Most metro homicides solved within a few days, but it's been 3 months in case of slain NDSU freshman
MOORHEAD - In the past 10 years, neither Fargo nor Moorhead police have solved a homicide case that went three months without a suspect, which is how long it's been since the body of a slain North Dakota State University freshman was found here.
MOORHEAD – In the past 10 years, neither Fargo nor Moorhead police have solved a homicide case that went three months without a suspect, which is how long it’s been since the body of a slain North Dakota State University freshman was found here.
Eighteen-year-old Tommy Bearson, who disappeared after four weeks on campus, was found three months ago today at an RV lot in south Moorhead.
His case was ruled a homicide and remains unsolved, without a suspect or motive.
The investigation is “still very actively ongoing,” said Lt. Tory Jacobson, a spokesman for the Moorhead Police Department.
Investigators are awaiting Bearson’s final autopsy and toxicology reports, as well as items they’ve sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for forensic testing, he said.
They are completing new reports “all the time,” Jacobson said, and interviewing sources both old and new.
Leads have been slim, though, in what Jacobson called a “very difficult case.” To date, police are “not seeking anyone as a person of interest.”
In Moorhead and Fargo, where police have an unusually high rate of solving homicides, arrests are typically made the day of the killing or within the week.
Or not at all.
For the past decade in the metro area, homicide cases that went even two months without a person of interest are still unsolved.
Pros and cons of time
Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said he wouldn’t take too much stock in the data.
“That is not indicative of all cases in general that I’m familiar with nationally,” Ebinger said. “I certainly don’t think Fargo-Moorhead is a good database to look at when looking at homicides; they’re so infrequent here.”
The Fargo and Moorhead police departments reported to the FBI a combined total of 16 homicides between 2004 and 2012, the most recent year for which such data is available.
Ebinger previously led the detective division in Little Rock, Ark., which reported 45 homicides in 2012 alone.
“I think it’d be a poor source of data in drawing any conclusions,” Ebinger continued. “You generally have a suspect identified early in the case, but there are other cases that need more time to be solved.”
Jacobson said that, in a way, time is on their side.
As investigators compile more information, the possibility of finding inconsistencies and suspicious details becomes more likely.
“It’s those kinds of things that will ultimately break the case,” Jacobson said.
But these passing months have also given the public an opportunity to speculate, which can make a case more difficult.
“We’re in a position where we’re willing to ask the citizens for contacting us with any possible information,” Jacobson said. “Our responsibility then is to investigate those leads to see if there’s anything that’s credible.”
But that doesn’t mean those theories will pan out. Thus far, none of them have.
“We need a break,” Jacobson said. “At this moment, I don’t have that fact that has sent us in the right direction.”
Few unsolved homicides
It’s unusual in this area for a homicide to go unsolved.
The homicide clearance rate for local law enforcement from 1993 to 2011 was 92 percent – much higher than the national average of 64 percent over that same period.
But in the past 10 years in Fargo-Moorhead, just one homicide case was solved more than a week after the killing.
In November 2004, Orvin Gordon Berg, 50, was beaten to death with a hammer at an apartment in north Fargo. Two months later, three men were charged.
Other than Berg’s case, homicides that took longer than a week to solve were not solved.
The Moorhead slaying of Henry Volochenko in 2013, for example, remains unsolved, as do the Fargo killings of Ronald Hammersmith in 2009 and 2-year-old Blue Twobear in 2006.
Volochenko, 87, was found dead in his home a year and a half ago, with injuries that appeared to be the result of an assault.
Hammersmith, 47, was assaulted in July 2009 while walking home from downtown Fargo at 2 a.m. Early in the case, police recommended charging a 20-year-old Fargo man with manslaughter, but no arrest was made.
In Twobear’s case, authorities said they believed someone in the toddler’s “circle of acquaintances” caused the internal injuries that led to death, but that investigation remains open.