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Arson suspect to husband: 'Don't look at me like that' -- Jury hears how case came together in Andvik trial

Tara Andvik

MOORHEAD - Four fires had already scorched the Matt and Tara Andvik farmstead near Barnesville when he called police on Oct. 17 to report that someone had set fire to bushes around their house.

Only, this time, matches were found near the ashes.

When Clay County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Landsem interviewed the couple that evening and told them the matches would be tested for DNA, Tara Andvik responded nervously.

"Seriously, I don't think I touched them," she said, then a few seconds later added, "I honestly can't tell you if I did or didn't."

"I'm not trying to say I'm guilty," she continued. Then, to her husband, she said, "Don't look at me like that."

Along with a recording of that interview, jurors sitting through the second day of Tara Andvik's arson trial Wednesday in Clay County District Court also heard her husband and father testify about her extramarital affair with a co-worker, Keith Beam.

The prosecution claims that when Beam broke off the relationship because Andvik wouldn't get a divorce, she tried to frame him by setting fires at the farm. She faces three felony counts of first-degree arson for two fires Oct. 12 that burned the home's deck and destroyed a barn and a third blaze Oct. 19 that left the house uninhabitable.

Andvik's defense contends it was Beam who sought revenge for how the relationship ended, suggesting he or someone else may have hired someone to set the fires.

"The guy went nuts," her father, Frank Anderson, testified Wednesday.

Affair comes to light

Matt Andvik said his wife took up bow hunting in 2009, and by 2010, they were shopping hunting videos to an outdoors TV show. He said they met Beam, a producer from Wisconsin for "The Wild Outdoors" on the Outdoor Channel, after he responded to a question Tara Andvik posted online about editing video.

By April 2011, Matt Andvik said he became suspicious about his wife's relationship with Beam, who was calling their home five to 10 times a day.

He said Beam told him in May 2011 that he was no longer welcome on a hunting trip to South Dakota because of an email Matt Andvik claims he never sent. Tara Andvik went on the 11-day hunting trip with Beam, he said.

In a July 4 phone conversation, Matt Andvik said Beam told him, "I'm madly in love with your wife." Beam also said he believed Tara Andvik felt the same way about him, Matt Andvik testified.

"I said basically, 'You're kind of a piece of crap,' and he agreed," he said.

Beam agreed to keep the relationship professional, but two minutes later he was texting Tara Andvik again, Matt Andvik said.

'This guy is nuts'

Anderson, a former Fargo City Commission candidate now running for Cass County Commission, said Tara Andvik brought Beam to meet her parents last summer before they left on a trip for film school and hunting.

"We were told that Tara was planning on getting divorced and so was (Beam) and then the future may bring something for them," Anderson said.

Anderson said he advised them to stop seeing each other until the divorces were finalized.

When Tara Andvik decided soon after that not to file divorce papers, Anderson said Beam began sending him "angry" text messages that he felt were threatening, though he acknowledged they contained no specific threats.

"I was worried for Tara, reading those. This guy is nuts," Anderson said, adding, "Had he been in my yard, I would have punched him."

Anderson said the messages from Beam stopped after a couple of days, and Beam later sent an email stating he was going to take "the high road," which Anderson interpreted as "trouble for Tara."

Beam is expected to testify today.

GPS trackers used

Tara Andvik and Beam obtained restraining orders against each other, and a court hearing was scheduled for Oct. 7 but got postponed.

That night, Matt Andvik said he was at a football game with their two children when his mother, who lives about 1½ miles from the farm, called to report a grass fire at the farmstead. When he called his wife, who had stayed home from the game, she said she

didn't know about the fire and had driven to a neighbor's place, he said.

Matt Andvik said that before both the Oct. 8 grass fire the next morning and the Oct. 12 deck fire, he had gone to sleep in their bedroom with Tara in the same bed watching TV. Both times he discovered the early morning fires, she was sleeping in one of the beds of their children, now ages 7 and 4, he said.

At about 6:40 or 6:45 a.m. on Oct. 12, as he was in the kitchen talking to a state fire marshal and Clay County detective about the deck fire, the fire marshal noticed the barn was on fire. Matt Andvik said he had seen his wife sleeping at about 6:35 a.m. in their bedroom.

The bedroom has French doors leading outside, which is how the prosecution believes Tara Andvik slipped out to set the barn fire.

The night of Oct. 19, Matt Andvik said he had just dropped off the kids at his parents' place - where they were now staying for safety reasons - when his wife called to report the house was on fire. He said he rushed home and found her "basically incoherent," sitting on the ground sobbing as the house burned about 30 yards away.

The next day, with permission Matt Andvik had given the afternoon before the house fire, Detective Gabe Tweten installed surveillance cameras at the farmstead.

And, unbeknownst to the Andviks, he hid magnetic GPS trackers on their vehicles, he said.

"Did the sheriff's office want to know where they were in case something did happen?" Assistant County Attorney Heidi Davies asked.

"Definitely, yes," Tweten said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528