The warm sun sliced through the chilly 50 degree winds in southwestern North Dakota on May 24, 2012. In Dickinson, 30-year-old Eric Haider gave his mother a hug and kiss before leaving for work on a sewer main project behind the Baker Hughes complex on Highway 22. Little did she know it at the time, but this would be the last time she would see her son alive.
It was hard for Dickinson for three years that Eric had gone missing. At first, there was a search for a missing person, but Eric’s mother, Maryellen Suchan, said the police were not interested or competent, which ruined the investigation. Over time, Eric’s mother’s hopes for a successful return turned into thoughts of declaring her son dead. Not much was known about the case, and there were only a few leads that could help investigators.
Three years would go by with not much or any progress.
Eric’s body was found less than 10 feet from where police had been looking in May 2015, after a private investigator had been hired. The missing person case was closed when Eric’s body was found at the construction site where he was last seen alive. However, this led to more questions about how he was bu*ried alive.
Even though it’s been more than 10 years, Suchan still thinks there are questions about her son’s de*ath, and the pain of losing him is just as strong now as it was then.
“… Things aren’t better. It’s still the same… “You’d think it would have by now,” she said, getting teary. “I have no idea how I keep going…” There are times when I wish I were away.
Ten years after her son went missing, Suchan told her side of the story in an in-depth interview. She also talked about who her son was.
She said, “I don’t want it to be forgotten.” “…he always wanted everyone to be happy and smile.”
Nobody vanishes out of thin air
On May 24, 2012, Eric had been working for Cofell’s Plumbing and Heating for three weeks. He was almost 31 years old at the time. There, Eric worked hard like a boss, getting tools back and helping to strap water lines into the trench. The Dickinson Police investigation report is very long, with 474 pages. It says that Eric was one of six people who drove together from Bismarck to the Dickinson construction site.
After the fact, Jack Bettenhausen, the job foreman of the work crew, told the police that they had lunch at Wendy’s around 11 a.m., where Eric sat alone. He had asked for a few days off earlier in the day to help his girlfriend’s parents brand cattle, but his request was turned down because he had just been hired. The foreman said he thought he saw Eric when they got back to the job site at noon, but they still couldn’t find him after 15 minutes.
As they picked up their tools and put them away for the day, workers started to fill in the holes.
Around 2:00 p.m., they tried to call Eric’s cell phone but couldn’t find him at the site. It got put on hold right away.
According to the police report, there was an open trench of about 25 to 30 feet before dinner. However, most of the 30-by-40-foot north hole was filled in before dinner. Even though an employee was missing and there were a lot of risks involved in filling in, work went on without Eric being responsible.
The crew went back to Bismarck with Eric’s lunch box, backpack, and paycheck, which they got in the morning. They got there on time at 6:30 p.m., where his girlfriend Jody Hewson was waiting to pick him up. He wasn’t to be found, though. People who worked with him told her that they couldn’t find him at work all afternoon and had to leave town without him.
Hewson often talked to Eric during the day. She told the police that she last talked to him at 12:04 p.m. and that nothing seemed strange.
“He doesn’t usually act like this. It’s strange. In the middle of the day, nobody just disappears,” Hewson said in a 2012 Dickinson Press article.
A report written by retired Detective Ron Van Doorne says that Bettenhausen told police that he thought Eric was mad that his PTO request was turned down and quit his job. When the detective asked the foreman “why they would just leave a man behind,” he said that employees have quit before and it wasn’t a big deal.
Phone logs would show that Hewson called Eric, but the call went to voicemail.
Hewson called Suchan to see if she had heard from her son after he didn’t show up. Suchan said she hadn’t talked to Eric since she dropped him off at work in the morning while she was making dinner. It was Memorial Day weekend before the search for Eric was over. She told Hewson to call the police.
Early in the morning of May 26, 2012, Eric’s family went to the Dickinson police station to plan a community search and hand out flyers. The Dickinson Police Department then put together a search party. By noon, several searchers in off-road vehicles had arrived and set up a search based on cellphone signals.
Police began digging at the construction site five days after he went missing based on what the crew told them to do. They dug in the wrong place, though.
“From where the first dig began, we were within 10 feet of where Eric was found,” lead investigator and now Dickinson Police Lt. Kylan Klauzer said in 2016. “With all the information we had at the time and after talking to everyone on the crew and as many people as possible on the job site, we still thought we had gone further and wider than what we had information on.”
A thorough search by ground and air began southeast of the job site at a cell tower and went north. The search took weeks. The search area was made bigger than just the spot where the cellphone had been ping. Everything that was tried led nowhere. After that, the search would end.
