JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Oil Patch Murder Story Continues

The noose around James Henrikson’s neck got a little tighter this week —figuratively speaking, since prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty for Henrikson for allegedly masterminding the murder-for-hire that included the killing of a young North Dakota oilfield worker.

Henrikson sat in a Spokane, Wash., courtroom this past Wednesday and watched three men who carried out the killings plead guilty to multiple charges, including murder. One of them, Timothy Suckow, the man who has confessed to killing Spokane businessman Doug Carlile and North Dakotan Kristopher “K.C.” Clark, promised to testify that he was hired by Henrikson to carry out the two killings. In a strange outburst after the judge accepted his guilty his plea, Suckow told the judge “The truth must be told.” (You can get some more background on this story and read more about Suckow and other defendants in the case here.)

Henrikson is now back in the Spokane jail after spending the last month in a Yakima (Wash.) County jail, following what looked like a failed escape attempt in August, when Spokane jail officials found a 100-foot long rope made of torn bedsheets hanging from his cell window. Initial reports were that Henrikson was trying to escape, but the window was only 5 inches wide, so the latest speculation is that he was trying to have someone tie something to the end of the rope that Henrikson could then lift up and use in an escape attempt.

It was the second failed escape attempt for the convicted felon, who set up shop in North Dakota’s oil patch a few years ago and then began getting rid of  people who crossed his path and the path of his oilfield trucking company in ways he didn’t like. Two people ended up dead, but the indictment filed against him says he tried to hire killers to get rid of at least six other people, including former North Dakota Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall.

Earlier this summer, according to court documents and media reports, while in the Spokane jail, Henrikson approached a fellow inmate who was about to be released from the jail and tried to get him to work with a team outside the jail to help Henrikson escape from a van in which he was going to be transported to a court hearing.

Shortly after that conversation, the inmate was released, and court documents say he was approached by two men, after he got out, who wanted to know if Henrikson wanted them to attack the transport van and try to spring him. The inmate apparently told authorities about the plan after he told the men he was not interested in being involved in any such attempt.

Meanwhile, in a Spokane courtroom this week, Suckow and two others pleaded guilty in return for what is expected to be somewhat reduced sentences, although for Suckow, who is 51, his 30-year sentence will make him a very old man before he is released. Apparently, he’s hoping for parole at some point and is also wanting to make sure his employer gets put away for a long time as a result of his testimony.

Henrikson’s trial is scheduled to begin in just a couple of weeks, on Oct. 5, and it has been moved out of Spokane down the road to Richland, Wash., a hundred or so miles away, because of extensive pre-trial publicity. The story of Suckow’s murder of Douglas Carlile in a Spokane suburb, which Suckow now admits to, and says was done at Henrikson’s behest, has gotten widespread publicity in the Spokane area.

The story has also spread across the country, with each story referring to “murder for hire in the North Dakota Oil Patch.”  Great publicity for North Dakota. A reporter for the New York Daily News covered the story of Henrikson’s bedsheet escape attempt, starting his story with this line: “This jailbird was simply sheet outta luck.”

Henrikson’s attorneys have asked that the trial be delayed into next year, instead of starting on Oct. 5. That’s a good possibility, although the presiding judge in the case has not yet ruled on the request. That should happen this week.

Meanwhile, I spoke this weekend with a lady named Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, who was standing on a high hill in the Bad Lands near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park Sunday afternoon, leading a search party looking for K.C. Clarke’s body. Lissa, who had no previous connection to K.C., first read about his disappearance on a Facebook page posted by his mother and has been involved in the search ever since.

“I just said ‘somebody has to do this,’ and I’ve been at it ever since,” she told me.

Sunday, there were seven people with her, conducting a ground search based on an anonymous tip. They’d had no luck as of late Sunday afternoon, but Lissa, who lives in Fargo, is not discouraged. Tired, but not discouraged. She’s vowed to keep looking. She’d like help. “It should not be just me out here,” she said. “It should be all of North Dakota.”

Anyone who wants to help can call her at (701) 893-6841. Or contact her via her Facebook page. Lissa lives in Fargo but drives west as often as she can to continue her search. She’s been doing it for three years. Besides giving closure to K.C.’s family, she feels that it is important that a body be found before Henrikson goes to trial. Here’s what she put on her Facebook page Saturday night:

“Been out here searching for KC since yesterday. Beat down and tired as hell. Does nobody but me realize that if KC is not found before the trial that there is a chance that James could prove a shadow of doubt? Why not just tell us where he is? We would like to have some closure here! You would think that some people by now would understand that my word is good. And remember… there is a large cash reward for info…. we have one weekend left and it’s game over! God willing, please bring us to KC! Going to bed… hopefully something is more fruitful tomorrow. ~Keeping the FAITH!”

She says she’ll be back out again next weekend. Contact her if you want to help.

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