Fargo woman possibly killed with broken skillet, medical examiner tells jurors

Prosecutors allege Sheldon Davis used a cast-iron skillet to kill Denise Anderson before turning on his stove in an attempt to burn down his apartment.

Rhome Hughes, a medical examiner from Grand Forks, testifies Wednesday, March 10, in Cass County District Court on how Denise Anderson died in mid-2019. April Baumgarten / The Forum

FARGO — Denise Anderson died of injuries from a heavy weapon, possibly a broken cast-iron skillet found in her boyfriend's apartment, that had edges sharp enough to cut her skull and injure her brain, a medical examiner testified Wednesday, March 10.

Dr. Rhome Hughes, a forensic pathologist from Grand Forks, described to jurors in Cass County District Court how Anderson, 52, of Fargo died in mid-2019 at 46-year-old Sheldon George Davis’ downtown Fargo apartment. Davis is on trial for allegations that he killed Anderson and started his apartment on fire.

Firefighters found Anderson lying face up the morning of Aug. 1, 2019, at 417 12th St. N. The fire had not reached Anderson’s body.

Davis was later arrested and faces felony charges of murder, arson and endangerment by fire or explosion. He has denied killing Anderson and claims someone else did it.


Denise Marie Anderson
Denise Anderson

Prosecutors allege Davis used a cast-iron skillet to kill Anderson before turning on his stove in an attempt to burn down his apartment to prevent her from testifying against him on rape, vandalism and stalking allegations.

Hughes, the medical examiner, testified Wednesday that Anderson died of homicidal violence that resulted in brain injuries.

Autopsy photos presented to jurors showed multiple cuts to the back of Anderson’s head. The photos also showed swelling, cuts and broken bones in Anderson’s arms, as well as various bruises on her face and other parts of her body.

A weapon would have to be heavy with a fractured edge to cause her skull injuries, Hughes said. When asked if the broken skillet found in the apartment could be that weapon, he said, “I think that is a reasonable possibility.”

The skillet had no detectable DNA on it, despite investigators spotting what appeared to be blood on it, a forensic analyst told jurors earlier this week. It’s possible the fire broke that DNA down to the point it could not be tested, that expert said.


For more Sheldon Davis trial coverage, click on the stories below

Hughes said it's likely Anderson died early Aug. 1, 2019, before the fire started.
Prosecutors have spent the first four days of the trial talking about evidence found at the scene and in Davis' possession. The state also has tried to establish a motive for Davis to allegedly kill Anderson.

The victim went to police with allegations of stalking, vandalism, physical assault and rape against Davis, which he has denied. He was never charged for those accusations.

Anderson’s neighbor, Adam Seamands, testified Wednesday that he saw Davis watching her apartment for hours at a time. Emergency dispatch calls played in court revealed that Anderson believed Davis vandalized her car and stalked her.


The prosecution also played a video found on Davis’ phone that showed a note supposedly written by Anderson, which said, “Sheldon is going to kill me.” In the same video, Anderson denied writing the note. That doesn’t mean she didn’t write the note, prosecutor Carmell Mattison said.
In another recording found on Davis’ phone, Anderson is heard saying she told others he raped her. He said he didn’t, but Anderson said he beat her before having sex with her. “It sure wasn’t consensual,” Anderson said in the recording.

Prosecutors tried to have a domestic violence expert take the stand to explain to jurors why someone would stay with their abuser, but Judge Tristian Van de Streek blocked that move after discovering the expert had no contact with Davis or Anderson.

“She doesn’t have any knowledge of Ms. Anderson or Ms. Anderson’s motivations,” Van de Streek said as he emphasized the trial is not about allegations of domestic abuse.


The prosecution's final witness, Fargo Police Detective Grant Kendall, started testifying Wednesday about a tracking device found in Anderson’s vehicle and about where Davis’ vehicle was spotted around the time of the murder.

Defense attorney Jared Gietzen addresses the jury during the Sheldon Davis trial in Cass County District Court on Friday, March 5. David Samson / The Forum

Kendall said investigators never told Davis how Anderson died, though jail phone calls played during the trial revealed that Davis told people Anderson died from blunt force trauma.

The prosecution likely will rest its case Thursday. It's unclear how many witnesses the defense will call, and it's unknown whether Davis will testify in his own defense.

Murder suspect Sheldon Davis listens to testimony in Cass County District Court on Friday, March 5. David Samson / The Forum

Murder suspect Sheldon Davis listens to testimony in Cass County District Court on Friday, March 5. David Samson / The Forum

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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