Back-to-back slayings in Fargo culminated in the random, fatal beating of a Bible teacher by a 35-year-old man strung out on drugs, according to charges filed Wednesday.
Ashley K. Hunter, who has no permanent address but is from Moorhead, Minn., was charged in Cass County District Court with two counts of murder and one count of arson in the deaths this week of Clarence Flowers, 45, and Samuel Traut, 24, both of Fargo. Hunter remained jailed Wednesday night.
Hunter allegedly first stabbed Flowers more than 50 times on Monday at a home in the 300 block of 12th Avenue N., then killed Traut with a hammer at his home early Tuesday in the 1100 block of 12th Street N. He lit several fires at that location before fleeing, according to the criminal complaint.
Traut, who grew up in the central Minnesota community of Sartell, was living in Fargo and was an active member of the Catholic student center serving North Dakota State University. Traut graduated in 2013 from NDSU with a degree in civil engineering and was working in his profession in Fargo.
Police say Hunter did not know Traut and probably was under the influence of methamphetamine when the attack occurred as the victim was getting his accused killer a glass of water late at night.
"Speaking with Lieutenant [Joel] Vettel last night at the crime scene," Police Chief Dave Todd said at a news conference Wednesday, "I believe he put it best: 'A good young man unknowingly opened his back door to a monster,' and at that point, Samuel Traut was murdered."
According to the charges:
Police arrived at an apartment on 12th Avenue and found Flowers dead, his body stabbed repeatedly with a large knife.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to a fire at a home in the 1100 block of 12th Street N., where Traut's body was found on the back porch. A bloody hammer was found on a shelf near the living room. Traut suffered numerous blows to his head.
"It also appeared that the suspect then attempted to burn down the house to possibly destroy any evidence," the complaint read.
Hunter was located and arrested about 7 a.m. without incident at a residence on University Drive N., where he had been staying and directly behind where Traut was killed.
The suspect said "he was upset with Flowers for stealing all his girlfriends, overcharging him for drugs and always showing Hunter disrespect," the charges read.
Hunter said he jumped the fence behind Traut's home, went to the back door and asked for a glass of water. Having seen his name and photo on the television news that night, Hunter said he feared that Traut would turn him in.
When Traut returned with the water, Hunter hit him with the hammer. Hunter said he had been using a lot of drugs lately, which made him paranoid.
Hunter said he hit Traut "a good three or four times" until his victim stopped fighting back, the charges quoted him as saying.
Traut taught Bible and other religious classes at St. Paul's Catholic Newman Center, located on the southeast edge of NDSU and just a few yards from where he was killed.
He "was a standout individual in every respect," said the Rev. James Cheney, the center's director. Traut attended mass every day and was a "man of tremendous virtue."
Fighting his emotions, Cheney added that Traut's death has been "really hard for our whole community."
Hunter's criminal history in Minnesota includes two convictions for theft and another for robbery. He's also been found guilty three times of giving police a false name and of trespassing. Most of the offenses occurred across the border from Fargo in Clay County.
In 2013, Hunter got caught up in a sexual threesome in Fargo that ended with him stabbing a 37-year-old man in the arm. Hunter entered an Alford plea in connection with the stabbing, meaning he recognized that authorities had enough evidence to convict him. He was sentenced to the 34 days that he had already served.