In April 2019, four people were killed in Mandan in what is considered one of North Dakota’s more notorious crimes. Several days later, Chad Isaak of Washburn was arrested and charged with the murders. After two years of court procedures and delays, Isaak’s trial finally began on August 2, 2021. Jury selection took two days and, on August 4, opening statements and testimony began. The trial ended August 20, 2021.

In addition to live streaming coverage of the trial, KX News also kept a rolling reporter’s notebook of what happened in the courtroom, tracking the events and testimony as they unfolded and updating it all online.

It is not a trial transcript reflecting every word spoken in the courtroom. It’s a series of information summaries of what was happening, transcribed as quickly as possible by the reporter. As a result, some sentence structure and other grammatical usage errors may be noticeable.

Below is the notebook from the trial coverage exactly one year ago today:

The Trial

8:00 a.m.: Day 4 of testimony in the Chad Isaak trial is expected to start today at 8:30 a.m. The prosecution is expected to call former Medical Examiner Dr. William Massello III to testify today, among a host of other witnesses. The trial started Monday, August 2. Jury selection took two days. Testimony began August 4.

8:37 a.m.: The jury is brought in.

8:32 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding. Discussion among attorneys and the judge related to photos that will be admitted into evidence today.

Judge David Reich

8:38 a.m.: Witness called — Dr. William Massello III, the former North Dakota Medical Examiner. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Massello details his training and expertise over a 40-year career. Explains what an autopsy is, what is performed, what is looked for in the procedure. The State Medical Examiner would always do autopsies in cases of suspected murders, suicides, people who died in police custody and other suspicious or unusual deaths. Autopsies can take an hour to three hours, depending on the manner of death and injuries to the body. Prepares a report on the autopsy for official use.

Witness Dr. William Masello III

Massello performed the autopsies on the four victims in the April 1, 2019, RJR killings. All four victims arrived at different times at Massello’s office on the evening of April 1, 2019. Massello says individual “blood spot cards” are made for each victim, which contains a blood sample from each victim.

Massello describes his findings during the autopsy of each RJR victim. Investigators were also present at each autopsy:

Dr. Massello pointing to information on a diagram for the jury
  • William Cobb: Performed this autopsy on April 2. Testifies there were a minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 gunshot wounds to the head, chest, both arms and the right shoulder. More than one wound may have been caused by the same bullet, which is why he stated a range. Also testifies there were 28 stab wounds to the front of William Cobb’s body. Massello testifies he did not find any gunshot residue around the head wound. Testifies it was not a survivable wound. Testifies the bullet was the size and kind used by a 38 caliber, 357 caliber or a 9 millimeter weapon. Testifies no gunshot residue was found in the chest wound. Testifies that suggests the shot likely came from several feet away. Testifies the chest wound was also fatal. Says the bullets were jacketed hollow points. Says they are bullets that will mushroom or expand as they travel through the body and usually not exit the body. Massello testifies a bullet wound to the right shoulder was likely not fatal. Testifies the medical evidence suggests the bullet wounds to WIlliam Cobb’s arms likely went through the arms and caused other wounds to the body. A total of 3 bullets were recovered by him from William Cobb’s body. He testifies he was also told a bullet had been recovered near William Cobb’s body. Testifies there were 28 stab wounds on the front of William Cobb’s body ranging from the collar bone down to the abdomen. The stab wound sizes were differing sizes, from a half inch to three-quarters of an inch. Testifies the wounds were likely caused by the same weapon, penetrating to different depths, resulting in different sized wounds. Some of the stab wounds were to the heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder and the pancreas. Couldn’t determine whether the stab wounds came before or after death. Estimates all the injuries could have been caused within minutes, perhaps 5 to 10 minutes. No evidence of alcohol or drugs in William Cobb’s system. Massello testifies he found evidence during the autopsy that William Cobb was suffering from pulmonary emphysymia. Says the cause of death was gunshot wounds and stab wounds. Says William Cobb’s death was classified as a homicide.

9:49 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a recess until 10:10 a.m.

