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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Cannibalism suspected in Bonner County killing

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 21, 2021

James David Russell is suspected of killing 70-year-old David M. Flaget in Bonner County.  (Bonners County Sheriff's Office)
James David Russell is suspected of killing 70-year-old David M. Flaget in Bonner County. (Bonners County Sheriff's Office)

Police in Bonner County say a homicide suspect may have eaten parts of his victim, according to new court documents filed last week.

Investigators arrested James David Russell, 39, in September on suspicion of killing David M. Flaget, who was 70 when police found him dead in his pickup truck.

Russell’s brother and sister called police from their land on Lower Mosquito Creek Road in North Idaho to report that a man was unresponsive in his vehicle, according to the affidavit. Bonner County deputies found Flaget laying in his truck with signs of head trauma and other injuries. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

An autopsy conducted by the Spokane County Medical Examiner reported Flaget died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck. Coroner Dr. Veena Singh also found evidence of postmortem mutilation on several parts of Flaget’s body, according to court documents. Several pieces of flesh have never been recovered, the affidavit said.

Investigators searched Russell’s apartment in the town of Clark Fork, Idaho, according to the affidavit and found tissue “consistent with flesh missing from Flaget” according to court documents. The flesh was later confirmed to be the victim’s.

Police also seized a bloodied bowl and microwave from Russell’s residence. The Idaho State Lab confirmed these items had Flaget’s DNA on them, according to the affidavit.

Flaget’s autopsy recovered some tissue described as “thermal artifact,” or an indication that heat was applied to that particular piece of tissue but not the entire body. According to court documents, Singh told investigators she could not identify the heat source but indicated it could have been a microwave.

Bonner County detectives cooked a sample of pig skin in a microwave to test the theory, according to court documents. These tests showed similar traits to the thermal artifact found during the victim’s autopsy.

Investigators also learned that in May, the San Diego Police Department responded to a hospital where Russell’s brothers told officers their sibling once described cutting some of his own skin off because he believed it would help his mental state.

On Oct. 7, judicial officer Tera Harden ruled Russell was “unfit to proceed” and he was given a court-ordered mental competency evaluation, according to Idaho’s Odyssey court records portal. Those results are not yet public.

Russell is accused of first-degree murder and is set to have a review hearing Dec. 28 in Bonner County Magistrate Court, according to the Odyssey portal.

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