Philip Gattuso's father-in-law was arrested in Oklahoma Monday night, suspected of conspiring to kill his son-in-law in a reported murder-for-hire.
Fargo police wouldn't comment Monday night on the connection between Gattuso's dead wife's father, 63-year-old Gene Carl Kirkpatrick, and the man charged with murder, Michael Allen Nakvinda.
But relatives of both Gattuso and the man charged with killing him said Monday that Gattuso's in-laws know Nakvinda and are trying to get custody of Gattuso's 3-year-old daughter after Gattuso's wife, Valerie, died in March.
An Oklahoma City TV station, News 9, reported on Monday night that authorities there said Kirkpatrick wanted Gattuso dead because he didn't like the way Gattuso was raising his 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, and paid Nakvinda $3,000 to kill the 49-year-old Fargo dentist.
The Kirkpatrick family is still in custody of Kennedy and has taken court action to try to keep her, said Roy Gattuso, Philip's brother.
"I don't know how much sadder this situation could be," said Roy Gattuso, who fears Kennedy is in danger.
Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus wouldn't say if Kirkpatrick hired Nakvinda or discuss the motive for his suspected involvement in the bloody slaying of Gattuso, who died of a head injury after he was beat multiple times with a hammer.
Claus did say that police think Kennedy is in safe hands.
Nakvinda, 41, of Oklahoma City, was charged Monday in Cass County District Court with murder, robbery, burglary and theft in connection with the Oct. 26 homicide.
Charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit burglary are expected to be filed against Kirkpatrick today in Cass County District Court, said State's Attorney Birch Burdick.
Kirkpatrick was arrested at 7:55 p.m. Monday at his home in Jones, Okla., near Oklahoma City, said Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes.
Nakvinda's brother-in-law, James Funderburgh, told The Forum that Nakvinda worked as a handyman in Oklahoma City and did jobs for Kirkpatrick and his wife Sharon, parents of Valerie, who died after living on an artificial heart for 18 months.
Roy Gattuso said after Nakvinda was arrested Saturday, Philip Gattuso's son, Philip Gattuso Jr., was "in total, total shock" when he saw the suspect's photo.
Philip Jr. recognized Nakvinda as being the man who was doing handiwork at the Kirkpatricks' home in Oklahoma City when he and his father visited Valerie there about a year ago, before her death, Roy Gattuso said.
Philip Jr. remembered the man because he had a scar that he attributed to a skiing accident, Roy said.
Last week, Roy said he was satisfied that Kennedy was in the temporary custody of Valerie's sister, Regan Williams. His tune changed considerably by Monday.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to obtain permanent custody of Kennedy," he said.
The Kirkpatricks are preventing Kennedy from attending her dad's funeral Wednesday in Louisiana, Roy Gattuso said, and are seeking emergency custody of her in Oklahoma courts.
Roy Gattuso said that the Kirkpatrick family wanted his brother to give up full custody of Kennedy after his wife's death and in the seven months since Valerie died have visited Gattuso in Fargo seven times.
Gattuso's friends in the Fargo area were immediately suspicious of his in-laws, Roy Gattuso said, but he never suspected "anything of such a horrifying nature."
Gene and Sharon Kirkpatrick did not return a message left at their residence Monday. They have not spoken publicly about Gattuso's death.
Claus said Kirkpatrick has been in Fargo since the Gattuso was killed.
Calls to Williams' listed phone number were not answered Monday, and there was no opportunity to leave a message.
Roy Gattuso said the Kirkpatricks "never wanted Val out of their house" and made it difficult for his brother to visit her in Oklahoma City as she was dying. "They have given my brother the hardest time anyone would want to have to undergo while their wife was in the hospital," he said. "The stories are endless."
Roy said he's aware of child abuse allegations the Kirkpatricks made against his brother, which he said were baseless and drove Philip Gattuso to seek psychiatric counseling.
Funderburgh, who has been married to Nakvinda's sister, Linna, for 23 years, said family members are "devastated" and in disbelief of the accusations against Nakvinda because "he's not a violent guy."
Nakvinda lived with his mother, Edith Wade, in Oklahoma City. Police questioned her when they arrested Nakvinda at the residence Saturday morning, said Funderburgh, who lives in Mesquite, Texas, a Dallas suburb.
"They actually called her and told her to come outside," he said. "She asked Michael, 'What is this about?' and he just, you know, he wouldn't answer her, wouldn't say anything. She didn't understand. She can't comprehend anything about it."
Funderburgh said his mother-in-law told him afterward that police questioned her "concerning this Kirkpatrick," and she was familiar with the name. He said his brother-in-law is naive and easily persuaded, and if he is responsible for Gattuso's death, he didn't act alone.
"His mother, of course, is just devastated," he said. "I talked to her last night, she could barely even talk. She's just beside herself."
A phone number for Wade was not in service.
Funderburgh acknowledged that Nakvinda has an extensive criminal past, which includes a 10-year prison sentenced for his role in a rash of brutal home invasions in 1993.
"He was basically just a soldier in that (case)," Funderburgh said.
"Michael's the type of person, you could sit down with him and in 10 minutes he would tell you his life story," he continued. "And I don't think he hid anything (about his past) from some of these people he actually worked for."
Funderburgh said Nakvinda is a movie buff who spends his nights at home and doesn't drink, smoke or go out to bars.
"It would have been very unusual for him to disappear," he said. "He told (his mother), 'Hey, I'm going out of town to do a job. I'll be back in a couple days.' "