10:12 a.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak resumes, Judge David Reich presiding. Continuation of direct examination of Dr. William Massello III, former State Medical Examiner who performed the autopsies on the four victims of the RJR killings. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld.

Prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld
Witness Dr. William Massello III
  • Lois Cobb: Massello performed this autopsy on April 2, 2019. Testifies there were 48 stab wounds to the front and back (15 to the back alone from the neck to lower pelvic bone), cutting wounds to the neck and face (deep cutting wounds to the left and right sides of the neck), two stab wounds to the left arm and a single gunshot wound to the chest. Testifies there had to have been a change in her posture to sustain the wounds on the front and back. Says one possible explanation for that would be multiple altercations with an attacker. Testifies there were 16 wounds to the neck and face alone and 5 deep cuts to the neck, with 2 particularly deep cuts to the left and right sides. Testifies the deep cut on the left side of the neck cut the carotid artery, which would have been lethal in a maximum of six minutes. Testifies there was bruising on Lois Cobb’s forehead, creating a hematoma. Testified that could have occurred from a blow to the forehead, falling forward, or if the head was held, squeezed and moved back and forth. Testifies there were 10 stab wounds to the front of Lois Cobb’s chest and 15 to the back and a number of superficial wounds all around. Says the stab wounds injured the internal organs of the chest: 4 wounds to the heart area (1 of which went through the heart) and stab wounds to the lungs, liver and stomach. Testifies the stab wounds could have been caused in a few minutes — five minutes would not be abnormal at all to cause this many stab wounds. Several of the stab wounds would have been lethal. Testifies a knife hitting a bone could have damaged the tip of the knife. Says there were three stab wounds to Lois Cobb’s side. Massello says many of the backside stab wounds went deep into the chest wall. Testifies Lois Cobb could have been moving after the stab wounds. Testifies the gunshot wound to the chest featured stippling, an area of small red dots close to the wound entrance made up of bits of metal or powder from the firing of a weapon. Testifies this means the weapon was in contact with or in close contact to where the gunshot wound was found. Massello testifies Lois Cobb had a hysterectomy recently. Testifies that the surgery would not have contributed to her beath. This death was classified as a homicide.
  • Adam Fuehrer: This autopsy was conducted on April 3, 2019. Testifies Fuehrer had 3 gunshot wounds, two to the back and one to the right upper chest from the front. Also had 5 stab wounds to the neck and 3 to the upper chest and 3 stab wounds to the right side of the back. Testifies the front and back wounds could indicate Fuehrer may have turned during the assault. No residue found around the gunshot wounds, suggesting the gun was at least three inches away or more when fired. Said the first bullet recovered from Fuehrer’s chest wound appeared to be similar to the bullets recovered from William Cobb. Testifies the gunshot was lethal because it damaged the aorta and a person would lose blood very quickly. Second gunshot wound was in the upper portion of Fuehrer’s back. Testifies he was able to recover that bullet as well. Testifies the second bullet appeared similar to the first bullet he recovered from Fuehrer and to the bullets recovered from William Cobb. The third gunshot wound was to the right lower chest area from the back and went through Fuehrer’s body. Testified there were 11 stab wounds total to Fuehrer’s body. Massello testifies the 5 stab wounds to the right lower neck area were clustered near where large blood vessels are located, suggesting it was a targeted area. Testifies the same knife that caused the stab wounds to Adam Fuehrer could be the same knife used on Lois Cobb and William Cobb. Testifies the stab wounds were not immediately lethal wounds. Testifies Fuehrer could have died within 5 minutes. Testifies all the injuries could have been caused in about two minutes. Testifies the onset of rigor mortis in Adam Fuehrer’s death could have started within an hour. Nothing found in Fuehrer’s system that could have contributed to his death. Also notes Fuehrer had pulmonary emphysema and atherosclerosis. The gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen were the primary cause of death with the stab wounds contributing to death. This death was classified as a homicide.
  • Robert Fakler: This autopsy was conducted on April 3, 2019. Testifies Fakler had 11 stab wounds, and numerous cutting wounds to the front of the face. Of particular, 3 stab wounds to the front of the chest “which gravely injured the heart” and 2 to the left side of the body and 3 stab wounds to the back. No gunshot wounds to Fakler, which Massello found suprising, considering the others were shot multiple times. That and the fact Fakler had mutilating stab wounds to his face, which were not present in the other victims. Testifies it is possible all the stab wounds to the four victims could have been caused by the same knife. Testifies three stab wounds cut into the heart, including a cut of the coronary artery, a key blood sdupply to the heart. The cuts to the heart were lethal, saying Fakler could have died within 10 seconds to five minutes. The most significant injuries in the cuts to Robert Fakler’s face were the swipes and cuts to the face. Some of the cuts may have come from Robert Fakler being in a “defensive posture,” that is, trying to protect himself from his assailant. Massello testifies some cuts to the palms of his hands and left upper arms are indicative of what is called “defense posture” cuts. Massello testifies the injuries to Fakler could have been inflicted within minutes, perhaps five minutes. Nothing in Fakler’s system that could have continuited to his death. Testifies Fakler had pulmonary emphysema and severe atherosclerosis. Notes all three men were smokers, which may have been responsible for their cases of emphysema. Says Fakler died from stab wounds to the chest. His death was classified as a homicide.

