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Police lieutenant with a rap sheet had allegedly harassed missing North Dakota woman

In the new and perhaps final episode of Season 7 of the Dakota Spotlight investigative podcast, founder and host James Wolner looks into Schaffer, his long career at the Bismarck Police Department and how his paths crossed with Shelly Julson's before she disappeared in 1994.

Black and white newspaper clipping with photograph of Donald Schaffer looking into the camera.
In 1994, prior to her disappearance, Michele 'Shelly' Julson told friends that Bismarck police Lt. Donald Schaffer had been harrasing her. Two years later, Schaffer would take an abrupt, early retirement after being arrested for terrorizing and assaulting his girlfriend and threatening her life.
The Bismarck Tribune via Newspapers.com
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While investigating Michele Julson's disappearance in Bismarck in 1994, police detectives learned she had told friends and family that a Bismarck Police lieutenant named Donald Schaffer had been harassing her. Julson's cold-case file offers no indication that Schaffer was ever investigated or questioned about the harassment or Julson's disappearance.

In the new and perhaps final episode of Season 7 of the Dakota Spotlight investigative podcast, founder and host James Wolner looks into Schaffer, his long career at the Bismarck Police Department and how his paths crossed with Julson's before she disappeared.

Listen to Episode Nine — Frightened, Followed, Harassed

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

A lot of strange things were happening to Julson just before she fell off the face of the earth in August of 1994. Between anonymous hang-up phone calls at home, her car being vandalized, being followed home from work and an ominous automobile cruising past her front door at night, Julson was feeling harassed and on edge. Julson told friends that one of the people harassing her at work was a Bismarck police officer . . . named Don Schaffer.

Schaffer's rise to lieutenant was not without controversy and it abruptly ended in 1996 after Schaffer was arrested for allegedly terrorizing and assaulting his girlfriend. In her application for an emergency protection order against him, Schaffer's girlfriend said he threw her down some stairs twice and punched her in the face. "He was yelling he was going to kill me," she wrote.

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Bismarck Tribune article dated Jul 26, 1996 describing assault by police officer Donald Schaffer on his then girlfriend.
Two years after Michele Julson vanished, Lt Schaffer was arrested for terrorizing and assaulting his girlfriend. Before her disappearance, Julson had told friends Schaffer had been harassing her.
The Bismarck Tribune via Newspapers.com

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 actually happened to Shelly?

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People in this episode

(In alphabetical order)

  • Russ Bryant: Investigator for Burlington Northern Railroad
  • Bill Connor: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Officer Rob Carvell: Bismarck Police Department officer and patrolman, who responded to the Julson missing person report 
  • Larry Helfenstein: Shelly's friend
  • Tony Hulm: Shelly's latest on-again/off-again boyfriend, and a bartender at Burnt Creek Club
  • Linda Julson: Shelly’s mother
  • Michele "Shelly" Julson: a 26-year-old blackjack dealer and mother of 3-year-old Jaden, she went missing on Aug. 2, 1994.
  • Wes Julson: Shelly's father
  • Holly Ness: Shelly’s friend

  • Don Schaffer: Bismarck police officer and patron at Burnt Creek Club. Shelly told friends Schaffer had been harassing her at work.
  • Rick Snell: Did not return to work at Great Lines after Aug. 2, 1994 
  • Julie Thompson: investigator with the Bismarck Police Department.
  • Dennis Walls: Bismarck Police Department sergeant who was the initial and lead investigator on the Julson case
  • Jaden Woodworth: Shelly's son, 3-and-a-half years old when she went missing
  • 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. Shelly speculated that Jenny was responsible for hangup phone calls and damage to her car.  Jenny has denied any involvement. 

People in previous episodes

  • Chris Aziz: Bartender at the Elbow Room. Witnessed Shelly with two men Sunday night.
  • James Becker: Shelly's friend
  • Kim Borner: Shelly's friend
  • Walter Czerwinski: Retired Burlington Northern employee
  • John Drath: Wes Julson’s co-worker and acquaintance of Shelly
  • Clifford Emmert: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Jack Erhardt: Kevin Woodworth's foreman at Miller Insulation
  • Sheila Heil: Shelly’s boss and co-worker at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Darrel Helbing: One of two railroad workers kicked out of The Comfort Inn swimming pool at 3 a.m. on Aug. 3, 1994. The men were in the company of two unidentified women and a third man in a cowboy hat.
  • Mitch Maher: One of two railroad workers kicked out of The Comfort Inn swimming pool at 3 am on Aug. 3, 1994. The men were in the company of two unidentified women and a third man in a cowboy hat.
  • Robin Mostad: Shelly’s co-worker at The Elbow Room
  • 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.
  • Tarileen Olson: Blackjack dealer at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Mike Quinn: Agent at North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation
  • Amy Sansburn: Claimed she partied with Shelly at WE Fest.
  • Tammy Sumner: Shelly’s babysitter
  • Troy Schaner: Bismarck police officer who helped North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation's aerial search for Shelly's car
  • Nick Sevart: Bismarck Police officer
  • Carol Thomas: Assistant manager at The Fleck House hotel near The Elbow Room 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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