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Dave Roepke, Published August 07 2010

Case hinges on DNA of John Doe

Clay County prosecutors have a suspect in a jewelry store heist in Moorhead that was committed nearly two years ago. Charges are filed against him, and a warrant has been issued.

There’s just one problem: They’re not sure who they’re looking for.

The burglary, theft and property damage charges filed Wednesday in Clay County District Court were filed in the county’s first “John Doe” case. The charges are filed on the basis of a DNA profile from samples found at the scene on a handsaw and a half-swilled bottle of club soda.

The DNA will be added to state and federal databases. If there’s a match in the future, the complaint will be amended to include the defendant’s name, said Jenny Samarzja, an assistant Clay County attorney.

While it is Clay County’s first time filing a John Doe charge, Samarzja said it’s been used in some of Minnesota’s larger counties. In North Dakota, Cass County prosecutors have occasionally filed John Doe charges, most recently in June in a burglary case, according to court records.

“They’re kind of few and far between,” Samarzja said.

According to court records:

The charges stem from a burglary at Edie’s Jewelry on Highway 10 reported to police on Sept. 18, 2008.

The owner of an adjoining coffee shop reported his shop was broken into, and upon investigating, police found a hole 20 inches tall and 14 inches wide in the wall shared by the coffee shop and the jewelry store.

Nearly all the rings in the display case were stolen, valued at $27,690 by the owner’s estimate.

Investigators took DNA swabs off an opened bottle of club soda in the break room of one of the stores and from a saw left behind that appeared to have been used to cut the wall hole.

A DNA profile from the items indicated the suspect was male, but there was no match with any convicted offenders or DNA linked to unsolved crimes found in Minnesota’s DNA database.

It did match DNA found at the scene of a jewelry store in Yankton, S.D. The tactics used in the Yankton burglary are almost identical to those used at Eide’s, Samarzja said. A hole was cut in the wall of a less-secure building next door shared with a jewelry store, she said.

Samarzja said there is a similar unsolved jewelry store burglary in California, though she’s not sure if the DNA matches up in that case.

The decision to file John Doe charges was prompted in part by the high value of the items taken, and by the repeated use of similar methods, Samarzja said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535