The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Racist Decapitation Murder Shakes Small North Dakota Town

By Bill Morlin on August 3, 2012 - 2:53 pm, Posted in Extremist Crime

The small North Dakota town of Cooperstown has been forever changed by its first murder in 80 years – a brutal decapitation-killing carried out by a racist, a state’s attorney says.

“There are doors locked now that weren’t locked before, said Marina Spahr, the assistant state’s attorney for Griggs County, the Jamestown Sun reported Thursday.

The 984 residents of Cooperstown “look at strangers twice now, before they invite them into their lives in some way,” the prosecutor said at the sentencing of Daniel Evan Wacht, a 31-year-old from California with a lengthy criminal record.

State District Judge Jim Hovey sentenced Wacht to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Jamestown newspaper reported. Wacht was convicted by a jury on April 24 of felony murder in the death of North Dakota State University researcher Kurt Johnson, 54, of Cooperstown.

Only the victim’s head – found buried in the mud in the basement crawl space of Wacht’s rental house across the street from the county courthouse – was found.  Authorities believe the remainder of the victim’s body may have been transported to Minnesota.

In sentencing Wacht and ruling out the possibility of eventual parole, the judge cited the murderer’s extensive prior criminal record in California and his refusal to cooperate with law enforcement and disclose the whereabouts of Johnson’s remains.

The victim’s brother, Kory Johnson, read a statement, urging the judge to never allow Wacht out of prison, the Jamestown newspaper reported.

“Our family will never be afforded the luxury of parole from these nightmares and Dan Wacht should never be afforded the luxury of parole,” Kory Johnson said. “Daniel Wacht can never walk out of prison a free man; the only way he can come out is in a pine box. Or after what he did to my brother, a trash bag may be more appropriate.”

Johnson, a North Dakota State University researcher, was last seen about 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2010 leaving the Oasis bar in Cooperstown in Wacht’s van.

Five days later, after Johnson had been reported missing, authorities sought to question Wacht, who was arrested as he stepped out of a mid-1990s minivan carrying a loaded 9mm Glock handgun, Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook previously told Hatewatch.

Shortly before the killing, Wacht “had made the statement that he was going to start an Aryan Nations movement by either blowing something up or killing someone,” the sheriff said.

  • delllat

    both are white
    a white racist kills another white man.

  • kathy

    It doesn’t matter to me what color you are, we should all learn to love each other and live in peace and harmony. My heart goes out to both families in this case.

  • kathy

    I think all hate crimes are racist. We should all learn to love one another

  • Joseph

    Paloma, I’m guessing Mr. Johnson was black, and Mr. Waht was white.

    Now, Mr. Waht says he wants to kill someone, or blow something up, and then start an Aryan Nations Chapter after doing said dirty deed.

    ….And then he decapitates a “target” member of a race that he does not like. I think that can be considered both a racist murder, and a murder by a racist.

    So I’m going to go with A and B.

  • Paloma

    I don’t understand. Is this a racist murder or a murder by a racist? From the photo of Mr. Johnson I’ve seen, he appears to be white.

  • Jesus Christ

    Guns are the evil work of the Devil….lay down your arms and walk in peace, brothers. As my Father is losing his patience with all of you.

  • Erika

    Sam, according to the newspaper article he stole it which is likely the most common way that felons obtain guns. And that alone should be reason to realize that keeping guns in your house does not make you safer – all it does is make you a target. People who break into houses looking to steal don’t do it when people are there – and stolen guns are relatively easy to move (of course, if we had mandatory gun registration that wouldn’t be the case – intelligent law abiding gun owners should support registration for that very reason).

  • adamhill

    Nothing in the story you linked supports the claim that police and the district attorney were “too scared” to do anything. This gives the impression that you flung out your post like a tantruming adolescent, without any consideration for facts.

  • Aron


    Why am I not surprised this was the story you linked to? It’s old news. And it just goes to prove that black folks are the only racists, right?


  • Al

    The below links to an incident the police and district attorney were too scared to call racist.

  • Sam Molloy

    Assuming his extensive criminal record includes a felony or two, you might mention that this individual was breaking the existing laws by possessing a firearm. There should be an investigation into where he got it, and another one into why he was turned loose on a law abiding public by the State of California.

  • CoralSea

    What a horrible man! I’m glad that he is locked up.