Attorney General Marty Jackley has wrapped up his press conference in Platte discussing the investigation of the deaths of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children and the fire that completely destroyed their home in the early hours of September 17, 2015. AG Jackley says all evidence supports the story he told based on preliminary findings back in September: Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children with a shotgun, lit his house on fire with an accelerant, then shot himself with his shotgun.
Jackley says the remains of Nicole and her two daughters were found amidst the charred bedsprings of the bed from the master bedroom, which had fallen into the foundation as the house collapsed in the fire. Jackley says the remains of the two boys were also found on bedsprings found in a location corresponding to their bedroom (or bedrooms—I’m not clear on whether we’re talking about separate rooms). Investigators found Scott Westerhuis’s remains in the kitchen area. A Winchester Charles Daily shotgun with a discharged shell in the chamber was found three feet from him. Police dog Maggie found an accelerant two feet from Westerhuis’s body, but a North Dakota lab was unable to identify the accelerant.
Jackley said no evidence was found of any illegal drugs, sedatives, or other unexpected chemicals. Scott Westerhuis apparently had a blood alcohol content of 0.024, well below the DUI threshold of 0.08 and not enough, says Jackley, to be considered a factor in the crime. No soot was found in the airways of any of the deceased.
AG Jackley says no evidence points to the involvement of any third party in the deaths or fire. He said the Westerhuis home had two security systems. There is no evidence that either was tripped by intruders and no surveillance (Westerhuis had cameras on his property?!) that anyone else was around that night. Jackley declared the death and fire investigation complete (there is no longer any rationale, he said, for his Division of Criminal Investigation to hold the Westerhuis site). He said the financial side of the investigation continues and declined to comment on any financial details.
Probably the most important item displayed at the presser was the following timeline of the 24 hours before the fire:
AG Jackley said Scott Westerhuis was in Takini on business on Wednesday, September 16. Jackley says four calls received after 6 p.m. concerned the Department of Education’s cancellation that day of the GEAR UP contract with Westerhuis’s employer, Mid-Central Educational Cooperative. I didn’t catch what Jackley said the 8:24 p.m. call concerned. The Westerhuis cell phone account handled its last text at 11:30 p.m. Jackley refused to say who placed or received those calls or that text, as that information is part of the ongoing financial investigation.
At 2:57 a.m., Thursday, September 17, a call was made from the Westerhuis household landline to a cell phone belonging to Nicole Westerhuis. Jackley said voicemail picked up. The call was active for 43 seconds.
The next item established by evidence is the 911 call reporting the fire at the Westerhuis house at 5:36 a.m.
Jackley says the phones were destroyed in the fire, so no texts or voicemails could be retrieved from them. Jackley says DCI could not retrieve the last message left on Nicole’s phone from Verizon because the accounts were terminated. Jackley said Nicole’s phone was paid for by Mid-Central.
Climb down just one dark hole with me:
At 2:57 a.m., someone picked up the landline in the Westerhuis home and called Nicole’s cell phone. If Nicole was in the house, in bed, why does anyone do that? To find Nicole’s phone? If Scott made that call, why would the location of her phone matter… unless it was to make sure it was in the house and destroyed with everything else in the coming fire?
But whoever called, someone may have left useful evidence in that voicemail. That voicemail would have been available from Verizon, one would think, until the account was canceled. If Mid-Central paid for the phone, then Mid-Central would have called in to cancel the phone. When Mid-Central made that call, did Mid-Central destroy evidence?
Jackley said the state and the feds will continue to sift through the finances that may be behind these crimes. One key piece of financial evidence is missing: Scott Westerhuis’s safe. Jackley says investigators have been unable to identify the safe in the wreckage of the house. He says the most logical explanation is that the safe was completely destroyed in what he describes as a “catastrophic” fire. However, Jackley admits it is possible that Scott Westerhuis may have moved the safe or that someone else may have walked off with it. He asked anyone with knowledge of what happened to the safe to contact his office immediately.