Why did police grill a 'clown,' 'cowboy' and 'hunter' about the Joel Lovelien slaying?

As police responded to the scene of the beating death of Lovelien in Grand Forks on Oct. 28, 2007, they quickly zeroed in on three costumed partiers that night: a clown, a cowboy and a hunter.

police tape marks off a night crime scene lit by lights from police cars nearby
Police cars and police tape surround the scene of the crime at the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks in the early morning hours Oct. 28, 2007, in this police evidence photo, lightened in post-processing by Forum News Service to show additional detail. Joel Lovelien, 38, was beaten to death in this parking lot that evening.
(Editing by Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service, photo courtesy Grand Forks Police Department)

GRAND FORKS — The police quickly arrived to the scene: a dark, car-lined parking lot outside a rowdy bar.

This was the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks, in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2007. Outside, in the lot, was Joel Lovelien, a 38-year-old local dressed like a college hockey player for the Halloween revelry inside.

Episode No. 2 — The Clown, the Cowboy and the Hunter

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Lovelien had been severely beaten. Officers tried CPR, but they could not get a good airway, and they couldn't get a pulse. An ambulance took him away. He would later be pronounced dead. For police, the job was just beginning.


As the investigation turned into a murder investigation, they rounded up witnesses at the bar and beyond. Their interest quickly zeroed in on three individuals, all easily remembered for their costume choices that night, amid an evening of customed, drunked revelry: One was dressed as a clown, another as a cowboy and a third was dressed as a hunter.

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There were others there in costume that night, including a gangster, a bum, a joker, a penguin, and more. But those previous three — the clown, the cowboy and the hunter — garnered attention by police and remain, for some people in Grand Forks, suspicious in the case even though someone else was eventually charged for Lovelien's murder.

In Episode 2 of Season 8 of the podcast, Dakota Spotlight explores the immediate aftermath of the Lovelien slaying, following police as they sort through witnesses, and new information and tips flowing in throughout the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2007. The podcast rides along as police figure out a crucial detail from the night that allowed them to sort out who might have done what, and to whom.

About Dakota Spotlight, Season 8 — Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien

Joel Lovelien was beaten to death outside the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2007, amid a night of Halloween revelry. Nobody has ever been found guilty for his murder.

Suspicion immediately fell on a variety of costumed partiers that night, including some dressed as a lion, the joker and a hunter. Local police and prosecutors thought they had their man, the one dressed as a lion that night: Travis Stay. But Stay was found not guilty in December 2008 in a high-profile trial -- a sensational result that has made the case a staple of true crime shows, including the Dateline TV program.

Welcome to Dakota Spotlight's eighth season: "Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien." With unprecedented access to case files and evidence, prosecutors, police, witnesses and family members, Dakota Spotlight creator and host James Wolner will use his unique investigation and reporting style to pursue the case's central questions: Who killed Joel Lovelien? Why was Travis Stay found not guilty? And why does so much suspicion linger around others in this case?


People in this episode

  • Anna Barrett: Dressed as Paris Hilton and left the Broken Drum arm in arm with James Wavra. Witnessed altercation with Travis Stay.
  • Jon Deziel: Dressed as a clown. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Mike Ferguson: Grand Forks Police sergeant.
  • Heather Holter: Party bus passenger and Jon Deziel's girlfriend.
  • Jennifer Holter: Party bus passenger and sister to Heather Holter.
  • Bryce Larson: Dressed as a cowboy. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Erika Lovelien: Joel Lovelien's older sister.
  • Joel Lovelien: 38-years-old, a technical systems analyst for Altru Hospital. Joel went to the Broken Drum bar with his fiancée Heather Eastling, then later went outside to take the phone call. He was found beaten to death in the bar's parking lot.
  • William Macki: Grand Forks Police sergeant.
  • Travis Stay: A reveler at the Broken Drum bar that night who was driven home with blood on his lion costume. He was later charged with Lovelien's murder and found not guilty in December 2008.
  • James Wavra: Dressed as a Hunter. Involved in a short fight with Travis Stay. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.

People in previous episode

  • Paul Balstad: A taxi driver in Grand Forks the night Lovelien was killed, he drove Travis Stay home and noticed he was dazed, had blood on him and looked like he had been in a fight.
  • Heather Eastling: Joel Lovelien's fiancée.
  • Keith Swartz: Discovered Lovelien in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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