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Down the rabbit hole: Police misled by WE Fest sighting of missing North Dakota woman in 1994

In the latest episode of Dakota Spotlight, Forum Communications premier investigative true crime podcast, Bismarck Police continue to chase clues in the mysterious disappearance of Shelly Julson in 1994, and try to nail down the importance of several interesting sightings and reports.

A blurry screenshot of 1994 television news footage, with a chyron label describing the scene as a live shot from WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
A screenshot of historical TV news footage of WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, with Robin Huebner of WDAY TV in the foreground. Shelly Julson was reported to have been spotted at WE Fest in 1994, after she was last seen in Bismarck, North Dakota, a claim that was later disproven.
Submitted / State Historical Society of North Dakota
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It's always so simple in the TV crime-solver shows. There's one wrong theory, one wrong explanation, one blind alley. And then there's the real solution to the crime — the one cause, the one criminal, the answer that neatly wraps up the show in 30 minutes or less.

Real life is much more complicated, as police investigators found as they struggled to untangle what happened to Shelly Julson, gone missing in August 1994.

Listen to Episode Number 3 — Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe

Get Dakota Spotlight on your favorite podcast app Apple | Spotify | Google

In episode three of season seven of Dakota Spotlight: Police files reveal Bismarck investigators chased multiple trails of evidence, grilled associates of Julson and vetted supposed sightings of Julson, in Minnesota and elsewhere in North Dakota.

They faced many puzzling questions, questions re-examined by a second police investigation years later, and now, Dakota Spotlight:

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  • Was Julson one of two women partying with railroad workers and kicked out of the pool at the Comfort Inn?
  • Why had a patron of the Burnt Creek Club mysteriously gone missing for a week following Julson's disappearance?
  • What was Julson really doing on that Sunday night before she disappeared? Why does so much of what everyone knows about Julson in the days before her disappearance based on the account of one man, Tony Hulm — Julson's on-again, off-again boyfriend and a bartender at the Burnt Creek Club?

About Dakota Spotlight, Season Seven: 'Call Me Shelly — The Mysterious Disappearance of Michelle Julson'

In this season of Dakota Spotlight, creator, host and Regional Emmy Award-winner James Wolner looks into the cold case of 26-year-old Michelle "Shelly" Julson, who vanished from Bismarck, North Dakota on Aug. 2, 1994. Granted exclusive, unprecedented access by police to the cold-case file, Wolner presents a play-by-play review of the initial investigation and further examines the strange events surrounding Shelly's life and her disappearance.

With the aid of new interviews with Shelly’s friends, family and retired police investigators, Wolner dives into the shadows of Shelly’s world at the time — Bismarck’s bar and gambling scene — and tracks the movements of several persons of interest. All in an attempt to answer the biggest questions of the case: What happened to Shelly? Where is she now?

Gallery - Browse with arrow on right

People in this episode

(In alphabetical order)

  • Chris Aziz: Bartender at the Elbow Room. Witnessed Shelly with two men Sunday night.
  • Russ Bryant: Investigator for Burlington Northern Railroad
  • Bill Connor: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Clifford Emmert: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Larry Helfenstein: Shelly's friend
  • Robin Mostad: Shelly’s co-worker at The Elbow Room.
  • Tony Hulm: Shelly's latest on-again/off-again boyfriend, and a bartender at Burnt Creek Club
  • Wes Julson: Shelly's father
  • Linda Julson: Shelly’s mother.
  • Bonnie Munsch: Shelly's friend and coworker, worked with Shelly at the Burnt Creek Club the night before Shelly vanished. Bonnie felt Shelly did not seem her usual self that night.

  • Amy Sansburn: Claimed she partied with Michelle at WE Fest.
  • Don Schaffer: Bismarck police officer and patron at Burnt Creek Club. Shelly told friends Schaffer had been harassing her at work.
  • Nick Sevart: Bismarck Police officer
  • Rick Snell: Did not return to work at Great Lines after Aug. 2, 1994 
  • Tammy Sumner: Shelly’s babysitter
  • Julie Thompson: investigator with the Bismarck Police Department
  • Dennis Walls: Bismarck Police Department sergeant who was the initial and main investigator on the Julson case
  • Kevin Woodworth: Shelly's former boyfriend and Jaden's father
  • Richard Woodworth: Jaden's paternal grandfather and the last person to acknowledge having seen her when she dropped Jaden at 104 American Ave.
  • Jenny Yantzer: Barmaid at Burnt Creek Club. Michelle speculated that Jenny was responsible for hangup phone calls and damage to her car.  Jenny has denied any involvement. 

People in previous episodes

  • James Becker: Shelly's friend
  • Kim Borner: Shelly's friend
  • Officer Robbie Carvell: Bismarck Police Department officer and patrolman, who responded to the Julson missing person report 
  • Jack Erhardt: Kevin Woodworth's foreman at Miller Insulation
  • Linda Julson: Shelly's mother
  • Michelle "Shelly" Julson: a 26-year-old blackjack dealer and mother of 3-year-old Jaden, who went missing on Aug. 2, 1994
  • Tarileen Olson: Blackjack dealer at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Mike Quinn: Agent at North Dakota bureau of criminal investigation
  • Troy Schaner: Bismarck police officer who helped North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation's aerial search for Shelly's car
  • Carol Thomas: Assistant manager at The Fleck House hotel near The Elbow Room bar
  • Jaden Woodworth: Shelly's 3-year-old son 
More from Dakota Spotlight
Exclusive
Wes and Linda Julson haven't yet given up on the hope of finding their daughter, Michelle "Shelly" Julson, who went missing from Bismarck on Aug. 2, 1994, they tell the Dakota Spotlight podcast, which is reinvestigating the cold case aided by the police file on Shelly's disappearance.

Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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