Suchan says that when the search was over, she called the police and was told loud and clear that they didn’t “know her son” and that he had just “walked off” the job site.
Suchan said, “Everything leads back to the work site area.” “He isn’t here. You don’t know your son, and he ran off. A few good words were going through my head. Someone from the police force said, “If I knew he was a criminal, I wouldn’t be looking for him.””
What Suchan said hurt her a lot, and she added, “It’s still someone’s son.” He is still a person.
Three years missing, first dig unsuccessful
In the first year after Eric went missing, there was talk between Dickinson and Bismarck that he might have been buried on the job site by accident, and some even said there was foul play. After that, there were more rumors, one of which said that he might have run away to avoid paying off his debts.
Klauzer told the Dickinson Press in 2013 that they had talked to many people in the last four or five months as leads or phone calls came in. While I’ve been out of the area a few times to visit people, we’ve had help from a couple of other groups that are doing some things. It’s been slow, but the case is still going on. We’re doing everything we can.”
As long as she can remember, Suchan has been adamant that her son did not go missing on his own.
She told him, “He did not walk off the job site,” in 2013. “I think there was foul play.” Eric may have been caught up in something and knew something he shouldn’t have. I’ve been up there for hours and hours and hours and I still don’t think he’s there. The person who did this and killed Eric also killed me.
Finding his body
The body of Eric was found on May 21, 2015, buried about 6.5 feet below where police had first dug. This was after his family hired the Rapid City-based private investigation firm Discovery Investigations, Inc. When workers were digging for water and power lines in the area, they found his left hand, which was wearing a red work glove. The rest of his body was found after more digging, and police were called to the scene.
Eric was buried under the ground, hunched over and kneeling. He was facing the same length of pipe he had been working on three years before, and his yellow hard hat was on top of his head. Klauzer wrote that his body was positioned in a way that “was consistent with dirt being pushed in on top of it while he was seated near the pipe or while he had been standing and had been forced to the ground.”
A dig is going on near the job site where Eric Haider was last seen.
A dig is going on near the job site where Eric Haider was last seen. Dickinson Police Department helped with this.
Eric’s body was taken to the Grand Forks forensics lab at the University of North Dakota to be looked at. His de*ath was recorded by a pacemaker at 12:19 p.m., five minutes after his coworkers started backfilling the trenches.
“After three years of burial at that depth, the posterior scalp and rib cage bore only remnants of mummified tissue,” the report said.
Jay Cofell, owner of Cofell’s Plumbing and Heating, stated in a previous interview that he was, “very sorry” to hear that the body was confirmed to be Eric. Cofell also stated that his company and the employees working with Eric the day of his disappearance cooperated with the local investigation.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and those friends, relatives and co-workers,” he said.
The discovery of Eric’s body left his family more desperate for answers. Questions would drag on for years to come.
Case closed: ‘Open it back up and get the real story’
Because the late Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning didn’t want to press criminal charges, the Dickinson Police Department closed the case in 2016. Because of this decision, Eric’s family held a formal protest in front of the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center, calling for action.
These are the questions that Suchan still has ten years after he died.
“Books don’t always have the right answers.” Get the real story by opening it again. “They just need to put in the work to get it,” she said. “They don’t wish to.”
His mother said that she thinks “Eric was taken care of.”
“I know a lot more than what is out there, even though no one is working on it right now.” I understand who did it. I understand why they did it. We know when and where, of course. We have all five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. I have that. We still know the answers, even though the case hasn’t been brought to court yet. God willing, it will be brought up one day, she said.
A Facebook page called “JUSTICE FOR ERIC HAIDER!!!” is often updated with new details about Eric’s case. The page has stories written by his family, like his daughter Brynn. A number of posts call for the investigation to be started over.
“It’s hard to say I failed because I feel like I’ve failed in many ways.” The anxiety is getting old for me. Suchan said, “I’m sick of living with the guilt that he lay there for three years and we couldn’t get him.”
Erik’s family finally bur*ied him on May 24, 2022, on a sunny day in the middle of nowhere in Selfridge, North Dakota.
“Today, ten years ago, I got my last kiss and hug.” He died ten years ago today. Today, ten years ago, his heart stopped. “I bur*ied him again today,” she said. “That was a day I don’t want to live again.”
The Dickinson Police Department helped with this story, but they wouldn’t answer questions about the case that were specific to this story. The Eric Haider case is still “closed,” which means that no legal action has been taken as of this writing.