2012 Nelson Distinguished Service Award
On December 16, 2011, Tracy Alan Zornes received two life terms without parole for two counts of First Degree Murder as well as 48 months for First Degree Arson and 30 months for Auto Theft. The convictions and sentencing came after a 3 ½ week trial in Clay County Court in which approximately 45 witnesses testified.
This case involved the brutal murder of 25-year-old Megan Londo of Natahwaush, and 21-year-old John Cadotte of Moorhead in the early morning hours of February 19, 2010. After a particularly violent attack in which Megan Londo received massive head injuries as well as stab wounds to the heart and ears, and John Cadotte was struck more than 20 times on the head with a blunt object and then stabbed in the heart, kidneys, ears, and brainstem. The apartment in which the murders took place was then set on fire.
At approximately 7:07 am on February 19, 2010, units from the Fire Department and the Police Department responded to a fire at the apartments located at 909 9th Avenue South in Moorhead. After successfully evacuating the other apartments, fire fighters extinguished the primary source of the fire in the basement apartment. It was in that basement apartment that they located the badly burned remains of the two victims. Fire Marshal Rich Duysen had responded to the scene and immediately recognized that it needed to be secured, preserved and processed as a crime scene. He stopped fire fighters from moving the bodies and initiated the proper venting of the premises so that it could be processed, thus preserving critical evidence in the early stages of the investigation.
Detective Ryan Nelson also responded to the scene and was assigned as the primary investigator of the police investigation. Along with the Minnesota Fire Marshal’s Office, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agents and crime scene personnel, the processing of the scene was initiated and took over ten hours. Critical evidence including blood splatter and the removal of smoke detectors were obtained from the scene.
Interviews of neighbors, witnesses, and other follow-up soon led Detective Nelson and Special Agent Jaeche of the BCA to believe that the suspect had left the area in John Cadotte’s car. Within 24 hours the investigation also established Tracy Zornes as a person of interest in the case and the search for him commenced.
On Sunday morning, February 21, 2010, John Cadotte’s car was located on a rural gravel road in Mahnomen County. The vehicle had been abandoned, set on fire, and was completely incinerated. Detective Nelson, S.A. Jaeche and Fire Marshal Duysen responded and along with BCA Crime Scene personnel, and processed the vehicle. The processing of what remained of the vehicle resulted in finding critical evidence: burned, but identifiable circuits from a smoke detector. The smoke and CO2 detectors had been disabled and removed from the murder scene. Detective Nelson and S.A. Jaeche continued to work the case relentlessly. Over the next five weeks, numerous persons were interviewed in Moorhead and in Mahnomen County. Some of these people had been contacted by Tracy Zornes since the murders. Zornes did not admit to the killings; however, he repeatedly admitted to being at the scene when they occurred and gave differing stories as to the facts surrounding his actions that night. During one such interview, on March 4, 2010, Detective Nelson and S. A. Jaeche were able to gain information as to an isolated area in rural northeastern Mahnomen County in which Zornes was believed to be camped out.
Accompanied by two Mahnomen County Investigators Nelson and Jaeche searched an area in which fresh footprints were located in the snow hidden under a tree branch. The investigators followed the tracks for about 200 yards and located a makeshift campsite. Tracy Zornes was located in a tent at the site and was taken into custody. The campsite was secured and processed as a crime scene after a search warrant was obtained.
The investigation continued even after a Grand Jury returned an indictment of Tracy Zornes. The final disclosure of material in this case totaled over 5700 pages. Over 100 people were interviewed and three crime scenes (the apartment, the vehicle and the campsite) were processed. S. A. Jaeche produced 30 supplement reports during the investigation and Detective Nelson produced 105 total reports.