Sarff saga is a tale of three lives

EAGLE BEND, MINN. -- For years, neighbors driving past the Jim Sarff farm southwest of town sometimes would catch a glimpse of Jim's wife, Connie, working hard in the fields. Jim, a wiry guy with a thick brown mustache, would be driving the tractor; Connie, a thin woman who'd borne him six children, stacked hay bales. When she was done, she'd go in the house and make her husband's dinner.

Jim was clearly the boss.

He's tried to control most anyone who's crossed his path. Over the years, Sarff, 50, has confronted, threatened or bullied dozens of people -- from township board members and implement dealers to neighbors and members of his own family.

He's beaten his wife and harassed neighbors; he's carried a camera to photograph and intimidate people, and once spent an afternoon in a courtroom just to glare at someone who'd crossed him a few years earlier.

But no one has suffered more than Connie Sarff, 49, who left her husband 18 months ago after a 30-year marriage scarred by brutal abuse that sent her to the hospital.

Two weeks ago, just before divorce papers arrived at his farm, police say Jim snatched his estranged wife from her Long Prairie apartment in the middle of the night. After a brief struggle, he dragged her naked down a flight of stairs and left behind a trail of blood, according to a criminal complaint.

David John, a friend and co-worker of Connie's who was in the apartment, called 911. Jim and Connie were gone by the time police arrived. A neighbor who peeked out his door said he saw Jim in the hall after hearing the noise.

Two days later, John committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a hunting rifle. In a note he left behind, he apologized to his family and friends, writing that he felt responsible for two deaths. Authorities said the note didn't mention Connie or Jim by name.

The next day, authorities charged Jim Sarff with kidnapping his wife.

For two weeks, rumors and fears swirled around Eagle Bend and Long Prairie, small towns along a two-lane stretch of Hwy. 71 in central Minnesota. Many, including members of Connie's family, clung to the hope that Connie was alive.

As authorities searched the countryside for a husband and wife, residents wore yellow ribbons of hope.

On Saturday, after two weeks of wondering about their fates, authorities arrested Jim Sarff at the Mexican border. Connie Sarff was with him.

 

James Warren Sarff was born on St. Patrick's Day in 1949, the oldest of Warren and Mabel Sarff's six children and a descendant of a founding family of Eagle Bend.

A quiet, competitive boy, he grew up on his family's farm and attended Eagle Bend High School. He joined Future Farmers of America, but most of his time after school was spent working the farm with his father and siblings.

Jim didn't talk much about his home life, but court records and interviews indicate that Warren physically and mentally abused his wife and verbally abused at least one child. A restraining order against him issued in 1974 said he had a "violent temper" and "continually mentally harassed" the family.

Court records don't mention physical abuse of the children, but Jim came to school on crutches for a time. He told people that he had been injured in a farming accident, but he later confided to his friend Randy Taber that his father had beaten him and broken his leg.

Connie Oftedahl grew up on a nearby farm owned by her parents, Dale and Darlene Oftedahl. She was quiet and slim, with deep-set hazel eyes and long, brown hair. She had a sparkle about her -- though shy, she was popular and friendly, and she caught Jim's eye. He asked her out. A year younger than Jim, she was excited to be dating a senior.

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