Murder of Becker County man remains a mystery
Friends and family describe murder victim Chad James Swedberg, 33, as a good-natured jack-of-all-trades who almost always had a smile for a friend and loved the outdoors with all his heart.
But no one seems to have any idea why he died Friday morning, shot while processing maple syrup alone in the woods behind his home on Little White Earth Lake Road.
"We're treating it as a homicide, using all the investigative techniques you do with a homicide," said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon. "We're tracking every avenue possible, we're not leaving any door open."
Swedberg was found dead on the scene, on private property close to his own land across the road from the lake, Gordon said. The property owner is not a suspect.
A day-long search of the trails in the forested area, involving officers from a number of agencies, a State Patrol helicopter, and K-9 units, was "strictly precautionary, in case there was somebody in the woods," Gordon said.
"It would have been poor judgment not to bring in a helicopter and do a full ground search."
No one has been arrested in the case, and Gordon is being tight-lipped about the details. He won't say if there are suspects, who found the body, or what caliber of firearm was used.
That kind of information is "very integral to the investigation, which is very in-depth," he said. Veteran investigator John Sieling is heading up the case for the sheriff's department. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the White Earth Tribal Police Department are also involved in the investigation, Gordon said.
The BCA brought its mobile crime lab from Bemidji, staffed with three agents, a videographer and five forensic technicians, Gordon said.
The sheriff does not believe the shooting is related to the near-fatal shooting of a bow hunter in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge Nov. 3. That case remains unsolved.
"Even though we are pursuing all the evidence, we don't believe it is linked to the Waboose Lake incident," he said.
Swedberg was an outdoorsman through and through,
"He loved to be outside," said Tamie Jensen of Island Lake, who did Bible study with Swedberg and his wife, Leslie Fain. "And he was a very, very pleasant person to be with," Jensen said. "He was always good-natured -- always. Let me think if I ever saw him mad, or without a smile on his face..."
Jensen said she and her husband, Steve, often visited Swedberg and his wife. All are members of the Harvest Fellowship Church in Frazee.
"We've been going over to their house for about two years," she said. "We have supper together and sing. Sometimes it's fellowship and sometimes we're going through the Book."
Easter Sunday was the last time he went to church in Frazee, she said. "It's hard for people to think about that..."
She said Fain, one of her best friends, is a "very strong Christian woman," who struggles at times to reconcile herself to some of the history of the religion.
"He (Swedberg) is a little bit native -- a little bit more than me, I'm a little bit native, too. Leslie is native. We studied how white Europeans came in and tried to totally change everybody into Europeans, and how that doesn't work," she said. "We were working through some ways to make Christianity accessible and doable for native people."
She said Swedberg and Fain have been together for a number of years, and together they built their home on Little White Earth Lake Road, across the road from where Swedberg grew up.
Gordon said Swedberg's family owned the Almost Resort on Little White Earth Lake in the 1970s. He was the youngest of several children.
"Everybody liked Chad," Jensen said. "If you knew Chad, you liked Chad."
She said Swedberg and Fain made each other complete.
"They were really good for each other," she said. "Both have strong characteristics in different areas and they complemented each other ... she told me he was the best thing that ever happened to her."
She said Swedberg was a carpenter who "could build anything ... he's an outdoorsman who did everything you can do on the land -- make maple syrup, leached, trapped, hunted. He just loved being outdoors, he spent most of his life outdoors."
There was recent tragedy in his life, however.
In September of 2004, his 13-year-old nephew, Jerrid, fatally shot himself in an accident with a handgun at Swedberg's home.
The boy was handling what he thought was an unloaded pistol, but seven of the nine rounds in the chamber were loaded with .22 ammunition, according to a news story from the time. He died instantly from the wound.
The boy's father, Jerold Hurt of Moorhead, filed a wrongful death suit against Swedberg in civil court last year, alleging Swedberg was negligent in his handling of a key for his gun safe, among other allegations, and asking for more than $50,000 in damages.
In his legal response, Swedberg denied all allegations of wrongdoing and asked for the case to be dismissed and his legal expenses reimbursed.
The case was scheduled for jury trial July 31 in Becker County District Court.
Hurt's attorney, Charles Stock of Crookston, said he expects the civil suit to continue against Swedberg's estate.
"The bottom line boils down to why it happened and how did it happen -- that's the ultimate question, as in all civil cases," he said.
Swedberg's attorney, Paul Aamodt of Fargo, did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Rod Swedberg of Fargo told the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that "a million questions" shroud his brother's death.
"We cannot put together why," Rod Swedberg told Forum reporter Dave Olson.
"There's absolutely no reason whatsoever for him (Chad) to catch a bullet. It might have been an accident," he said, adding that if the shooting was an accident, the person involved should not be afraid to come forward.
Rod Swedberg described his brother as a carpenter and jack of all trades who could do anything when he put his mind to it.
Swedberg said Chad and another brother, Kenny, fixed up a sawmill and used it to build homes about 300 yards apart from each other.
"I'm proud of my brothers," Rod Swedberg said.