Looking at all four persons killed, Massello notes all but one had gunshot wounds and the bullets associated with the gunshot wounds appeared similar, consistent with a 38 caliber, 357 caliber or 9 millimeter weapon. All had stab wounds and the wounds are consistent with the same weapon being used. Testifies all the injuries could have been caused within 21 minutes. Also testifies it is possible all the wounds could have been caused by one person.

11:49 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a lunch recess. The trial will resume at 1:10 p.m.

1:12 p.m.: The Chad Isaak trial has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding.

1:13 p.m.: Cross-examination of Dr. William Massello III, former ND Medical Examiner who performed the autopsies of the four victims of the RJR killings. Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Massello testifies that law enforcement is often in with him during an autopsy. Quick reviews with Massello the procedures for handling evidence and retention of evidence during each of the four victim autopsies.

Defense attorney Bruce Quick

Quick is reviewing all the injuries Massello found during the autopsies, counting the totals for each person.

Massello reiterates he cannot determine the order of injuries in each case. But he does say the deep cuts to the neck of Lois Cobb are not likely the last wounds she suffered.

Massello testifies he has not visited the RJR building.

1:22 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Massello says decisions on what to do with evidence such as nail clippings and hair samples are at the discretion of law enforcement, not him. Testifies despite differences in depths of knife wounds as noted in his reports, they all could have been caused by the same knife cutting into the bodies at different depths. Testifies it was possible the assailant could have gone between the victims, attacking one, then another and then returning to a previous victim.

1:26 p.m.: Witness called — Brent Wilmeth, Mandan Police Department Sergeant. Reviews his training and experience. Responded to the RJR crime scene on April 1, 2019. Was one of the people who had to be on hand for the autopsies of the four victims. He and others take custody of evidence taken from the body and answers any questions the medical examiner may have related to the bodies. He was there to ensure the chain of custody of evidence taken from the bodies.

Witness Brent Wilmeth

Describes how he collected and preserved the evidence to maintain its integrity and how he maintained chain of custody in bringing the evidence from the medical examiner back to the Mandan Police Department.

Testifies the autopsies were completed on April 2 and April 3, 2019. Was present at each autopsy. Collected clothing, personal items, blood spot cards and bullets collected from the bodies.

Wilmeth is being asked to review all the items of evidence he collected during the autopsies of the RJR victims, testifying to the integrity of the evidence. Describes the information attached to each piece of evidence.

