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'There's a murderer living amongst you' -- Family of slain North Dakota man continue quest for justice

Joel Lovelien, 38, was beaten to death outside of the Broken Drum Bar in Grand Forks the weekend before Halloween on Oct. 27, 2007, while in costume as a hockey player.

Joel 3 pounder June 26 2004.JPG
Joel Lovelien, shown in this photo from 2004, was murdered in Grand Forks in 2007.
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GRAND FORKS – It's been nearly 15 years since 38-year-old Joel Lovelien was beaten to death outside a Grand Forks bar.

His family is still seeking justice.

Erika Lovelien, Joel’s sister, and Judy Salo, Joel and Erika’s mother, say Joel was loved by his family and co-workers.

“He was brilliant. He was a geek. He was a computer nerd,” Erika Lovelien said.

Joel Lovelien, who worked as a technical systems analyst for Altru Health System, had gone to the Broken Drum Bar with his fiancee and a group of friends on Oct. 27, 2007 — the weekend before Halloween. Salo said while her son was there he heard someone was getting assaulted outside and went to help the injured person. That’s when Joel was beaten.

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When officers got to the scene Lovelien was unresponsive, and CPR was administered. He was pronounced dead shortly after being transported to Altru Hospital.

Finding the suspect proved to be a unique situation for the police who worked the case. Due to the night's proximity to Halloween, nearly everyone was in costume, including Lovelien, who was dressed as a University of North Dakota hockey player.

Among those interviewed by police was Travis Stay, who at the time was a UND nursing student. Stay, who was dressed as a lion the night of Joel’s murder, told police he had been heavily drinking and didn’t remember anything. One of the paws from Stay’s costume was found on the scene with Lovelien’s blood on it.


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Stay was charged with murder, though a jury found him not guilty in December 2008. During the trial, several different accounts were presented on who could have been the one to beat Lovelien outside of the bar. Erika Lovelien and Salo said they felt the trial was rushed by those working the case.

“They kind of just went ahead with it just to kind of satisfy us or the public,” Erika Lovelien said.

Notably, both Erika Lovelien and Salo believe Stay was not the one who killed Joel and believe the trial has had a large impact on his life.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Jeremy Moe said the department does receive tips on the case from time to time, and all new tips are followed to determine relevance.

GFPD Lt. Andrew Stein said Lovelien’s murder isn’t classified as a cold case, since a trial was held.

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Word about Joel’s murder has spread as documentaries, including one done by NBC’s “Dateline” in 2013, outlined the case. The documentary is often re-aired on NBC’s network.

Recently, Oxygen Network reached out to the Lovelien family to do a documentary. Erika Lovelien said her family was on board with the idea, but was then told the network wouldn’t be able to do the documentary since some of those who worked the case didn’t want to be interviewed.

According to Stein, the department was willing to go through with participating in the documentary, but since most of the officers who worked the case have retired or are no longer with the GFPD, there is no one left in the department to be interviewed for the broadcast.

Despite the Oxygen Network documentary not working out, Erika Lovelien and Salo said they want to continue sharing what happened to Joel since there are still many unanswered questions.

Erika Lovelien, who now lives in Montana, said she wants the community to be aware of her brother’s case as she believes many people have forgotten about his murder over the years.

“If I still lived in the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks area, I would want to know about an active murder case,” she said. “There’s a murderer living amongst you.”

Salo said she hopes someone will come forward.

“Somebody knows something in Grand Forks,” Salo said.

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Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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