Do You Remember the Sleepwatcher?

Fargo-area residents might remember the “Sleepwatcher” case. In 2006 and 2007, a man snuck into homes in the Fargo-Moorhead area and watched people sleep. In some cases, he actually climbed into bed with them and watched them until they woke up. I was reminded of the case when I saw a similar story in the local media awhile back. I got curious and decided to do some digging on it.

Court records cited by the Fargo Forum in an April 17th, 2007 report named a Washington man, Casmer Volk, as a suspect in the Sleepwatcher case. Volk spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Kittitas County, Washington, and the Fargo area, where he has family. Volk was given two years of probation for 2006 and 2007 window peeping incidents in the Fargo area, but he was never conclusively linked to other Sleepwatcher home intrusions.

As a Fargo resident who paid some attention to the cases, I vaguely remember some law enforcement sources poo-pooing the notion that Volk was responsible for all the Sleepwatcher home intrusions, but I always suspected Volk was the guy, partly based on eyewitness description of the man. I have no doubt the police worked very hard to convict the guy, and to connect him to the other Sleepwatcher cases, but the community wasn’t really in a panic over it — the Sleepwatcher has not harmed anybody seemed to be the attitude.

Casmer-J-VolkI saw a newspaper headline awhile back about a man who walked into a West Fargo woman’s home and climbed into bed with her and I immediately wondered if the Sleepwatcher had returned, but as I read the story on this latest incident, it seemed obvious that this guy was just a drunk who wandered into the wrong house ala Robert Downey Jr during his lost years.

Nevertheless, my interest was piqued on whatever happened to the Sleepwatcher and I decided to do some searching. I searched for stories on the Sleepwatcher and Casmer Volk and this is what I discovered.

In September of 2008, after returning to Kittitas County, Volk was caught in a Washington woman’s apartment while she was showering. Volk was returned to North Dakota and his probation was revoked by Judge John Irby, who gave him one year with credit for 128 days served.

I can find no record of Volk’s release from jail in North Dakota, but he must have been released because he promptly went back to Washington state and started getting in trouble. In January of 2012, Volk was convicted of raping a four year old boy in Kittitas County. The rape occurred in May of 2011 while Volk’s girlfriend was babysitting the boy. I think Volk was sentenced to 28 years to life, but the link is no longer available online.  In early 2014, Volk’s attorney appealed his conviction and the appeal was denied. You can see the document here, but a word of caution, the details of his assault on the little boy are graphic.

I was pretty surprised to find all this information since I had no idea that he had such a criminal history outside North Dakota, but a few thoughts come immediately to mind. First, the Fargo area dodged a bullet with this sicko. To my knowledge, he never actually assaulted anyone during his time here, probably due to the fact that our police force kept him back on his heels once they were onto him. And second, I’m reminded why it’s important to take seemingly petty crimes like peeping seriously. This guy started out as a peeper, then became an intruder, and eventually went on to become a child rapist.

Kudos to the authorities who finally put him away.

Troy Larson is a Fargo resident, husband, father, writer, photographer, and President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC. Read more.

A Haunting: Our First Home

In the course of my life, I’ve had a few run-ins I would characterize as supernatural or paranormal, but the experiences we would have when we bought our first home would leave no doubt in my mind about the reality of the supernatural. With Halloween not far off, I thought this story would be appropriate. This is the first installment of that story, from the beginning.

We bought our first house in the summer of 2007. It was a beautiful, sun-soaked summer for the most part, until we started looking for a house. For about ten or eleven days straight, it rained. We ran around town with our realtor, checking out houses in a constant downpour. We learned to go in the basement first — it was so wet, if there were any problems with water in the basement, it was exposed by the weather. At the time we kind of took it as a blessing. We found a nice little home in North Fargo and bought it.

We didn’t have to make our first house payment for about sixty days, so we had the luxury of having the keys to our house while still living in our apartment for two months. We decided to take the move-in process casually, moving a little bit each day. Every day, I would leave work, drive up to the apartment, fill our Jeep with one load of boxes, drive it to the house and unload in the garage. When I arrived on day two, I started to notice little things.

The light in the basement was on when I arrived. There’s a switch at the bottom of the steps, and one at the top. I turned it off after I dropped off the first load yesterday. I was sure of it. And yet, there I was, looking down the stairwell at a lit basement. I unloaded my cache of boxes, made a production of turning off the light — “I’m turning off the light now” — and headed back to the apartment. I did not immediately mention any of this to Rebecca.

A couple of weeks later, we had moved enough of our belongings to begin spending the night in the house. So our family spent a Saturday taking apart our beds and reassembling them in our new bedrooms. By this time I had shared my experiences — with lights being on, etc… with my wife. She expressed some mild agreement as she had encountered the same thing… thinking she had turned off the light, but finding it on. So, we were on our hands and knees in our bedroom, putting together our bed frame. It was quiet in the house since our TV hadn’t yet made the trip. And out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something.

In my peripheral vision, I saw my son Cole walk into the room. Or that’s what I thought I saw. And in a reflexive fatherly moment, I stopped cranking on the socket wrench and sat up, hands on my knees, knocking back my baseball cap as I readied myself to answer the question that would inevitably come from my three year old boy. There was nobody there. I was looking at an empty spot in the room. And Rebecca was looking at me, looking at an empty spot in the room.

