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Kenneth Engie

Kenneth Engie was found dead

Kenneth Engie was found dead

A man dies from carbon monoxide poisoning, but was he murdered?

On October 4, 1988, police in Edmore, North Dakota, began an investigation into the death of a local auto repair man—27-year-old Kenneth Engie.  Kenneth was discovered in his own garage by his uncle.  The cause of death was determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning.  Initially, police viewed it as a suicide.

But, almost immediately, some of the evidence began to contradict the suicide theory.  Why was a fully loaded rifle found six feet away from Kenneth’s body?  There was a small pool of blood on the floor … where did that come from?  Even more puzzling was the fact that the car ignition had been turned off.  If Kenneth had, in fact, committed suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide, then who turned off the truck’s engine?  Kenneth Engie’s family insisted that suicide was out of the question.  But, if foul play was involved, who had a motive and the opportunity to commit the crime?  Within 12 hours, the police found a potential suspect who had both.

At 2:00 AM on the night Kenneth died, only two customers remained in a local bar—Kenneth, and Curtis Heck, another auto repairman.  According to Curtis, the bar was about to close when he and Kenneth got into a drunken scuffle:

“We was rolling around on the floor wrestling, and a bunch of dumb stuff.  There was some punches thrown back and forth but nobody really got hurt, and at one point I got him down on the floor and I held him down there, and I said, I’m going to let you up and when I let you up I want you to just go walk out the door.”

According to Curtis, Kenneth retaliated moments later: 

“I heard the crash out front, and I knew what it was soon as I heard it.  And I seen my pickup out there, it had been broadsided.”

They fought over the waitress

They fought over the waitress

Heck decided to get even.  About an hour later, he and the bartender drove to Kenneth’s home, where they saw Kenneth’s truck parked in the driveway:

“I heard a noise coming from the garage, a groaning sound, so I went around to the back door, and I opened up the door and went in.  I should have realized, you know, that there was something wrong with him, but, I didn’t.  I was mad at him anyway.  Any other time, if I’d have seen somebody on the floor moaning and groaning I certainly wouldn’t have left him there.  But you know, the guy had just smashed my pickup all to pieces, and I figured he was sick from drinking so I figured go ahead and spend the night on the garage floor.”

According to Larry Wobbema, Chief of Police for the Edmore Police Department, this was the last time Kenneth was seen alive: 

“I believe that Kenneth Engie, when he was in the garage, and it became cool, started the vehicle, sat there and waited for Curtis Heck to come to the garage for the confrontation that was bound to happen.  Realizing that something is happening to him, at this point I believe he turned the vehicle off that was in the garage, a pickup, started to head for the door, and didn’t quite make it to the door before he collapsed.  Time passed, and he died waiting for Curtis Heck.”

However, Kenneth’s uncle, Richard Nygaard, believed that his nephew heard Curtis kicking his truck and then fought with him when he came into the garage:

“He fell down and probably was knocked unconscious, and Curtis just shut the door and walked away and then realized the truck was running and come back, and went in and shut it off.  With a sealed garage, there was still enough carbon monoxide fumes in there to still do somebody in.”

Several puzzling questions continue to loom over this case.  Did Kenneth start up the truck to keep warm until Curtis Heck arrived?  He was a trained mechanic and certainly knew the lethal possibilities of running an engine in a small, enclosed space, unless alcohol had impaired his judgment.  But if a drunken Kenneth did start the truck and was overcome by fumes, how could he have had the clarity of mind to cut the ignition, but still be unable to reach the nearby door?  And finally, if it was not Kenneth who turned off the ignition, then who did, and left him on the floor to die?  Many years have passed since Kenneth Engie was found dead and his family still believes that the whole story is yet to be heard.