1:43 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Wilmeth testifies he arrived at RJR around 7:45 a.m., on April 1, 2019. Doesn’t recall all the people who were on the scene when he arrived. Testifies a gun was found in Jackie Fakler’s vehicle. Testifies he followed up on a tip on April 1 that an employee at RJR who had been fired had been involved in drugs and was involved in a recent fight involving drugs. Testifies he also followed up on a tip that there was a shop party at RJR over the weekend before the murders. Supposedly, members of a group showed up and were mad at getting kicked out. Another tip involved two tenants of properties managed by RJR who had allegedly stolen two 9 millimeter firearms from properties managed by RJR. Followed up on a tip that on March 30, Robert Fakler tried to buy a vehicle at Puklich Chevrolet and was upset.

1:49 p.m.: Re-direct by Karlei Neufeld. Testifies the weapon found in Jackie Fakler’s vehicle was not determined to be connected to the RJR killings. Testifies investigators determined the weapon in Jackie Fakler’s vehicle was not linked to RJR. Followed up on the gun tips. Says investigators did not find any connection between those guns in the tips and the RJR killings. Testifies tips about drugs or drug paraphernalia did not have anything to connect with RJR. Testifies there were hundreds of tips in the case, all followed up.

1:50 p.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Wilmeth says he didn’t specifically follow up on every tip. Testifies with the tips he had, he followed up to see if there was any connection to the RJR killings.

1:52 p.m.: Witness recalled — Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent Joe Arenz. Arenz previously testified on August 5. Testifies to what information investigators hope to learn from an autopsy. Said they were looking for a knife and a handgun both before and after the autopsies. Says the autopsies did not change anything in their belief one person was involved in the killings. Says investigators tried to put together an order in which the victims were killed. Since none of the murders were captured on video, they couldn’t determine the order in which they were killed. Says the surveillance video at RJR indicated William Cobb and Lois Cobb arrived at RJR on April 1, 2019 around 6:30 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. Then the suspect arrived around 6:47 a.m. At 7:01, Adam Fuehrer arrived and at 7:06 a.m., Robert Fakler arrived. Within a few minutes after that, the suspect left the building.

Witness Joe Arenz

Investigators theorized that the attacker could have gone back and forth between various victims. Another possibility was the victims were killed in a particular order: William and Lois Cobb, then Adam Frueher, then Robert Fakler.

Arenz says investigators also considered the possibility that one or more of the four victims were specific targets of the assailant and the others were killed to prevent any potential witnesses.

On April 1, 2019, Arenz testifies interviews were being done of employees at and arriving at the scene. About 50 interviews were conducted on April 1 and 2, 2019 alone. Mandan Police did interviews and BCI agents later conducted interviews. On April 1, investigators considered all RJR employees suspects since the crime was at RJR and involved RJR people. Arenz testifies they interviewed all RJR employees. They also interviewed some RJR employees multiple times, including Jackie Fakler.

Arenz testifies they had “persons of interest” at the start of the case. One was RJR employee Mitch Kessel, who was at the scene and left the scene and returned when requested. As law enforcement was trying to gather the RJR staff, Mitch left in a vehicle some described as similar to the suspect vehicle — a white Ford pickup — and later returned to the RJR scene. Mitch was then interviewed. Arenz testifies nothing came of the interview to link to the RJR killings.

On April 1, 2019, Jackie Fakler was also considered a person of interest. Arenz testifies he interviewed Jackie multiple times. She was a suspect because she worked at RJR and her husband was killed and the fact that, later, investigators discovered Robert Fakler was having an affair. Investigators also looked into her financial records and RJR’s financial records. Jackie received a life insurance payout following the death of her husband. But Arenz testifies they were able to rule out financial gain as a motive for Jackie Fakler in Robert’s death. They also investigated the affair since that was a possible motive. Lisa Nelson, the person with whom Robert Fakler was having an affair, was interviewed. Arenz testifies nothing came from the interviews. They found nothing significant related to the RJR killings. Arenz testifies he and other investigators told Jackie Fakler about the affair on April 30. Based on that interview, investigators determined she was not aware of the affair until agents told her about it on April 30.

Testifies investigators received a tip from Michelle Palin. She said she once worked at RJR and said she overheard Jackie say she would never divorce Robert and that she would have him “taken care of.” Following an interview with Jackie, determined if she did say that, she did so jokingly. Testifies they ruled out the affair as a motive or link to the RJR killings.

