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New book looks for answers in grisly 1986 murder of Cavalier doctor

In February of 1986, a much loved, popular physician was stabbed to death in his own house. It is a North Dakota murder that still haunts the town of Cavalier.

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Law enforcement outside Dr. Wahl's house in 1986.
WDAZ file image
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CAVALIER, N.D. — This summer, a book has been released that's trying to answer some tough questions, including the biggest one of all. Who killed Dr. Jack Wahl.

"I have used that quote from Maya Angelou, that 'there's nothing worse than having an untold story inside you.' And that is how it felt. I just wanted to unload this," Connie Nelson, author of "Cavalier," said.

Connie Nelson remembers the impact her longtime friend and co-worker, Dr. Jack Wahl, had on the small town of Cavalier, North Dakota.

"They loved him, especially the older people," said Connie Nelson, who worked with and was good friends with Dr. Wahl.

On a cold February night in 1986, the popular doctor who lived alone, was brutally murdered at his house.

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"It was a one-inch (wide) blade," Connie Nelson said.

"The people speculated that it was someone who was either someone medically trained, or a veteran because the stab wounds were all in vital organs," Connie Nelson said.

A medical examiner determined Dr. Wahl died of six stab wounds to the lungs and heart. To this day, there have been no arrests, but there has been lots of chatter.

"The rumors ran rampant. Everybody had a theory of was going on," Connie Nelson said.

So who did it? All these years later, it is still whispered about. In her book, Connie Nelson outlines the theories behind the murder. Some say Wahl led a wild social life and that could be behind it. The small town became fractured after the murder as people took sides. People living in Cavalier were so upset with media coverage of the murder — and its portrayal of Dr. Wahl — they called a community meeting to air complaints to the Grand Forks Herald

Earl Mallinger has been farming the land up in northern Minnesota his entire life, with thousands of acres and a million farming memories.

"You didn't know who to trust. You didn't know if your neighbor was responsible, or involved in it. You didn't know. I say in the book, there were people that I never talked to again after that happened, because people kind of chose sides," Connie Nelson said.

The last person to see the physician was John Nelson, who knew Dr. Wahl.

"Later, John Nelson was interviewed as part of the investigation, and the day after he was interviewed, he committed suicide and left a suicide note," Connie Nelson said. "To this day, 36 years later, the people in Cavalier wonder if John Nelson was the murderer, and I feel so bad for his family, because I don't think he did it."

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The murder of Dr. Wahl is not considered a cold case. It's still open. Connie Nelson hopes her book sparks new conversations, and perhaps a new final chapter yet to be written about a murder solved.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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