“What??” she said, alarmed. “Nothing,” I said. I had learned a long time ago to not make a big deal out of these things or Becky gets all freaked out. I tried to go back to work, but she wouldn’t let me. She made me tell her what I saw. A little boy in blue, walked into the room. I thought it was Cole. Becky had a little shudder and we went back to work.

This would not be the last time we encountered a small, child size apparition in our new home.

This is a mirrorpost from SonicTremorMedia.com. Read part two here.

Bridges of the Red River: Georgetown

I’ve always referred to this bridge as the Georgetown bridge due to its proximity to Georgetown, Minnesota, but I believe its official name is the Red River of the North Bridge, and it spans the Red in Cass and Clay Counties, joining Cass County 34 and Clay County 36.

Red River of the North Bridge was built in 1949 and rehabbed in 1993At a total length of 553 feet, this is definitely one of the more impressive truss bridges in the southern valley.

Some kind of alien carcass?

See part one – Bridges of the Red River: Center/NP Avenue

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

Bridges of the Red River: NP Avenue/Center Avenue

The Red River is the natural dividing line between North Dakota and Minnesota and it’s somewhat average as rivers go. But in the 1800s, as pioneers began to populate the Dakota Territory, the Red was a formidable obstacle and the bridges across the Red River became important corridors with cities sprouting up wherever a bridge spanned the muddy water.

Here we see three bridges in one shot:

On top, the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge on Main Avenue between Fargo and Moorhead. A white car can be seen on the bridge.

Just below that, you can see the dark colored NP Avenue Railroad Bridge stretching through the middle of the photo, and on the bottom, in the foreground, the distinctive orange NP Avenue/Central Avenue Bridge. That’s the bridge I’m focused on today.

This bridge was originally built in 1937, a replacement for an even older bridge, and rehabbed in 1987. Like many bridges these days, it is classified as functionally obsolete.

On the bridge, looking east at Center Avenue in Moorhead.

The same view in 1965, before downtown Moorhead was razed to make way for the Center Mall.

Beneath the bridge on the Moorhead side of the Red River, looking south.

This is the first installment in a series I hope will eventually be a photographic look at every bridge over the Red River between the origin at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Ottertail Rivers and the mouth at Lake Winnipeg.

See part two – Bridges of the Red River: Georgetown

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

Downtown Fargo Poster Art

Consider this a small folder dump… some things I’ve done that have been accumulating on my hard drive.

I like to snap photographs in downtown Fargo and then turn them into posterized, pop-art-type things. Make sure you click ‘em to see ‘em full-size.

Bank of the West

The Powers Hotel — “400 in Crimson”

The Pioneer Life building. — “Waitin’ for the Bus”

The former NP Avenue Railroad bridge in Moorhead, now gone.

What began as a panorama photo of the Quentin BUrdick Federal Courthouse in downtown Fargo ended up as a piece of propaganda art. — “Free Leonard”

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

DeLendrecies and the Depot: A Century in Fargo

The postcard below shows the scene in 1906 or 1907, looking southeast at the intersection of 6th Street and Main Avenue which was then known as Front Street.

A woman named Mrs. Shea sent the following note on this card:

Hello Margaret. I just got home from Fargo. Would send from there but did not have address. Now, even away, I think of you. Many thanks for the nice Xmas card. Will write you a letter soon. Hope you are well. Kindest regards from J. and myself. Write [something illegible] Don’t wait. Mrs. [first name illegible] Shea. Two Harbors. 2/22/06

In the postcard itself, take note of three buildings. Left of center, the Northern Pacific Depot wears the red and brown A-frame roof.  Right of center is the brown four-story version of the Fargo Waldorf hotel.  And right in between the two, a barely noticeable two story building — DeLendrecies.

The postcard above is a view from 1924 and as you can see, things have changed.  The DeLendrecies building in the center has grown to five stories, and the Waldorf on the right has sprouted a fifth story too. The historic DeLendrecies department store would later move to West Acres mall and subsequently got bought by Herbergers in 1998, ending a century in Fargo.

The scene in 2011.  The Waldorf is gone, destroyed in a fire on December 13th, 1951. The DeLendrecies building is now rental housing, and the depot is home to the Fargo Park District. The Bank of the West building dwarfs the whole scene from a block away.

Three views of the same intersection, spanning more than a century from 1907 to 2011. That’s the kind of thing that fascinates me, and I just thought I’d share.

See also: Fargo’s Front Street – 1909
See also: More of the Fargo Waldorf

The Original Fargodome

Some years ago when I was researching some historic Fargo happenings, I ran across an obscure webpage that featured a short blurb about a place called the Fargo Arena. If you know where Island Park Pool is, you’ve probably seen the remains of the Fargo Arena without giving it a moment’s thought.

The strange, seemingly out-of-place structure on the site of the Island Park pool shown above is a remnant of the Fargo Arena.

