accident along the way in one of the area’s many ravines. However, no one else was ever reported missing to confirm this as one might expect. Donny also went on several aerial searches and nothing was found.
Laura also shared that David hated riding as a passenger and avoided it all costs.
As Robin Warder says in his podcast, “The trail went cold.”
David Riemens was beloved by his town, and the cause of his disappearance was becoming a bit of local lore. There were really two main camps that people fell into:
First: those who thought something bad had to have happened. Second, just as many people thought he could have followed an adventurous wild hare out of town to live the wayfaring lifestyle he had always dreamed of living.
Those who knew him best, like Laura Nuessle and his sister Janet, truly hoped and wished for the best but knew to expect the worst. It was easier to imagine that he was having an adventurous life. But as his sister told Ken Beck for the Wilson Post article, she had a sinking feeling that she would never see him again.
There is one interesting anecdote from Janet in the Disappeared episode that is worth sharing. During a visit to her chiropractor in Michigan, she saw something strange.
She described chills down her arm, explaining that there was really no reason for the photo to be in there.
Later that evening, the word Burgess popped up on TV and she felt that it meant something. I’ve seen people on various forums eye-roll at her superstition. However, I also know that sometimes I notice strange connections with numbers or words when researching. Sometimes they can be hard to shake.
That being said, I really felt her sincerity and couldn’t help but follow the lead into the ground. There, I found one of those weird and VERY likely meaningless connections.
90 minutes east of Watertown, the World’s Largest Treehouse- known as the Minister’s Treehouse was built by a man who says he did so at God’s instruction. His name was Horace BURGESS.
Horace claimed that God told him that if he started building, God would never let him run out of materials. You know- wood, and trees.
In more annoyingly meaningless connection news, The Minister’s Treehouse was condemned by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal. He said it was unsafe…because of all of the WOOD and nonsensical layers.
The interesting connections HERE being that both Burgess and Riemens were builders (though Riemens was a Master Builder like Emmett from The Lego Movie,) and he disappeared in August 2012- the same month The Minister’s Treehouse was condemned.
Try not to die of NOT SURPRISE when I tell you that The Minister’s Treehouse burned to the ground in less than 15 minutes in October 2019.
See? Even I’m not immune to the David Riemens disappearance rabbit hole.
When they searched as long as they could and investigators exhausted every lead, they had nothing to do but wait. David’s posters remained posted throughout Watertown as his friends held vigil waiting for his return.
It was a cold Sunday morning on January 21st, 2018 when reports spread through the town and later on the evening news: “Investigation Underway After Human Remains Found in Watertown.”
I have to wonder what Donny Nuessle was thinking when the skull was found in a field. Coincidentally, he served as deputy medical examiner for Wilson County so I’m sure he was among the very first to hear the news, along with his wife Laura, by extension.
While waiting on an identification, searchers discovered the rest of the remains just 50 yards away on the following Thursday. According to a news report by WKRN, local Sheriff Robert Bryan shared that he was “made aware” that there “might be” remains in the field.
While he cautioned that it would take a few days to identify remains, he is quoted as saying, “We got a lot of information that didn’t lead to [anything], I think where we stand today there might be some closure for the family. I will say that.”
They were crushed and they were confused, left with no more answers than they had before.
When I research cases, there is always one big thing that gives me chills or makes me feel flushed and nauseated. I can’t always adequately express the weight of it, and it’s usually not even the worst part of the story. It’s just a part that hits me in a tender spot, I guess.
For David, it’s the location of his body. Despite all of the hopes and wishes his loved ones had of him fulfilling his dream of living off the grid in someplace like New Mexico…he was found just a few miles from the Dollar General.
His body was resting just a mile and a half away from, as the crow flies, from the treehouse he slept in each night.
So where is this case today? Police there still have it front of mind. Besides my general criticism of policing as a whole, I have to admit that they’ve put a lot of energy into this.
The case is still considered active and ongoing. There are so many unknowns that investigators still hold close to their chest. What was the cause of death? What were the autopsy results? Were David’s keys recovered? Right now, we don’t know. The action step I can leave you with today is to share David’s Story. As of now, there is still a killer at large in Watertown, Tennessee.
Laura wrote on the Missing Person page created for David shortly after his body was discovered, and I think I’ll close with her words, followed by information about David’s last day and the contact information for the Crime Stoppers line for any tips regarding the last day David was seen. She wrote:
“This is Laura. The bones recovered are definitely those of David Riemens. He was found on a beautiful hillside among trees and large boulders far from a road. We hope to get the forensics report within a couple weeks.
One friend put it the best,
We have David’s bones. All hope is gone of finding him alive…. of seeing his smile again. But we DO have hope that there will be justice for David.”
David Riemens was last seen alive on August 8th, 2012, in the parking lot of Dollar General in Watertown, Tennessee. His body was recovered off of Taylor Road, presumably placed there around the same time. If you have any information, even if it seems stupid or silly, please contact Crime Stoppers at 615-444-5245.
David, your friend Laura couldn’t have said it any better- we have hope that there will be justice.