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Police prowled gambling hotspots, found clues in 1994 North Dakota missing person investigation

Investigator Cliff Emmert stopped into bars, casinos, bingo halls and bowling alleys, seeking a better understanding of 26-year-old Shelly Julson's world. What he found raised some troubling questions about what might have happened to her.

Image collage with a photo of Shelly Julson in her high school senior photo, two playing cards (the queen of spades and the ten of spades) a sign for the Elbow Room bar, a police drawing of a car.
In episode 2 of "Call me Shelly: The mysterious disappearance of Michelle Julson," investigators discover Shelly's car and a strange pattern of harassment towards Shelly is starting to take shape.
Photo illustration by James Wolner / Forum News Service -- photo sources: Bismarck Police Department, State Historical Society of North Dakota, Pexels
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Shelly Julson had gone missing. Now Bismarck Police Department Officer Cliff Emmert was digging into her world to figure out what might have gone wrong.

Listen to Episode Number 2 — In Shelly's Shadows

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Emmert's investigation took him back through the haunts of Julson's life, according to the Dakota Spotlight podcast, season 7, episode 2 — available on podcast apps now.

Emmert stopped into bars, casinos, bingo halls and bowling alleys, seeking a better understanding of the 26-year-old's world. What he found raised some troubling questions about what might have happened to Julson.

She had told other she was being harassed and possibly followed. She was reportedly having problems with two different men, Kevin and Tony. Then there were the men with whom she spoke just a few days before, on Sunday night. Who were they? Emmert sought answers.

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He also received an uncomfortable tip. There was a report that another Bismarck Police Department officer had been harassing Shelly during her job at The Burnt Creek Bar.

The strands of evidence helped Emmert flesh out Julson's life prior to her disappearance, but they also raised more questions than they answer.

About Dakota Spotlight, Season Seven: 'Call Me Shelly — The Mysterious Disappearance of Michelle Julson'

In this season of Dakota Spotlight, creator, host and Regional Emmy Award-winner James Wolner looks into the cold case of 26-year-old Michelle "Shelly" Julson, who vanished from Bismarck, North Dakota on Aug. 2, 1994. Granted exclusive, unprecedented access by police to the cold-case file, Wolner presents a play-by-play review of the initial investigation and further examines the strange events surrounding Shelly's life and her disappearance.

With the aid of new interviews with Shelly’s friends, family and retired police investigators, Wolner dives into the shadows of Shelly’s world at the time — Bismarck’s bar and gambling scene — and tracks the movements of several persons of interest. All in an attempt to answer the biggest questions of the case: What happened to Shelly? Where is she now?

People in this episode

(In alphabetical order)

  • Chris Aziz: Bartender at the Elbow Room. Witnessed Shelly with two men Sunday night.
  • James Becker: Shelly's friend
  • Kim Borner: Shelly's friend
  • Russ Bryant: Investigator for Burlington Northern Railroad
  • Clifford Emmert: Bismarck Police Department investigator
  • Jack Erhardt: Kevin Woodworth's foreman at Miller Insulation
  • Larry Helfenstein: Shelly's friend
  • Tony Hulm: Shelly's latest on-again/off-again boyfriend, and a bartender at Burnt Creek Club
  • Wes Julson: Shelly's father
  • Bonnie Munsch: Shelly's friend and coworker, worked with Shelly at the Burnt Creek Club the night before Shelly vanished. Bonnie felt Shelly did not seem her usual self that night.
More from Dakota Spotlight
Exclusive
In this episode of Dakota Spotlight, retired Bismarck Police Detective Bill Connor speaks frankly about the details of the case, still sharp in his memory, and his encounters with those connected to Michelle "Shelly" Julson as he re-investigated the case from 2005 to 2010.

  • Tarileen Olson: Blackjack dealer at Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation
  • Mike Quinn: Agent at North Dakota bureau of criminal investigation
  • Don Schaffer: Bismarck police officer and patron at Burnt Creek Club. Shelly told friends Schaffer had been harassing her at work.
  • Troy Schaner: Bismarck police officer who helped North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation's aerial search for Shelly's car
  • Carol Thomas: Assistant manager at The Fleck House hotel near The Elbow Room bar
  • Julie Thompson: investigator with the Bismarck Police Department
  • Dennis Walls: Bismarck Police Department sergeant who was the initial and main investigator on the Julson case
  • Kevin Woodworth: Shelly's former boyfriend and Jaden's father
  • Richard Woodworth: Jaden's paternal grandfather and the last person to acknowledge having seen her when she dropped Jaden at 104 American Ave.

People in previous episodes

  • Officer Robbie Carvell: Bismarck Police Department officer and patrolman, who responded to the Julson missing person report 
  • Linda Julson: Shelly's mother
  • Michelle "Shelly" Julson: a 26-year-old blackjack dealer and mother of 3-year-old Jaden, who went missing on Aug. 2, 1994
  • Jaden Woodworth: Shelly's 3-year-old son 
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Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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