Grand Forks police looking to spend more time on cracking cold cases
Grand Forks police are doubling down on some old cold cases that they are now reexamining and trying to solve.
GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Police Lieutenant Jeremy Moe is settling into his new role as the top investigator for the department, serving as the commander for the criminal investigations bureau. One of his first tasks was getting up to speed on the department's cold cases.
"To reassess each case, making sure if there is new technology, new leads, new information and making sure that we are working any possible new information," explained Moe.
There are five cold cases that sit on top of the pile of other unsolved cases. The paperwork and evidence of one case typically fits nicely into a standard folder, but some of these have so much evidence, they require boxes to keep it all in order. Moe says regardless of the amount of evidence, any of their top five are on the brink of being cracked.
"For any of these cases, a little bit of information — the right bit of information — could help yield a closure," said Moe.
Of the five cases, one dates back 40 years. Each case has a female victim. Two of the cases are hit and runs. The others include a stabbing death, a drowning and a missing teen.
Annie Korynta: Murdered
The Annie Korynta case is one that has haunted the Grand Forks community for 34 years. The 19-year-old was stabbed to death inside her basement apartment on Mother's Day back in 1987. She was wearing her nightgown. According to police, she had not been raped. Over the years, investigators have said they have a person of interest but not enough evidence to charge that person, a man who they believe Korynta trusted to let into her apartment.
Police have mentioned a suspect in past interviews, but they have never named him publicly.
Ten years later, the crime scene was washed away by the flood of 1997.
Kristi Nikle: Missing
Another high-profile case they're working on is the disappearance of 19-year-old Kristi Nikle, who was reported missing in October 1996. Grand Forks police have focused the investigation on Floyd Tapson, a North Dakota native who spent time at group homes working with developmentally disabled people in the Grand Forks area. Tapson is serving a 75-year sentence in Montana for kidnapping, raping and shooting a woman before leaving her to die alongside a road near Billings. That woman survived. Tapson, who has been linked to another murder in our region and an attack on yet another woman, was denied parole in 2017.
Grand Forks police have questioned Tapson a number of times over the years. In the past, now retired detectives say Tapson was cooperative, but they did not think he was telling the truth. Moe would not say if they have plans to interview him again in the near future.
"It is more important to solve these investigations sometimes, than fiscal considerations. We want to make sure we can solve them. If that means we have to send someone out of state, we will do that," said Moe.
Karla Kilmer: Found dead
Twenty-year-old Karla Kilmer was found floating in the Red River back in June of 1990. Her cause of death was listed as a drowning. However, her autopsy revealed she had been beaten before she ended up in the river. A man was charged, but he was later released for a lack of evidence.
Dolly Arnold and Mary Tepe: Fatal hit and runs
The oldest case is the hit and run of 65-year old Dolly Arnold. She was hit downtown on North 3rd Street by the Ryan House, where she was a resident, on December 23, 1981.
According to an article published by the Grand Forks Herald a day after the fatal hit and run, there were no witnesses of the incident.
Dr. Jon Rice, Grand Forks County coroner, said an autopsy showed Arnold was "struck or run over and died instantaneously from multiple head and chest injuries." There were reportedly witnesses that said they'd seen and spoken to Arnold just before the incident, which was sometime between 7:05 a.m. and 7:10 a.m., but they did not report seeing her again until they saw her laying in the road.
Another hit and run case that has piqued the interest of Lieutenant Moe is the crash that killed Mary Tepe on November 21, 1992. The accident happened at about 7:30 p.m. that night at the intersection of 11th Avenue North and North Washington Street. It's a case that has stumped investigators from the beginning. The case file is contained to a folder.
"This one at the very get go had very little information, and of course, the longer we go on without highlighting certain cases, the shorter the chance that people will still have that knowledge," said Moe.
Not a single piece of physical evidence was left at the scene. Just a few witness accounts.
"It was a multi-colored vehicle. Reports indicate that it had blue with a white striping or white in the middle and with blue on the bottom, so it was like a two-tone, very distinct-type vehicle. They believed it was a Suburban or some type of van," Moe recalled from the case file.
Each case has its own investigator so that the investigator can stay up to speed on the case. Lieutenant Moe plans on having a sergeant help oversee these cold case investigations.
"It's a balance of current cases versus the old cases, but that is a goal, to try and spend a little bit more time on these and see if there are any viable leads, review these cases, and if there are any viable leads that we identify, then we follow up with them and hopefully yield some positive results," explained Moe.
As time goes on, Moe admits the tips do dry up. There are years when these cases may not get a single tip. He made it clear though, if somebody thinks they have information about any of these cases, or any other unsolved case, to call it in, as maybe that could be the tip to crack the case.
"There could be some level of frustration or the feeling of not being able to do that (solve the case). Most officers, when they get in these positions — and whether they are on the street level or in investigations — their desire is to solve crime. For some of these, not being able to do that could be a little disheartening at times, but that's our drive, that's our desire. We want to try and solve these things," said Moe.
Even as time goes on, Lieutenant Moe says it is important to know that somebody will always be assigned these cases.
"These are people who have families, this is something that happened within our community, we want to make sure there is some resolution for the community, for the families and for the victim," said Moe.