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Dave Roepke, Published March 29 2011

Search for body in Cooperstown murder case expands

FARGO – The search for the body of a Cooperstown, 54-year-old last seen alive on New Year’s Eve is expanding 250 miles east.

Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook said Tuesday investigators think Daniel Wacht traveled to Crosby, Minn, Jan. 4, the day before police say the head of Kurt Johnson was found in the basement of Wacht’s home in Cooperstown with one gunshot in the forehead.

Wacht has been charged with murdering Johnson, a case still awaiting trial.

Johnson’s body hasn’t been found, and searchers won’t resume looking for it until the spring melt clears snow away, Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook said.

Hook said investigators think Wacht drove his 1995 red GMC Safari van to the Crosby area on Jan. 4, going south and east on state highways or secondary county roads.

It’s believed Wacht then returned to Cooperstown by way of U.S. Highway 10 and the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, Hook said.

Authorities are asking people to keep their eyes peeled for any plastic trash bags partially covered near those routes. Johnson was last seen wearing a bright blue puffy down-type coat, jeans and western boots.

“We’re hoping maybe somebody saw something,” Hook said.

Hook urged anyone with information about the case to call the sheriff’s office at (701) 797-2202.

Crosby is a city of about 2,300 people in Crow Wing County, 250 miles east of Cooperstown and 150 miles east of Fargo-Moorhead.

Hook wouldn’t specify what makes investigators think Wacht drove to Crosby Jan. 4. He did say Wacht had been there before on a “social visit” in late 2010 and was likely somewhat familiar with the terrain.

“We’re very, very confident he was in that area” on Jan. 4, Hook said.

Court records allege a witness saw Wacht throw Johnson into the back of the van at about 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve after the two had been drinking together at Oasis Bar in Cooperstown.

Wacht was arrested Jan. 5, after the severed head was allegedly found hidden in his basement after a series of search warrants.

His next court appearance is a preliminary hearing set for May 27.