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Mystery surrounds body found in burned Moorhead house

MOORHEAD -- A few hours before a fire was reported at a south Moorhead home where a body was later discovered Tuesday, June 28, a neighbor was working in his yard when he noticed a woman sitting on the front steps of the home that later burned.

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Charred siding left at a fire in the 1000 block of 11th Avenue South in Moorhead on Tuesday. Rick Abbott / The Forum

MOORHEAD -- A few hours before a fire was reported at a south Moorhead home where a body was later discovered Tuesday, June 28, a neighbor was working in his yard when he noticed a woman sitting on the front steps of the home that later burned.

Bryan Bishop said the woman was on her phone and she was cursing loudly at the person on the other end.

“She was in a heated discussion,” Bishop said Wednesday morning, June 29, as he stood in his yard and police and other officials went in and out of the fire-damaged home at 1019 11th Ave. S.

Bishop knew a fire heavily damaged the neighboring home, but he had only just heard that a burned body was found and that authorities were working to identify the body.

Officials were also trying to determine what caused the fire, which was reported about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and is being treated as suspicious.

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The death is also being investigated as suspicious, though Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson said few details are being released because the investigation is ongoing.

He said agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office are processing the scene and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office is working to positively identify the body.

Jacobson said when firefighters were suppressing the blaze they didn’t immediately find anyone in the house, but a subsequent search through heavy debris revealed the body.

Bishop and other neighbors said they were saddened but not surprised by Tuesday’s fire.

Betty Myers, a retired school principal who lives a couple of houses down from where the fire occurred, said the neighborhood is tight-knit and has the best block parties in town.

But she said residents of the house that burned kept to themselves, and that unfamiliar faces and cars were frequently seen coming and going from the residence.

Myers and her husband, David, a retired Minnesota State University Moorhead instructor, said many in the neighborhood are people who have worked in the academic community.

They said that is true of the owner of the home that burned -- David Farden -- who used to be an instructor at North Dakota State University.

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David Myers said Farden appeared to be in ill health for some time and once asked Myers to drive him places because Farden said he was legally blind.

Betty Myers said they had the strong impression Farden might be a vulnerable individual, and that the comings and goings of unfamiliar people from his home could be related to that.

“Everybody has been concerned about him,” she said.

David Myers agreed, saying he has a feeling Moorhead police kept a protective eye on Farden.

Neighbors say Tuesday’s fire wasn’t the first time the home had burned.

The Myers said there was a fire at Farden’s home about a year ago, when someone apparently poured lighter fluid or similar combustible in a fireplace in an attempt to start a fire.

Bishop said Farden had been working since then on repairing the home, which a Moorhead fire official said Tuesday appeared to be a total loss.

Bishop said that after the fire, he shared with police what he knew about the women he had seen on the phone. He said officers were already aware of her because they showed up while she was still yelling on her phone.

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“I heard her say, ‘Now the cops are here,’ ’’ Bishop said, describing the woman as white and in her 50s or 60s, with light-colored hair.

He said an officer showed him a photo of a woman and he told the officer it appeared to be the same woman he saw sitting on the front steps of the home that burned.

Bishop said the word around the neighborhood is that Farden moved to Michigan about a week ago, but he didn’t know for sure that was the case.

Bishop and the Myers said Farden at one time had issues with collecting cars and large appliances in his backyard and elsewhere.

“The driveway was full of stuff,” he said.

Court records offer glimpses into the turmoil of Farden's life.

Starting in 2009, the Clay County Department of Social Services tried three times to have him civilly committed because of mental illness. The first two attempts were dismissed, and the third one, filed in 2011, resulted in a commitment that was later stayed, records show.

In 2010, Farden was supposed to be on medications for bipolar disorder, and taking those medications was a requirement for him to keep his job as an electrical engineering professor at NDSU, according to Cass County District Court documents.

During a conversation with a school official that year, Farden said that if he was told to take his medications, he would use a gun to shoot the university's dean and provost, the documents stated.

In that case, Farden was charged with felony terrorizing and eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, according to court records.

Attempts to reach Farden by phone were unsuccessful.

Related Topics: CRIMEFIRES
I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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