Sheriff : Murder investigation in Cooperstown deathGriggs County Sheriff Robert Hook says a murder investigation is on and a suspect is in jail in the death of Kurt D. Johnson, 54, a researcher with North Dakota State University's Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, missing since New Year's Eve. No charges have been filed.
By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald
A murder investigation has led to the arrest of a man by Griggs County authorities after a researcher affiliated with North Dakota State University — missing since New Year’s Eve — was found dead in a Cooperstown, N.D., home.
According to a news release from Sheriff Robert Hook, Kurt Douglas Johnson, 54, not seen since Friday, was reported missing Tuesday and later found dead.
A suspect has been arrested, Hook said, but he did not release the name Thursday because charges have not been filed in connection with Johnson’s death.
“There is a murder investigation in progress,” he said in the news release Thursday.
Griggs County State’s Attorney Paul Murphy, of Carrington, N.D., said he expected to file charges today.
He, too, would not name the suspect, except to confirm the man is being held in Jamestown, N.D., on an unrelated probation violation from California.
An official at the Stutsman County jail in Jamestown said Daniel Evan Wacht, 30, was being held on a probation violation from California for Griggs County.
Residents of Cooperstown knew of the death of Johnson and the arrest of Wacht and were talking about it Thursday.
Johnson was a researcher and program director with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at NDSU who grew up in Cooperstown and moved back there several years ago. He was an expert on keeping the state’s highways in good shape.
A colleague at the institute said today that the institute’s director had told employees that Johnson had been missing since New Year’s Eve and that a suspect was in jail in connection with the disappearance but that he hadn’t learned yet of his death.
Johnson grew up on a farm near in Cooperstown and moved back to the town of 900 several years ago.
He was a graduate of NDSU and had lived in Fargo, Bismarck and the Washington, D.C., area. He has three grown children.
KVLY-TV first reported that Johnson last was seen leaving the Oasis Bar in Cooperstown, being helped into a vehicle by Wacht on New Year’s Eve.
An employee at the Oasis said Thursday night that the bar is not commenting on the case.
Cooperstown residents said Wacht had moved into town several months ago and worked at a local manufacturing plant.
Wacht was seen helping Johnson leave the Oasis on New Year’s Eve, said Annie Somers, who said Wacht was known as Danny around town.
Johnson hadn’t been seen since and was reported missing Tuesday. Wacht was arrested at work Wednesday, Murphy said.
Johnson’s body was found in the basement of the home Wacht was renting, Somers said.
Somers said she had cleaned Johnson’s home for him for several years.
“He was the nicest guy,” she said. “It’s all very hard to believe. It just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter where you live.”
Sheriff Hook said in his news release that it appeared to be “an isolated incident” and the suspect was behind bars.
“We feel very confident that the community is safe at this time,” he said.
Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.