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Suspect in disappearance of Twin Cities woman urged Cass County farmer not to call police

FARGO -- A suspect in the presumed death of a Twin Cities woman had run-ins with Cass County, N.D., authorities and residents in late August, at one point pleading with a farmer not to call the police on him for fear that he "would go to jail for...

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office is seeking the public’s help locating Michelle Lee Newell, 45, of Vadnais Heights. Newell is 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighs 120 pounds and has long brown hair. Contact the sheriff’s office at 651-266-7320. (Photo courtesy Ramsey County sheriff's office)
The Ramsey County sheriff’s office is seeking the public’s help locating Michelle Lee Newell, 45, of Vadnais Heights. Newell is 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighs 120 pounds and has long brown hair. Contact the sheriff’s office at 651-266-7320. (Photo courtesy Ramsey County sheriff's office)

FARGO - A suspect in the presumed death of a Twin Cities woman had run-ins with Cass County, N.D., authorities and residents in late August, at one point pleading with a farmer not to call the police on him for fear that he "would go to jail for life," court records said.

Relatives of Michelle Newell, 45, reported that the last time they heard from her was Aug. 29. The next day, a Cass County resident encountered Timothy Barr and Newell on his property west of Casselton, a mile south of Interstate 94 exit 322, according to an application for a search warrant filed this week by a county detective.

When the resident asked what the two were doing, Barr said they were looking for a place to have sex. "The resident told them they could stay for a bit but then had to leave," the court document stated.

The following day, medics and law enforcement officers responded to a report of a man lying in a ditch on the south side of I-94, just west of exit 320. It turned out to be Barr, who told authorities he was just resting, the court document said.

Barr told them his car had broken down a few miles away and that he was headed to Fargo. However, one of the medics noticed a vehicle directly to the south on the other side of a fence. When asked whether the vehicle was his, Barr acknowledged it was and said he'd been nervous to say so because it was parked on private land, the court document said.

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Asked why he was there, Barr again said he and his girlfriend were looking for a spot to have sex. Asked where his girlfriend was, "Barr advised that her boyfriend came and picked her up," the court document said. Officers went to check on the vehicle while medics checked on Barr, and by the time officers returned, Barr had left.

A few hours later, a farmer discovered Barr coming out of woods on the farmer's property. The farmer went to call authorities, and Barr asked him not to do so because Barr "would go to jail for life," the court document stated.

Barr later told officers he was worried about getting in trouble because his vehicle was on private property. The officers determined that Barr had no outstanding warrants, and he was taken to a homeless shelter in Moorhead, Minn.

Despite murder charges being recently dropped against Barr, over jurisdictional concerns, officials with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office in St. Paul maintain that the 51-year-old Lakeville, Minn., man is their main suspect in Newell's death. Their theory is based largely on comments he allegedly made to criminal informants about running over a woman after the two had an argument and other odd behavior after the mother of four from Vadnais Heights, Minn., went missing.

Phone records indicate Newell and Barr communicated Aug. 29 about taking a trip four and a half hours away. The records placed Barr in North Dakota later that night.

Newell's body has not been found. The search thus far has largely focused on farmland in North and South Dakota. Authorities have asked the public to search farm buildings or other abandoned properties on rural land in the area for signs of Newell.

This week, Cass County detective Steve Gabrielson applied for a search warrant to examine the cellphone of Steven Adelman of Fargo, a longtime acquaintance of Barr, in the hope of finding information that would help locate Newell's body.

The warrant application said the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office received information from an informant that Adelman may have helped Barr dispose of Newell's body. But that tip ended up being false, Gabrielson said Thursday, Nov. 17, adding that Adelman will not face criminal charges. "Adelman is not a suspect. He was simply a contact that Mr. Barr had here in town," the detective said.

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Adelman's attorney, Steven Mottinger, echoed Gabrielson but declined to comment further.

Barr's phone records show that he texted Adelman asking for help Aug. 30, the same day Barr was found in the ditch by I-94. "Please call me right away as I am stuck broke gasless and at Gordy's Travel Plaza off of 94 in between Fergus Falls (and) Fargo," Barr's message said.

During an interview with investigators Sept. 21, Adelman said he'd seen Barr a couple of weeks earlier when Barr came by his Fargo home seeking gasoline and a jump for his car. He reportedly told him he was in the area with a girlfriend. Adelman said he didn't ask for the woman's name nor did he see her with Barr, court documents said.

Barr pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of fleeing police when officers first tried to arrest him in St. Paul after Newell's disappearance.

Barr was sentenced Thursday to three years of supervised probation and recieved credit for having spent 59 days in the Ramsey County Jail. He was to be transferred to the Scott County Jail in Shakopee, Minn., to be held on a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance, a Ramsey County Jail official said.

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