Body of Missing Man Found - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

MURDER in Griggs County

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The sheriff calls it "a never before seen crime in the county." Disturbing details are unraveling in the murder of an NDSU researcher in Griggs County, North Dakota.

A felony murder charge has been filed against 30-year-old Daniel Wacht of Cooperstown in connection with the death of Kurt Douglas Johnson.

Investigators are still searching for the body of the 54-year-old. They say Johnson's head was found by itself in Wacht's basement, leaving investigators continuing to look for answers.

It's like something straight out a murder mystery: After Kurt Douglas Johnson disappeared New Year's Eve night, authorities find only part of the victim.

Griggs Co. Sheriff Robert Hook says, "We were able to determine that he was in fact murdered and a victim of a gunshot wound to his forehead and Mr. Johnson had been decapitated."

His head was found at Wacht's home. That's after witnesses say Johnson was last seen leaving the Oasis bar in Cooperstown Friday night and getting into a van with Wacht. The sheriff wants to reassure this shaken community.

"I want to make it very clear. The community is safe this is an isolated incident. We're looking at no other suspects at this time we feel very confident we have the correct individual in custody in this case," Hook says.

NDSU co-workers of this esteemed national researcher are shocked and stunned.

Tom Jirik says, "For something like this to happen you know always hear that it sounds cliche but really you know for something like this to happen is just a shock then when it's someone you know that you worked with that you see everyday it kinda leaves you numb."

Many, still reeling, say they already miss the intelligent, laid-back man with a quick wit. "You don' quite know what to feel so emotions are raw people are in grief and its really difficult," Jirik says.

Wacht is currently being held at he Stutsman County corrections center on $1 million bond. NDSU officials say there are no memorial services currently planned on campus.

The alleged murderer was not initially arrested for murder; Wacht had a federal probation violation warrant out for him from California. They initially arrested him on that violation, then charged him with murder.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2011 - 4pm
 Among the details: The head of Johnson was found hidden in the basement of Wacht's home but his body is still missing Johnson was shot to death with a bullet to the center of his forehead, authorities said.  Johnson, a researcher at North Dakota State University lived in Cooperstown.

Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook says he's "never" seen anything like this in his time in law enforcement. Hook says Wacht shot Johnson in the head, then decapitated him.

The NDSU researcher had been missing since New Year's Eve... after he was seen leaving a Cooperstown bar and getting into a van.

In an attempt to reassure a shaken community, Hook, said, "I want to make it very clear. the community is safe this is an isolated incident. We're not looking at any super at this time we feel very confident we have the correct individual in this case.  Great efforts were put forth by our staff and other agencies involved in the investigation and we are continuing the process to being to a final conclusion at some point in the future."

Johnson was known by his NDSU co-workers as a very laid-back man who was easy to work with and had a quick wit. Johnson was a respected employee, working for the DOT for the last 23 year. He was revered on a state and national level as an expert on pavement engineering.

Communications Coordinator Tom Jirik hired Johnson in 2003, he is stunned by the murder.

"It's really raw right now. People are I think the two words are stunned and in shock for something like this to happen you, said Jirik. "You always hear that it sounds cliche' but really you know for something like this to happen is just a shock then when it's someone you know that you worked with that you see everyday it kinda leaves you numb."


Griggs county authorities say they found the body of a missing man at a home in Cooperstown.  Kurt Johnson had been missing since New Year's Eve. He was a researcher for the Transportation Institute at NDSU. Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook told Valley News Live, "There is a current murder investigation in progress."

A bartender says Johnson was at the Oasis Bar in town until after 9:00 PM New Year's Eve night. 

A witness says Johnson was last seen getting into a van around that time.  Another man believed to be in that van is being held as a suspect.  His name has not been released.

"This is an isolated incident.  There is a suspect that has been detained.  We feel very confident that the community is safe at this time, said Robert Hook, Griggs County Sheriff.

A News Release from the Sheriff's Department states: A missing person report regarding Kurt Douglas Johnson was filed with the Griggs County Sheriff's Department on January 4, 2011.  That report initiated an investigation which in turn established that Kurt Douglas Johnson is deceased. 

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