Reporter's discovery of murder suspect's apparent belongings in dumpster prompts police response
FARGO — A reporter for the High Plains Reader, Fargo's alternative weekly, found in a north-side dumpster a trove of personal materials, including diaries, believed to belong to murder suspect Brooke Lynne Crews and has used them to write a profile of her in the publication's latest issue.
Fargo police posted a response to C.S. Hagen's 4,600-word cover story on its Facebook page on Thursday, Dec. 7, because "there may be some question as to why this material was left in the apartment or found in a dumpster."
After Crews and her live-in boyfriend at the time, William Hoehn, were arrested in connection with the killing of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and the abduction of her newborn baby, investigators combed through the couple's apartment looking for evidence.
In the Facebook post, police said, "We do not take personal items such as journals or paperwork that we feel don't have evidentiary value to the case. They are left at the property."
The post said that after Crews and Hoehn were arrested "they apparently didn't make any arrangements for people or family to take possession of their property within the apartment."
Fargo Police Chief David Todd said on Thursday, "There wasn't any new information we saw in the article. We conducted a number of search warrants and went all through this stuff. If it had evidentiary value to it, we collected it as evidence. If it didn't have evidentiary value, we photographed it and left it behind."
Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick added, "What is interesting to the public imagination and relevant to the court are two different things."
Todd said investigators removed 154 items of evidence from the apartment and took more than 1,100 photographs.
Hagen's article, entitled "In the Mind of Brooke Lynne Crews: A Look into the Life and Secret Thoughts of the Main Suspect," is based on a remarkable collection of materials — detailed journals containing highly personal thoughts, annotated calendars, love letters believed to have been written to Hoehn, Christmas cards, medical and tax records, college psychology textbooks, and more.
Hagen found the materials in a dumpster a block away from the apartment building on Ninth Street North in Fargo where LaFontaine-Greywind lived with her family in a basement apartment, and the suspects lived on the third floor.
The reporter does not say in the article whether he discovered the materials himself or was given them, but when contacted Thursday he said he found them himself within the last two weeks. Apparently they were thrown out when new tenants were moving into the suspects' former apartment.
Hagen said he was surprised by the volume and types of material he found, but also "disappointed." He added, "Most of the stuff from 2017 and 2016 wasn't there. Police apparently took everything from the recent years."
Although Chief Todd said he is confident Hagen does not possess any materials that would be valuable to the case, he said police will be contacting him and would like to look at what he found.
"I think we've seen it before, but we just want to be on the safe side and be sure," Todd said.
When Hagen was asked if he would show the materials to police if they requested to see them, he said, "If they come with a search warrant. If not, no."
When told what Hagen said, Todd laughed. "We'll talk to him," he said, "and see where things go from there."
Crews and Hoehn have each been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping in the death of 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind who disappeared in August while eight months pregnant and whose body was found in the Red River eight days later.
When police raided the couple's apartment in August and arrested Crews, they found a newborn child, which proved to belong to LaFontaine-Greywind and her boyfriend Ashton Matheny.
Todd and Burdick said there was nothing illegal about Hagen taking personal property from a dumpster. However, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, raised questions about whether everything Hagen did was ethical.
Lee Wilkins, a professor emeritus and co-author of a textbook on media ethics, said there was nothing wrong with Hagen looking for information in a dumpster or even publishing details from someone's journal. But she questioned Hagen's reporting of information about Crews' health history, which he based on hospital records.
He doesn't say how he obtained those records, but hospitals are forbidden by law from releasing such information.
"Publishing her medical records is an invasion of privacy," she said.
Wilkins paramount ethical concern, however, is whether Hagen can prove that all of the materials he found, such as the journals, actually belonged to Crews.
"How do they know that the diaries are genuine?" Wilkins asked. "Did they talk to the person who they say wrote it? Did they get any kind of confirmation?"
When asked how he knows all the materials he found belonged to Crews, Hagen said, "That's self-explanatory." He refused to elaborate. Quizzed on what proof he has that the materials are authentic, he said, "I'm not going to tell you."