GRAND FORKS -- Russell Turcotte loved music. He loved dancing around the house with his mother, Linda Hansen. He’d listen to old rock and roll or the Grateful Dead, maybe even some Bonnie Raitt.
That’s how Hansen likes to remember him, with a smile on his face and giving her a kiss on the cheek before his second day – not his first day – of junior high school.
“Russell was a very kind soul,” Hansen said, speaking recently with a Grand Forks Herald reporter. “He believed in kindness and he believed in people. He was a very trusting person. And he was always shocked at times, simply, when he could find out that people could not be that nice.”
He wanted to go out into the world and meet new people. He looked to make new friends, Hansen said.
Turcotte, originally from Wolf Point, Mont., was 19 when he went missing from Grand Forks.
His body was found several months later on Nov. 5, 2002, in a tree row 10 miles west of Devils Lake, about a half-mile north of U.S. Highway 2.
Turcotte was last seen on July 12, 2002, at the Simonson’s Gas Station in Grand Forks, where he was waiting for a money order before traveling home to Montana. Hansen promised to wire him money in the morning so he could get home faster for a wedding. He never picked up the money.
His death was ruled a homicide, and two decades later, the crime remains unsolved.
The case is now listed among the cold cases on the North Dakota Attorney General’s website, and tracking new information about it isn’t easy.
Ramsey County Sheriff Steve Nelson said his department still takes a fresh look at the case whenever they have time, but nothing new has popped up recently. The department has reviewed the case a couple of times in the last three years, Nelson said, one time included interviewing those associated with the case again.
“We're hoping somebody who knows something will come forward,” he said.
The case remains under the jurisdiction of Ramsey County with assistance from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the agency can’t comment on the matter.
Information about Turcotte’s death has been sparse from the beginning. At one point, the FBI had investigated convicted murderer and sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III in the case, but it seems nothing came of it. He was never declared a suspect.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS CASE:
- Authorities take fresh look at Turcotte murder in 2008
In a 2012 interview with the Herald, Hansen said all she learned of his cause of death was there was "blunt force trauma to the back of his head."
She contends law enforcement was too slow to react to the case, and today, she can’t help but wonder what could have happened if the reaction would have been faster.
Hansen sent her middle son to Grand Forks the day after Turcotte didn’t pick up the money. She said she “just felt something was wrong.” She said when her middle son arrived in Grand Forks and went to the police station, he was told to come back the next day.
The family was told to file a missing persons report in Montana.
“Law enforcement, at the beginning in Grand Forks, just plain and simple weren't very helpful,” she said.
When he went missing, Turcotte had been returning home from a Rainbow Gathering – a remote gathering of people dedicated to promoting harmony and world peace – in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan. Hansen said her son had driven to Michigan with a friend.
She believes her son’s decision to hitchhike probably put him in danger.
“He paid for that with his life. We all understand that,” she said. “But what was difficult about it for me was that stigma that he wasn’t a nice person … because of what he was doing. That doesn’t make him a bad person.”
What exactly law enforcement could have done sooner, she’s not entirely sure. However, when talking to the Herald recently, she said she wishes they would have taken the case more seriously from the beginning.
“Maybe we could have come across something at the very beginning at the gas station or right in that area,” she said.
Hansen tries not to dwell on it. She can’t change what happened, nor can she change the response in the days after her son’s disappearance. But not knowing what could have been is difficult, she said.
Her biggest fear is that the person who hurt her son is still out there. Maybe that person has hurt others, too.
“(What) has always weighed on me and will continue to weigh on me is the fear that they have hurt someone else, that they’ll continue to hurt people,” she said. “That would hurt my son too, knowing that they went on to hurt others.”
She hasn’t learned any new information about the case in years, she said. Her last contact was with Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Mark McNamee, who died several years ago.
How does Hansen choose to remember her son?
She recalls how he declined to kiss her goodbye on his first day of junior high. But on the second day, he leaned across the seat and kissed her cheek.
That’s what she prefers to remember – that and his love of music, including the time he spent learning about being a DJ at the college radio station in Havre, Mont.
“He believed in people. He believed in the world,” she said. “He was a good kid. He was well loved, very loved.”
Those who may have new information about the case are directed to contact the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office at 701-662-0700, per the attorney general’s office website.