Testifies they were able to rule out Jackie Fakler as having any involvement in the RJR murders.

Other tips: Received information about Lois Cobb’s son, Todd Miller. Testifies he had a rocky relationship with William and Lois. They excluded Todd Miller as a person of interest and were able to determine Todd Miller was out of North Dakota on April 1, 2019 at the time of the killings.

Arenz says investigators received hundreds of tips. Nothing came from those tips relating to the killings.

He testifies investigators received a tip from a McDonald’s employee about a possible suspect wearing a ski mask walking along Memorial Highway and got into a white Ford pickup. The tip came from Angela Davis.

2:20 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Arenz testifies there were about 21 BCI agents between April 1 and April 4 working the case. Says were focusing on any direction they could go in the investigation. Looked at lawsuits, evictions, terminated and present employees for potential leads. Testifies investigators found reports of some former tenants that were upset. Testifies when an arrest was made, the investigations took a different turn. Testifies didn’t believe a second person was already in the building at the time of the killings. Says if there was a second person, they would have been seen leaving on the surveillance video. Testifies there was a report of an investigation into Mitch Kessel. Testifies can’t say if there was an investigation into Mitch Kessel owning a white Ford pickup. Says learned about the Robert Fakler affair on April 2 or April 3. Lisa Nelson was interviewed on April 4.

2:27 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Karlie Neufeld. Arenz says investigated upset tenants and lawsuits, considered them as possibilities, but says none were related to the RJR murders. Testifies there is no evidence in the RJR surveillance video of a second suspect arriving or leaving the scene. Testifies they interviewed Mitch Kessel. Says Mitch Kessel was on scene at RJR at the time the suspect RJR vehicle was found at Indigo Signs.

2:29 p.m.: Judge David Reich calls a recess. The trial will resume at 2:50 p.m.

2:53 p.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding.

2:54 p.m.: Witness called — Angela Davis, Mandan McDonald’s employee. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Testifies worked a 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. shift at McDonald’s. Davis noted a person walking across the street around 7:30 a.m., wearing a ski mask on April 1, 2019. Says she noticed this because it was a warm morning, about 40 degrees and it seemed there was no need for a mask. She was taking an order out to a customer when she saw the man. He appeared to be coming from the Northland Insurance area along Memorial Highway. The man was wearing a plain black coat, black jeans, what appeared to be black footwear. She says the mask was a brown camouflage with green leaves. Says he walked to a white pickup truck parked in the McDonald’s parking lot. Says she thought he looked 5′ 9”, “kind of tall,” she testifies. Noticed the snow covering the back license plate. Thought it was odd to have snow since it was a 40-degree day. Says it was a Ford F-150, 4-door, “a cab and a half.” Says she knows her vehicles which is why she can be so specific.

Witness Angela Davis

Testifies he was trying to get into the pickup. Tried to get in the passenger side which was locked. Walked to the driver’s side which was locked. Went back to the passenger side, opened the front passenger side and then the back passenger door. Spent about 3-5 minutes before the person got into the pickup and left. Says he was still masked as he drove past her. Says he drove along a frontage road from McDonald’s and then onto Memorial Highway.

Testifies the vehicle got her attention because it seemed out of place. Says she probably watched the masked individual for 3 to 5 minutes.

3:09 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Davis says she was interviewed several times by law enforcement. Doesn’t remember saying the vehicle was a Ford F-250. Told officers the man was 5’9″ and skinny. Reiterates the face mask was a brown camouflage. Told officers the person was wearing boots.

3:11 p.m.: Re-direct by Gabrielle Joy Goter. Davis says she is “100 percent sure” it was a white Ford-150 and the man was wearing a black coat and brown camouflage. Says his height was a guess on her part.

3:13 p.m.: Witness called — Derek Bernier, Williams County Sheriff’s Office detective, Williston. Outlines his experience and training. He is trained in video forensics.

