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A review of the area's unsolved homicides and disappearances

Lt. Rahn Farder doesn't care much for the term "cold case." To him, it suggests that the case is hopeless, that investigators don't care. "We want to make sure folks know they aren't forgotten about," said Farder, the head detective for the Grand...

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Lt. Rahn Farder doesn't care much for the term "cold case." To him, it suggests that the case is hopeless, that investigators don't care.

"We want to make sure folks know they aren't forgotten about," said Farder, the head detective for the Grand Forks Police Department. "I don't want to give people false hope, but the fact that the information can still come in on these old cases gives some hope."

There's no question the Grand Forks area has its share of cold cases. Farder said the Police Department alone has six homicide or missing person cases in which leads have dried up.

"On old cold cases like this, there's no magic wand. You just look at it. You review it. You hope something new comes in," he said. "It either almost always boils down to some new type of evidence technique to process what you already have, or somebody decides to come forward with some information that you didn't have before."

Farder said the evidence from the department's cold cases has been analyzed using up-to-date forensic technology, yet investigators remain stymied. Nevertheless, the six cases are each assigned to specific detectives who explore any new tips that trickle in.

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"On probably every one of these, there's someone out there that does know something, that has decided to not come forward," he said.

- Dolly Arnold, 65, was a pedestrian struck and killed by a large vehicle Dec. 23, 1981, on North Third Street in downtown Grand Forks. "There was a lot of work done on the case," Farder said. "We never did get anything other than it was a heavy dual-wheeled vehicle."

- Dorothy Lentz, 56, and her 21-year-old daughter, Pam, were found strangled on March 26, 1987, in Dorothy Lentz's apartment. Police believe they were killed March 21, 1987, Farder said. Later that year, a man who had been seen with the two women in a bar shortly before they were killed was charged in their deaths. A jury deadlocked in his trial, and prosecutors dropped the charges before a second trial began.

- Anna Korynta was found dead in her downtown Grand Forks apartment on May 11, 1987. With no evidence of a forced entry, police suppose the 19-year-old originally from Fisher, Minn., knew her attacker. "It appeared she had let someone in, and then she was stabbed numerous times. It was a crime of extreme passion as far as the violence involved," Farder said. No suspects have been named in her death.

- The body of 20-year-old Karla likely days," Farder said. He said her death appeared to be a homicide. A man was arrested and charged with murdering her, but the charge was eventually dropped.

- Mary Tepe, 42, was a pedestrian killed in a hit-and-run collision Nov. 21, 1992, at the intersection of 11th Avenue North and North Washington Street. Witnesses described the vehicle that struck Tepe as a blue and white van or Chevrolet Suburban. "We never did get anymore information on that case," Farder said.

- Kristi Nikle, 19, was last seen Oct. 3, 1996. "It was very unusual for Kristi to disappear, especially with her being mentally challenged. So almost certainly somebody took advantage of her. She's gone, but I cannot say for a fact it was a homicide," Farder said. In 2002, Grand Forks police interviewed 50-year-old Floyd Tapson, a man who was later sentenced to 75 years in prison for kidnapping and attempting to murder a developmentally disabled woman in Montana. "There's been no dramatic developments in the case since," Farder said.

- A seventh case -- not on the Police Department's cold-case list but worth noting -- is the death of Joel Lovelien. Lovelien, 38, was found beaten in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar on Oct. 27, 2007. Travis Stay, a UND student, was charged with Lovelien's murder, but a jury acquitted him. "If some new information would come in on that, we would certainly follow up as much as we could," Farder said.

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N.D. cold-case squad

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation formed a two-agent cold case squad in 2005 to re-investigate evidence and examine new leads with the help of local law-enforcement agencies and retired officers.

Since the squad's creation, it has closed two cases, including the 1987 murder of Kathryn Bonderson, a 35-year-old whose body was found in a burning vehicle a mile north of New Rockford, N.D.

In 2006, authorities announced that they had concluded that her husband, Robert Bonderson, murdered her. He killed himself before cold case investigators could question him. His family told the Herald he left a note in which he denied killing his wife.

The BCI's cold case squad is currently investigating 15 missing person or homicide cases. While there are certainly more such cases around the state, the 15 on the BCI's list are cases local law enforcement agencies have deemed to be cold cases and handed over to the squad. On that list are two cases from the Herald's readership area.

- The body of Clifton Marsh was found Oct. 1, 1981, in a rest area on U.S. Highway 2 about 7 miles east of Devils Lake. The 69-year-old from Hope, Mich., had been shot. He was headed to British Columbia to go fishing.

- On Nov. 6, 1994, Ronald Johnson's body was discovered in a water-filled ditch about 5 miles northwest of Dunseith, N.D. An autopsy showed that Johnson possibly died of hypothermia, but investigators learned that he had been assaulted before ending up in the ditch.

- A third North Dakota cold case -- not on the BCI's list but covered by the Herald in the past -- is the murder of 19-year-old Russell Turcotte. His family in Wolf Point, Mont., last heard from him when he called home from Grand Forks on July 12, 2002. His body was found Nov. 5, 2002, about 12 miles northwest of Devils Lake along U.S. Highway 2.

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Minnesota cases

With the hope of generating tips, the cold case unit of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension started an initiative in 2008 to distribute decks of playing cards that feature 52 unsolved homicide, missing person and unidentified remains cases from the past 50 years.

The deck dedicates one card to an area case -- the disappearance of Veronica Safranski. However, the other two local cases from Minnesota listed below are not in the deck.

- Safranski, 40, was last seen Oct. 27, 1996, leaving a Halloween party at Mick's Bar in Warren, Minn. Safranski, who was from Argyle, Minn., was wearing an American Indian costume at the time. The man who she left the bar with became a "person of interest" in the investigation, but no one has been named as a suspect or arrested in the case.

- James Blilie, 50, was discovered dead Dec. 27, 1996, in his home in rural East Grand Forks. He died from trauma to his head. No arrests have been made in the case.

- Joshua Abel, 29, of Crookston, went missing April 27, 2007. His car was found at a farmstead his family owned near Stephen, Minn. The car still had the keys in the ignition and gas in the tank. Searches of the area found no sign of him.

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: POLK COUNTY
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