A Holmen man confessed to striking his girlfriend in the head with a hammer before slicing her neck early Sunday while the couple’s two young children were inside the house, according to court records.

Prosecutors Tuesday charged Bryce Anderson, 29, with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of 28-year-old Kristen Johnson. He remains jailed in Jones County, Iowa, awaiting extradition to La Crosse County, although he will not appear before a judge until Monday.

Authorities forced their way into the couple’s duplex at 2908 Cedar Ave. in Holmen on Monday after he made suicidal threats and “comments about killing someone” to police, according to the complaint filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

They discovered a large pool of blood in a bedroom, along with a hammer and box cutter, and Johnson’s body covered by a blanket and piece of carpet in the back of a car parked in the garage. She had head injuries and a belt wrapped around her neck, the complaint stated.

Police found a letter in the house signed by Anderson stating that he confronted Johnson early Sunday about an affair. He tried to strangle her with a belt before she swung a hammer at him, according to the complaint.

Anderson then struck her with the hammer several times and cut her neck with the box cutter, the complaint stated. He drove the couple’s two young sons to Beloit, Wis., to see his mother and returned to Holmen after buying a shotgun.

A witness told police that he received photographs of Johnson’s body sent from her cellphone on Monday with a message stating, “This is what happens when you are a liar,” according to the complaint.

Authorities searched the area, and students at nearby Sand Lake Elementary weren’t allowed outside for recess after Anderson fled after the killing. He called 911 in Jones County at 8:17 a.m. Tuesday after his car slid into a ditch near Onslow, according to the sheriff’s department. He stayed on the phone with dispatchers until police arrested him without incident.

“We didn’t know where the guy was. It was scary to have the road blocked off,” neighbor Jennifer Brandt said. “Something must have set him off. I don’t know. It’s sad. It’s very sad.”

Johnson ended the couple’s turbulent relationship last week, and Anderson planned to move out of the house this week, said Harley Large, who described herself as a close friend of Johnson’s.

“She wasn’t happy and neither was he,” Large said. “But I would never have imagined him doing this to her.”

Johnson was outgoing and had loved to make others laugh, Large said. Her four children were the center of her world, she said.

“She touched a lot of people’s hearts,” Large said.

Johnson faced each day “with her head held high and a fight in her heart,” said close friend, Jessica Trudell.

“She was working on building a better life for her children but unfortunately that chance was brutally ripped away from her,” she said. “A lot of hearts are heavy today and will never be the same. I will always remember Kristen as the funny, generous and loving person she was.”

Johnson last year interned with La Crosse attorney Bernardo Cueto while she was studying to be a paralegal at Globe University. He remembered her as curious and thoughtful.

“She was open to learning about anything,” he said. “She went at everything full force.”

Tribune reporter Nathan Hansen contributed to this story.

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Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

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