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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Details of Doug Carlile’s slaying read like crime novel

It is not, to put it mildly, the kind of crime we’re used to.

Not on the South Hill. Not on the North Side. Not on the East or West Side. Not anyplace, really, outside of TV and the movies.

The slaying of South Hill businessman Douglas Carlile in his home last month was shocking – because that kind of thing just doesn’t happen in the leafy, comfy neighborhoods of town, and because there was almost complete silence about the case for weeks.

Then, when the first substantial details of the case emerged Tuesday, they were freshly astonishing for their pulpy intrigue. Sad as the case is, the affidavit of facts filed Tuesday reads like something out of an Elmore Leonard novel: Business partnerships gone wrong in a Wild West oil boom; churchgoing businessmen hooked up with shady silent partners; furious wheeling and dealing and conflict over efforts to sink a multimillion-dollar oil drill; the “Mexican mafia,” vanishing business associates and federal fraud investigations; and a bungling apparent killer, who dropped a glove with his DNA at the scene and who left a handwritten list, including “wheel man,” “wipe tools down” and “practice with pistol,” along with a black face mask, in his car for police to discover a month after the killing.

Which is to say nothing of the very, very strong suggestion that it was a murder for hire.

So far, police have only the alleged killer in custody. But the affidavit filed in the arrest of Timothy E. Suckow is fascinating for how much attention it pays to someone else: James Henrikson, a former business partner of Carlile’s with a lot of ties to the North Dakota oil boom, a long criminal record and a host of dicey relationships.

Henrikson and his wife were major – though unnamed – partners of Carlile’s in some North Dakota oil ventures, including an effort to get a multimillion-dollar oil-drilling operation underway. The partnerships were fraying and investors were lacking, and several people say that Henrikson repeatedly threatened Carlile over money he was owed.

Henrikson has not been arrested or charged with anything. He told investigators that he did not kill Carlile. And yet the documents filed in court Tuesday focus so intensely on him, and so little on Suckow, that there is little question what investigators think happened.

Henrikson is named around 80 times in the 13-page affidavit. Suckow is named nine times. The documents go into great detail about the relationship between Carlile and Henrikson. They don’t spend a word on any relationship between Carlile and Suckow.

Carlile’s three sons all told police that Henrikson had threatened their father. One son gave Douglas Carlile a loaded gun for protection. “If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back,” Carlile told one son, “promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it.”

A confidential informant also told police Henrikson had threatened Carlile repeatedly. He also told them Henrikson had looked into hiring a hit man with the Mexican mafia to kill another troublesome business associate.

Police say Henrikson is a suspect in the disappearance of a former business partner, as well as the subject of a federal fraud investigation.

One witness told investigators that he saw something in Henrikson’s home that looked like he was practicing writing Carlile’s name repeatedly. That witness also said Henrikson hadn’t paid him $6,000 for driving a truck for him; another witness said Henrikson bragged about having $20 million in the bank. Yet another one said Henrikson’s business reputation in North Dakota was so bad he had to continually change his business names so he could keep working there.

It is a massive amount of highly suggestive, if circumstantial, information, all compiled in a probable-cause affidavit for someone else.

One might conclude – though everyone’s lips are sealed on this one – that another shoe is hanging out there, waiting to drop.

“All I can say is this is an ongoing investigation,” said Monique Cotton, police spokeswoman, adding that the FBI and Homeland Security are also involved. “This is not concluded.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman .com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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