Witness Derek Bernier

Bernier says he was contacted to assist with the RJR investigation on April 1, 2019. Arrived in Mandan between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. His primary assignment was to extract data from a DVR surveillance system at the RJR Maintenance and Management building. Exported video from about 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., on April 1, 2019. Was looking for any evidence of the crime in that time period. Says there were 2 interior surveillance cameras, one in the warehouse area, one in the office area. There were 5 exterior cameras. Testifies there was no footage of the attacks on the victims. It’s not unusual for that to happen.

Bernier says, in reviewing the tapes, he found 5 people entering the building: The 4 victims and the suspect. The suspect arrived at 6:42 a.m., real time (6:47 a.m. on the DVR timestamp. testifies the DVR time was consistently off by 5 minutes from real time). Says the suspect left at 7:08 a.m., DVR time (7:03 a.m. real time). Bernier says the video showed an individual walking into the warehouse wearing an orange-toned coat and orange-toned ski mask and dark pants, shoes, orange gloves. Says the suspect appears to be carrying some kind of wire tool. As the suspect leaves, there appears to be a dark object in the suspect’s hands. He seems to be carrying it in a football style, that is, cradled in the upper chest. His jacket is also open more, revealing a darker tone clothing. The video changes from color to infrared video, based on the amount of light. Says the suspect is still masked.

Testifies there were five who went in that morning and one who came out before police arrived. Says there was no indication of a second person coming in or leaving.

Bernier says he and another officer canvassed Memorial Highway for potential video evidence from businesses along the road. A tip told of a white pickup truck at McDonald’s. Using that tip, they were able to follow the white Ford pickup as it left McDonald’s and left town by matching the vehicle to surveillance video of businesses along Memorial Highway.

Looked for a specific white pickup with a white substance, or snow, on the rear license plate. In the videos he reviewed, did not see a similar snow characteristic on the backs of similar-looking vehicles.

Reviewed surveillance video from McDonald’s. Next, Loman Motors video showed the vehicle pulled into their parking lot and turned around and exited onto the Memorial Highway and then west on Main Street. Reviewed other businesses that had surveillance video to, essentially, follow the vehicle through Main Street and out of town. Saw it on Flying J surveillance video on Old Highway 10. Then north on Highway 25.

Next view of the vehicle was in Center, ND on Security First Bank surveillance video. Saw the white pickup with snow on the rear license plate. Used an image from that video to put out a “Be On The Lookout” bulletin to law enforcement.

Estimated it took about half an hour to go from the Flying J to Center. Looked for evidence that could have been thrown away on the road to Center, ND. They found nothing.

In addition to the snow, there were some specific rust patterns on the truck and identifiable objects in the back of the vehicle and cab. These items helped them follow the specific vehicle they were following.

A gas station surveillance camera captured the vehicle crossing a bridge near Washburn.

Reviewed additional surveillance video. Were able to see an individual in the vehicle. From Big O Tires video, an individual is seen walking around a vehicle at Indigo Signs and then walk to McDonald’s.

Testifies he believes they successfully tracked the suspect vehicle through the surveillance videos.

3:49 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Jesse Walstad. Bernier explains the difference between a video analyst and a video technician.

Defense attorney Jesse Walstad

Bernier testifies the video evidence indicated only 5 people in the building at the time of the killings at RJR on April 1, 2019.

Says, after extracting the videos, he passed them to another agent, Alex Droske, to examine.

Says the characteristics of the vehicle they were looking for included the snow on the rear license plate and a rust pattern.

Acknowledges that the videos tracking the suspect moving from Indigo Signs to McDonald’s is not uninterrupted, that there is a 40-second gap where the suspect disappears behind a tree row. Says not every video from different surveillance systems will be perfect or show the same quality, frame rate or aspect ratio, and that was the case in the multiple videos he reviewed.

4:02 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. About the 40-second gap between the individual on video going from Indigo Signs to McDonald’s. Bernier explains while the individual disappears in a tree row briefly in the video, he says you do see the individual before and after the tree row in a short period of time.

4:05 p.m.: Judge David Reich recesses the trial for today. The trial will resume Tuesday, August 10, at 8:30 a.m.

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