Fargo police say a body found in the Red River is that of Orvin Berg, a missing Fargo man believed murdered for money and drugs.
The cause of death for the Fargo man was blunt force trauma to the head and chest, police said in a press release Thursday afternoon.
Berg's body was found in the Red about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was removed from the river with the help of Valley Water Rescue and the Fargo Fire Department.
Berg's body was identified by an autopsy conducted by the North Dakota State Medical Examiner in Bismarck.
The body was found during a river search about one mile north of Cass County Road 20.
Police and Cass County prosecutors say Berg was killed by drug users for his money and methamphetamine.
Three people have been arrested and charged in the slaying of Berg.
Police say Berg, 50, was killed in the early morning hours of Nov. 3. His death occurred about six weeks before his estranged wife reported him missing.
William Thompson III, 20, Travis A. Jenkins, 21, and David L. Hieb, 21, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to commit murder. The charge is a Class AA felony which can be punished with a sentence of life in prison.
Hieb, 3101 23rd St. S., Fargo and Thompson, 429, 4th St. S., Moorhead, were arrested without incident Jan. 7. Jenkins was arrested Jan. 12 in Louisiana after police received a tip he was staying there in a motel.
Police had searched the river for Berg's body since January.
Hieb, in a Jan. 3 interview with police that was reprinted in his court file, gave the following account of what happened:
Jenkins, Thompson and Hieb were smoking meth at Jenkins' former home, 1345 4th Ave. S., when Berg's name came up. Jenkins owed him $600 for some drugs, and Berg was pressuring him to pay up.
To solve the problem, the three planned to invite Berg to a friend's apartment at 810 12th Ave. N. and beat him if he complained about the debt.
The three men arrived at the other apartment, which was empty, and waited. Before Berg got there, Thompson hid a hammer on a futon and hid himself in a bathroom, Hieb told police.
The plan was never to kill Berg , only beat him, Hieb said.
A fight started soon after Berg arrived. During the struggle, Berg stabbed Hieb in his side, and Thompson went for the hammer.
Thompson swung the weapon down on Berg's head several times, Hieb said.
Between blows, Berg called to Jenkins: "Travis, help, help."
But Jenkins only turned his back, Hieb said.
Hieb told police he went to the hospital for the stab wound, and when he left Berg was still alive, mumbling and gurgling.
At the hospital, Hieb lied about what happened, making up a story about getting stabbed outside the Mini Mart on 12th Avenue and North University Drive.
Hieb told police he hadn't spoken to Thompson since the assault, and he said he didn't know where Berg's body or the hammer was.
According to an acquaintance of the suspects, Hieb wasn't telling the whole truth.
Cassidy Johnson, 20, of Fargo, told police he had helped Jenkins and Thompson clean the apartment the morning after the attack and had known about the plan.
At first, Jenkins and Thompson were planning only to rob Berg . Then Hieb entered the picture, and the talk turned to murder, said Johnson, who spoke to investigators in a Columbus, Ohio, jail.
"Cassidy said before Dave showed up it was just a bunch of talk and he did not think that either one of the other two had enough courage to do it," Detective Paul Lies wrote in his report.
Johnson said Jenkins had also told him they tried to strangle Berg with a cord, but it broke, so someone used the hammer.
"Travis told Cassidy that after they had beaten this drug dealer and he was lying on the floor, he was begging Travis to help him," Lies wrote. "Travis stated he did not do anything."
Johnson told police the three men took some drugs and a couple hundred dollars apiece from Berg.
The next morning, Johnson woke to Thompson and Jenkins in his apartment, he told police. They told him what happened, and he went with them and another man to Wal-Mart to buy cleaning supplies.
Back at the site of the slaying they scrubbed blood from the carpet and walls, Johnson said. Afterward, they burned some bloody clothing in a barrel at a farm near Detroit Lakes, Minn., Johnson said.