The structure above was once the entryway to the Fargo Arena, a giant indoor recreation facility which only existed for five years in Fargo. Essentially a massive quonset, Fargo Arena was huge.  According to a note written on the back of an early photograph, Fargo Arena was purported to be the largest building in the United States by floor space. It was reportedly dismantled after the flood of 1943 and moved to Hector International Airport for use as an airplane hangar.

Through photos housed at both the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies and the North Dakota State Historical Society (in a dated web presentation), we can follow the life of the place – here’s a photo of the building under construction.  Here’s a photo of the building in all its glory, and here’s another angle.  Here’s a photo which shows it flooded (1943). Here’s a photo from approximately 1945 which shows the building after the actual arena had been dismantled and removed. Please feel free to correct or add any information you might have in the comments below.

The WPA plaque above says the structure was built in 1939, but NDSU’s Institute for Regional Studies says it was 1938.  Where the arena once stood, the Island Park Pool now resides.

If you have any information about the former Fargo Arena, please make a comment below.

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

The Remains of a Red River Prohibition Bridge

During a bike ride with my family one summer, we ran across a historical marker along the Moorhead Red River bike path that told the story of Fargo’s connection to Moorhead Saloons during the prohibition era, saloons which were clustered around bridges on the Moorhead side of the river.  This historical marker has the photo shown below, and the accompanying text.

Moorhead’s saloons, many built on piers cantilevering out over the River, were clustered around the River’s bridges to be as close as possible to their North Dakota customers.. This photo looks over the Red River to the east from the top of the Case Plaza building in Fargo. Note the old North Bridge and Billy Diemert’s salon built on piers along the steep river bank. This marker is near the rear of Diemert’s former location.

In 1889, North Dakota entered the Union as a dry state. The state Constitution required all saloons to close in June 30, 1890. Soon after, thirsty North Dakotans flocked acros the river to drink in Minnesota. By 1900 Moorhead was home to 45 saloons and 3700 citizens.

Moorhead’s saloon business boomed until 1915 when Clay County finally went dry. Today, except for lingering rumors or bawdy houses and connecting tunnels, all that remains is the occasional broken bottle eroding from the river bank.

Photo courtesy of Flaten/Wange Collection, Clay County Historical Society

The photo below was taken from approximately where Diemert’s is shown in the photo above (the spot where American Crystal Sugar’s corporate headquarters is today), looking toward the bridge. All that remains is the old footing.

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

A Film Noir Restroom

Every time I get a weekday off, I treat myself to lunch at Bertrosa’s in the basement of the Black building in downtown Fargo.  After one recent lunch, I went hunting for the public restroom on an upper floor and apparently stepped through a time warp to a 1940′s gangster movie when I walked into this restroom.

Wowzers.  Hide the modern touches like the soap dispenser, put a trench and a fedora on an actor and you could shoot a period piece in this john. Cue the saxophone music.

“She came in with nothing but a green light on… she said, “Joe, I need your help.”

I had to be honest. This dame was bold, strolling into the men’s room like this…

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

A Disaster Began Here

The Great Fargo Fire of 1893 ended with most of the city burned to the ground, but did you know the fire began where this parking ramp now stands on Main Avenue in Fargo?

The Island Park parking ramp stands on the spot where Herzman’s Dry Goods once stood, one of two spots purported to be the origin of the fire. Winds were gusting to 30 miles per hour on June 7th, 1893 — a hot and dry Wednesday. Even today, if you’ve spent any time in Fargo, you know these windy days all too well. Rarely though do we give much thought to the danger that comes with a dry, windy summer day.

Through a quirk of historic bad luck, the fire department across the street was empty because the crew was out sprinkling the dirt streets. Had they been in the station that morning, they would have been perfectly positioned to stop the coming conflagration before it began.

The fire spread northwest, first jumping Front Street (now known as Main Avenue) and proceeding north.  It destroyed many of the buildings on the east side of Broadway, then eventually jumped across Broadway and burned all the way to the prairie on the west side of the city. The result was total devastation. 31 blocks of businesses were destroyed and over 350 buildings burned to ruin, including City Hall.

Firefighter W.H. Johnson reportedly died the following day as a result of burns sustained fighting the fire, however his headstone puts his date of death at June 9th, two days after the fire. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery near Hector International Airport. I spent a day shooting some Fargo spots and this was one of the places I had to photograph.

In the end, most of the city was destroyed, resulting in new building standards and a city rebuilt of brick, concrete and steel.

In this photo from 1909, you can see the same city block. The building at the far left, with the white cloth canopy over the sidewalk, is the rebuilt Herzman’s store. Note the brick construction of the entire block.  The fire might be the most important single historical event in the life of our city. And today it’s marked only by a parking ramp.

The fire was so long ago that those who lived through it have since passed, and we can no longer listen intently as the old-timers tell their stories.

For some interesting reading on the Great Fargo Fire, visit these links: Ghosts of North Dakota “The Great Fargo Fire of 1893,” John Caron’s “Fire of 1893,” and Fargo History Project’s “Fargo Fire of 1893.”

Troy Larson is the President of Sonic Tremor Media LLC and Founder of GhostsofNorthDakota.com

All photos copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC