Search for fugitive Minnesota camp leader again turns to Spokane
Minnesota investigators left Spokane empty-handed in 2012 after hoping to nab a self-proclaimed minister accused of sexually assaulting girls and young women at a secluded camp north of Minneapolis.
Their attention has returned to the Inland Northwest after 59 criminal charges were filed last week against Victor A. Barnard, the 52-year-old reputed leader of the River Road Fellowship. A nationwide warrant has been issued for Barnard’s arrest, and the latest information places him in the Spokane area, where members of his group resettled.
Steven Blackwell, chief deputy for the Pine County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota, said Wednesday there’s no evidence Barnard has established a similar camp in the Spokane area. But court documents indicate known associates who relocated to the area have not been forthcoming with information about Barnard’s whereabouts.
The Washington State Patrol is asking the public to share any leads.
“The more we dig, the more we find,” Blackwell said.
A 38-page criminal complaint filed Friday in Pine County, Minn., an eastern county on the border with Wisconsin between Duluth and Minneapolis, details the allegations of two women who said they’d been selected as “maidens” by Barnard. He had sex with them multiple times at the camp between 2000 and 2009, they said. The women were 12 and 13 years old when the alleged assaults began.
Barnard reportedly told the maidens, who numbered about 10 and ranged in age from 12 to 24, that sex with him was normal “because it was in God’s word,” according to court documents.
Lt. Shane Nelson of the WSP said there was no indication Barnard has been engaging in similar activity in Washington state.
“There’s no evidence of any reconstruction of a camp,” Nelson said Wednesday.
One of the alleged victims told Minnesota investigators that members of the fellowship moved to Washington in the late 2000s while she was with another maiden in Brazil. Barnard’s driver’s license listed an address in Spokane, according to court documents.
A Pine County Sheriff’s Office sergeant flew to Spokane in November 2012 and questioned a businessman identified in court documents as Craig Elmblad, referred to as Barnard’s “right-hand man” by investigators. Elmblad told police Barnard had occasionally stayed at the home in Spokane but was not there at the time.
Elmblad could not be reached for comment Wednesday and did not return a message left with one of his employees.
Local law enforcement helped Minnesota investigators tail other suspected members of the group after they refused to answer questions about Barnard. Elmblad reportedly told investigators that it was “rude to follow people around,” according to court documents.
The parents of a purported victim living in Spokane refused to allow the sergeant entry into their home, according to court documents.