Pollie Johnson, a cheerleader and gymnast at West Fargo High School, was the victim of a 1976 murder in her secluded home on the Sheyenne River. Dixie Olson, a 29-year-old mother, was found dead in her West Fargo home six months later. While the first two murders were still under heavy investigation, the body of another West Fargo High School student, named Billy Wolf, was recovered from the Red River. Today, these incidents are still some of the highest profile murders the area has ever seen. The story of the murders, investigations, legal proceedings and the effect on the community are revealed Robert Dodge’s new book titled "Prairie Murders." Due out in August, Dodge’s book uncovers a number of things that have never been revealed to the public.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from NDSU in 1967 (he also earned a master’s degree in education from NDSU in 1973) and a brief tour in the Army, Dodge began his teaching career in West Fargo. Active in the community and a teacher of Johnson, Wolf and two informants who helped solve two of the murders, he witnessed firsthand the havoc these crimes caused the community. The North Dakota and Clay County cold case units are still pursuing the other murder.
Now a Singapore native, Dodge began writing "Prairie Murders" after reading John Grisham’s "An Innocent Man." The book sparked a memory of when he taught a unit on law at Singapore American School. "The students always enjoyed hearing my stories about the murders in West Fargo," Dodge said. "I thought there could be an underlying theme of social chance and in my 30 years overseas I have always enjoyed telling people about North Dakota, ‘the nexus of the universe,’ as one of my friends mockingly says of my descriptions."
Dodge begins a two-month promotional tour for "Prairie Murders" in August. He will return to Fargo for the 2009 NDSU Homecoming week, Sept. 28 to Oct. 3, for a book signing at the opening of the new location of the NDSU Bookstore and to speak to several business and political science classes.
Open forums and book signings also are planned for Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. at the West Fargo Public Library, and Thursday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Fargo Public Library. Dodge will sign books and discuss his North Dakota heritage, his relation to the case and how he gathered the material for the book.
Dodge also is the author of "The Strategist," a book about Thomas Schelling, the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics. Dodge retired from teaching in 2006. He is currently working on a third book.