Hill: Twin killings rare
A dark spot remains on the remote road next to a buffalo pasture where Robert Belgarde's head lay after he was shot to death Friday. A few feet away in the ditch next to the high wire fence is where Belgarde's son, Damien, died in the grass, also...
A dark spot remains on the remote road next to a buffalo pasture where Robert Belgarde's head lay after he was shot to death Friday.
A few feet away in the ditch next to the high wire fence is where Belgarde's son, Damien, died in the grass, also from gunshots.Grand Forks County Sheriff Dan Hill was at the site again Monday, about six miles southwest of Grand Forks. His department is leading the investigation into what is the first such double homicide Hill can remember in years in the county.
He was a young officer on the Grand Forks police force in 1968 when James Iverson killed two Grand Forks women, Dianne Bill and Carol Mayers in their northside apartment.
I didn't work the case - I stood outside and guarded the apartment, said Hill, who was a city police officer until he was elected sheriff in 1990. The only other double homicide that comes to the minds of law enforcement officers is the 1987 murders of Pamela Lentz, 21, and her mother, Dorothy Lentz, 56, by strangulation in their Grand Forks apartment. Keith Bishop was arrested and charged with the murders later that year, but a jury hearing the case deadlocked, and prosecutors dropped the charges.
There have been other murders in the city and county - at least three murder-suicides, including the terrible case of Gerald Grinde who in December 1984 killed his wife and three children and then himself.
In East Grand Forks, also in 1989, Kevin Weekley was shot to death by intruders, and his father, Ron, and brother, Keith, were wounded.
But the Bill/Mayers murders and the Lentz murders are the only double homicides with a live suspect in memory, said Grand Forks Police Detective Michael Sholes. The Belgarde killings are the first such crime in memory for the sheriff's department in the county. It's meant a lot of news media attention paid to the event.
Sholes went out to the scene Monday with Hill, partly to advise him on the possible use of search dogs in the investigation. A blue latex glove, discarded by an investigator, remains in the grass along the gravel road, six miles southwest of Grand Forks.
DIGGING UP BULLETS
Some empty shell casings were found at the site, Hill said. Investigators dug bullets and bullet fragments out of the ground in several locations. Otherwise, it's mostly grass and wind out here, and the road where Robert Belgarde died turns into the buffalo pasture only a few feet away.
The site is fairly popular for drinking parties and parking, and just for getting a look at buffalo, Hill said. And his deputies have broken up beer parties here before, he said. But this kind of tragedy is a shock, Hill said. Robert Belgarde was 40; Damien was 19.
There were no weapons or vehicles here when young passers-by came on Robert Belgarde's body in the road near midnight Friday. Officers responding soon found Damien's body in the nearby ditch. Grand Forks police, as well as state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI, have assisted the sheriff's department in the investigation. No suspects have been named or caught yet.
But Maj. Mike Fonder, Hill's right-hand man, said the general public isn't in imminent danger from whoever killed the Belgardes because it was not a random crime
I would think they knew who they were with and felt comfortable with them, or been introduced to them by someone they knew, Fonder said. They apparently went out there of their own free will. These guys were not abducted from their home.
He and other investigators have interviewed dozens of people, Fonder said and have more to interview.
Some preliminary information from the autopsies could be available this week, but the full written report won't be back for two weeks, Fonder said.
What the two men had done the day they died and who they were with is the prime focus now, Hill said.
Unfortunately, there was not a lot of evidence out at the scene, Hill said. But we're doing everything we can to find whoever did this.
Both men had been involved in the criminal justice system, Fonder said, meaning that both had been charged with offenses in court. Both had spent time in the Grand Forks Corrections Center, jail officials said.
But Fonder said he's not sure any of their background is directly relevant to this crime.
Damien Belgarde had been looked at as a possible suspect in the three burglaries of Grand Forks motels in recent weeks, Sholes said. According to The Associated Press, police said that Damien Belgarde was charged Thursday - the day before he was shot - with stealing a car that was linked to the Aug. 16 holdup of the Roadking Inn. Court papers state that Belgarde was seen driving the car near the hotel the day it was robbed.
Both men had lived in Grand Forks for most of their lives and are part of a large, extended family, relatives told the Herald. While investigators said the two men had no fixed address or regular employment recently, relatives said the men stayed with family members.
Robert Belgarde's former wife - who is Damien's mother - said both men had big hearts, and they would give you anything, do anything for you.
A sibling of Damien Belgarde said Monday that he was a good brother who loved basketball and was very good to his infant nephew. Damien also was very close to his father, his sibling said.
They were inseparable. They did everything together.
Lee reports on the region. Reach him at 701-780-1237, (800) 477-6572 ext. 237 or firstname.lastname@example.org .