How to listen to Dakota Spotlight: 'Binge' the complete Season 8 now

In 'Unresolved: the Murder of Joel Lovelien,' Dakota Spotlight investigates the beating death of a man outside a bar amid Halloween festivities. Nobody has ever been found guilty of killing him.

Travis stay is shown with a black eye, in a photo illustration where he is backed by a cemetery at dusk
Grand Forks police took a photo of Travis Stay's bruised face as evidence. It is shown here backed by a photo of a cemetery by which he walked home the night of Joel Lovelien's death, Oct. 28, 2007.
(Photos from Grand Forks Police Department records request and James Wolner, Forum News Service / Photo illustration by Troy Becker, The Forum)

Dakota Spotlight, the investigative true crime podcast from Forum Communications, recently completed its seven-episode-long Season 8: "Unresolved: the Murder of Joel Lovelien."

James Wolner, host of Dakota Spotlight, said what initially drew him to the case, about the death of 38-year-old Joel Lovelien in Grand Forks in October 2007, was the drama and mystery surrounding it, as well as its stark, evocative imagery. He sought to bring listeners along as he investigated the case and put them front and center, as if they were witnesses themselves.

"The whole setting was surreal: A college town soaked in alcohol and pulsating on a Halloween-themed Saturday night in 2007. A party bus packed with intoxicated goblins, heroes and villains," he said. "And then a tragic and gruesome crime. The victim, Joel Lovelien, a 'gentle giant' is found beaten to death in the parking lot of a bar. And somehow there are no witnesses?"

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Season 8 of the podcast wasn't just about Lovelien, but substantially reviews the police investigation that followed Lovelien's death, up to and including the prosecution and trial of Travis Stay for Lovelien's murder. Stay had been at the same bar the night of the slaying, and witnesses placed him in a conversation with Lovelien shortly before he was found dead. Lovelien's blood was also found on Stay's Halloween outfit from that night.


"Then, an hour later and less than a mile away, we have a young guy just soaked in blood hailing a taxi by a cemetery," Wolner said. "He seems to be in shock; non-responsive to the taxi driver's questions. 'Where can I take ya?' and 'Did you have a rough night?' He seems traumatized. In fact he has no memory of what happened to him. Not then, not a year later, during a highly dramatic courtroom setting when he's put on trial for murder — a trial that captivated an entire city for two weeks."

Over seven episodes, Wolner collects an unprecedented array of facts, research and interviews with many of the key players, to assemble the most comprehensive piece of journalism that illuminates the circumstances around Lovelien's death and the Stay trial. While listeners may not find easy answers in the podcast season, there's plenty to learn.

"Fourteen years later, the mystery remains," Wolner said. "But, listeners who embark on this story-telling journey with me through Season 8 of Dakota Spotlight will come out the other side with an extensive understanding of the case and might just come up with a theory of their own."

To Subscribe to the Dakota Spotlight podcast, go to any of the following podcast apps:

To find every podcast episode online, or to read all the articles related to the season (available exclusively for Forum Communications Co. members), go here or peruse the list below.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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