Kurt Johnson Missing and Murdered
Kurt Johnson, a 54-year-old NDSU transportation researcher, was last seen alive at Cooperstown’s Oasis Bar on New Year’s Eve 2010. After falling off his barstool, the bartender suggested police escort him home, but a man with a machine gun tattoo had other ideas.
“We don’t need any … cops. We’ll take care of this,” said Daniel Wacht, the man who reportedly threw Johnson by his neck and waist into his van, the last time Johnson was seen alive.
Four days later, Johnson was reported missing. That same day, his severed head was discovered in the crawl space of Wacht’s basement. Wacht was arrested the next day, facing a charge of murder. The evidence included blood soaked boots and gloves, and a pistol in Wacht’s possession, of the same caliber as a wound in the severed head.
Jurors for Wacht’s trial in April 2012 reached a guilty verdict in under three hours. Prosecutors argued that he killed Johnson to make a statement for a white supremacist group he wanted to start. Wacht had been drawn to the Aryan Nation. The defense attorney countered that argument, saying that killing a white man would not attract recognition for Wacht’s cause. The attorney said, "Hint, guess and suspicion are not and can never be enough.”
Wacht’s conviction brought a sentence of life in prison without parole. He is serving his sentence in Bismarck’s state prison.
Wacht later appealed his trial, claiming a prosecution witness lied for personal gain and that his lawyer was ineffective. He also appealed for post-conviction relief. The North Dakota State Supreme Court denied those appeals.
The Griggs County Sheriff said the crime “shook the bones of” Cooperstown. The Oasis bartender took it hard, feeling it was her fault Johnson was killed. The small town murder even drew the attention of national true crime shows. And while Wacht was convicted and sentenced to life, Johnson’s body has yet to be found.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura