A violent lesson: Dickinson teacher's bloody night that ended in a quadruple homicide
Richard Bartz walks The Press through the biggest case he worked as a detective for the Dickinson Police Department in the early 1980s.
DICKINSON, N.D. -- For many, John Huber was an ordinary junior high teacher at Dickinson Public Schools, a model citizen and an all-around friendly man, but a darker side of his character started to emerge as winter descended on the Western Edge in late 1982 and early '83.
A contentious divorce would be the canvas, an unusually cold winter the paint and jealousy his brush. By March of 1983, his final masterpiece would leave four dead in a twisted and gruesome string of murders that would shock Dickinson — the details of which outlined in a “manifesto” where he pledged to kill his wife, his wife’s boss, the boss’s wife, his sister-in-law, brother-in-law and both parents of his wife.
Now for the first time on record, one of the leading detectives in the case and former Dickinson Police Department investigator Richard Bartz walks The Press back into 1983 with never-before-heard details about the events that transpired on an infamous Dickinson wintery night and how one teacher ended his career with a final violent lesson.
What happened on March 15, 1983?
Between the hours of midnight and 1 a.m. on March 15, 1983, Huber murdered four people with a 10-gauge shotgun, missing his fifth victim.
At 12:10 a.m., New England Police Chief Delmar Robertson saw Maurice O’Connell and Huber’s wife, Gladys, leaving town after the two had worked at the American State Bank branch in New England. Gladys Huber was the bank vice president and internal auditor; she worked for O’Connell, 53, who was the president of the bank. The O’Connells owned the controlling shares of the American State Banks in Dickinson, New England and Killdeer.
Huber discovered his wife and O’Connell at about 12:30 a.m. driving 12 miles south of Dickinson, approximately 1/10 mile east of the intersection of Highway 22 and the earthbound gravel road to Lefor. In the initial interview Huber gave to authorities, he said that he was trying to talk to his wife, and so he bumped into them with his red Ford Bronco. When O'Connell and Gladys Huber stopped, there was no talking. Huber fired his shotgun, killing both inside their vehicle.
From there, Huber drove to the O’Connell’s residence south of Dickinson on Palm Beach Road at approximately 12:50 a.m. There he shot and killed O'Connell's wife, Kathleen, 53. In a blind rage, he drove over to his wife’s relatives — Dinah and Tim Riegel at 1258 13th St. W.— and continued his one-night killing spree. The Riegels were in bed asleep when the doorbell rang.
According to an affidavit, Tim Riegel told Dickinson Police Detective Darrell Haag that Huber “wanted to talk,” so he allowed him to enter the house, but as he closed the door Huber ascended a short flight of stairs near the door before point a shotgun at him. Riegel ducked in time as Huber's shot spread just above him, peppering the wall behind him. The blast broke out the window near the front door as Riegel fled downstairs and outside as his wife remained sleeping. Then he heard another shot from inside.
Huber sped off in his Bronco as Riegel went back inside and found his wife’s body and called the police.
Dinah Riegel, a 30-year-old Bowman native, taught at Trinity High School for four years — she left behind a 9-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
Within the hour after he killed his wife and O’Connell, Huber drove his Ford Bronco up on the sidewalk to the front door of what was then called the Regional Law Enforcement Center in Dickinson. There the bloodied teacher turned murderer walked in and turned himself in to authorities at 1:05 a.m.
Entering the station, he told the dispatcher that he had shot four people.
“This is my opinion, he knew he missed Tim Riegel; he knew it was over. So he drove right over to the law enforcement center, damn near drove through the front doors,” Bartz recalled of the fateful night in question. “And they took him into custody in the lobby and then they called me.”
Bartz tries to talk to Huber
Originally from Beach, Bartz started his law enforcement career in 1975 in his hometown. By 1980, Bartz was looking to venture out and applied for a patrol officer position at the Dickinson Police Department. Bartz quickly rose through the ranks, promoted to a detective position after only eight months.
He then worked as a detective for nine to 10 years right after the first oil boom — busier times Bartz recalled.
In 1983, DPD detectives were required to be on call 24/7 and Bartz was the detective on call the night the murders occurred. He was notified that there was shooting and the guy in question, Huber, was in the interview room.
Prior to working the Huber murders, Bartz had been exposed to a few homicides and graphic suicide scenes during his first three years as a detective. He noted that in law enforcement, you "learn on the fly."
From the transcript of the taped conversation between Bartz and patrolman Leon Schiltz, conducted with Huber on March 15, 1983, Huber deflected to talk about what happened.
“He started playing with me; he tried building his defenses right away (with) manipulation, which is classic him as I learned later. He said he blacked out and I would waltz him right up to what happened down on the highway, down south of town here, then he would jump right over it and say, 'She wouldn't talk to me.' (It was) like he blacked it out,” Bartz said. “Well later I learned that only a sane person does that, an insane person doesn't black out. So he (was) playing with me.”
Bodies piling up
Through multiple interviews, police learned Huber’s wife and O’Connell spent a lot of time together after hours at the New England branch, installing a new computer system, Bartz said. But Huber suspected that his wife was having an affair, he said, adding that anyone who knew about the affair "had to go."
"He wrote that all out while he was sitting in his truck — kind of like a manifesto and we found that in the truck,” Bartz said, adding that the letter-like hit list included plans to kill his wife’s parents who lived in Halliday.
Though it was never proven, Huber's main argument for committing the crimes was because he believed that his wife was having an affair with O’Connell, according to Bartz.
From the search warrant that was issued, police accounted for 24 items inside Huber’s red Ford Bronco. They observed a bloodstain on the seat cover, a double-barreled Blissfield Michigan Model 711 shotgun, some fired shotgun shells, three bottles of Michelob beer, one .22-caliber revolver “Hawes” and numerous papers scattered, including the one letter addressed to his wife.
As Bartz and Schlitz tried to get the truth out of Huber, police officers were dispatched to the murder scenes, discovering the two bodies inside a vehicle on a road south of Dickinson, O’Connell’s wife and Huber’s sister-in-law — all killed by shotgun blasts.
"It was kind of messy," Bartz said, adding, "10-gauge makes it very messy."
Across the table from Huber
Before Bartz stepped into that interview room, he’d never heard the name “John Huber.” At 33 years old at the time of these murders, Bartz's children were younger and still in elementary school. Patrolman Schlitz, on the other hand, had Huber as a basketball coach.
Huber, 37, was born in Hazen and pursued his education at Dickinson State University in 1971. He first taught at Gladstone Elementary School, then came to Hagen Junior High School in Dickinson in 1975. The Hubers married in 1967 and had two daughters, who were 14 and 9 when the quadruple homicides took place.
Huber noted that he and his wife had been living separately for three months.
“That’s, I guess, yeah, that’s when it sort of started, you know,” Huber said.
Once Gladys Huber started her own career with the bank, she was becoming independent, Bartz said.
"I would imagine that he couldn't handle that. There are guys like that,” he said.
Though Bartz read Huber his rights and his right to an attorney, the detective continued to pressure him.
“I didn’t know if people were wounded, laying out there, who knows? So I pressed him pretty good. And then he asked for an attorney, well I didn’t stop because I figured I’m still looking for possible people that were alive,” Bartz said. "That was in the back of my mind, we have multiple crime scenes and he's running all over shooting people. Is there anybody laying out there that might be wounded that we don't know about?”
Although the original interview with Huber was tossed out because authorities failed to allow him the presence of an attorney, Huber’s main defense was insanity and the interview was used as a way to showcase his personality traits.
"That surprised me; he was calm... he cried a little bit. But that didn't work," Bartz said, adding, "The defense attorney wanted to use that, so it did get in — my interview. That was a mental defense. But personally, I don't think that went over very well with the jury because when he got on the stand, he sounded exactly like he did on the tape. And you shouldn't."
As Bartz was trying to let Huber know the process of getting a lawyer, he looked up sobbing and loudly said, “Nooo. Ohhh, it was so ugly. Why??? Ugly…”
Huber continued to sob for the next six minutes. Schlitz tried to calm Huber down by patting his back and telling him to relax.
“I tried to talk to her, she laid there… she laid there,” Huber said. In a whisper, he added, “She laid there.”
Bartz jumped in, “Is this your wife, John?”
Huber continued to cry, before saying, “... Why was I… it was Gladys.”
Then he began coughing and spitting up.
“Ohhh, why doesn’t she understand? I wanted to talk to her,” he whispered, with a sigh. “I wanted to talk to her. I want a lawyer… I’m afraid. I’m so scared. It was bad. It’s on my fingers, my shoes, my pants.
“She doesn’t love me… We tried so hard to communicate. Everything I said she twisted, she turned, I don’t know why. She just made mountains out of molehills.”
Huber told police that he came across the brown-and-white pickup O’Connell and his wife were driving back into Dickinson in. He told police that he wanted to talk to them and so he bumped O’Connell’s vehicle.
“And I knew he was in it. I asked. I wanted to talk… and… I followed them and he pulled off and she ducked down, sort of like a rat in hiding,” Huber said.
A high-pitch wail uttered from Huber as Bartz and Schiltz tried to calm him down again. He diverted from the story and asked the detectives how they caught him, to which Schlitz responded with “You came to the station, John… right up to the front door.”
Later on, Huber stated that he went to see a counselor at Badlands Human Service Center, which was once located on DSU’s campus in Pulver Hall. He attended a class called “Beginning Experience.”
"They couldn't believe it. Here's an upstanding junior high school teacher that just did all of this. This was a particular heinous crime for this part of the state. Nowadays, it isn't. But it was then."
-Former investigator Richard Bartz
“She said I’m crazy,” Huber said, laughing. “That’s what she said. I even untold her last night, I said ‘You know, I’m crazy. You must have made me that way.'”
In an attempt to bring Huber back to what happened, Schlitz asked him what he did after he bumped into the pickup.
“I bumped the pickup and he… then pulled over… Then, she wouldn’t talk to me. She wouldn’t talk to me, she just laid there. I don’t know,” Huber said. “Why, why don’t, why don’t people talk to each other, you know?”
Huber continued, “... I don’t remember much about that night. I remember a lot of bad things, like Dec. 24, she called me all those ugly names and I slapped her. And the next thing I knew I was in Hazen.”
What happened after police arrested Huber?
After Bartz ended the interview, he walked Huber upstairs because he had blood all over his shirt. Blood samples collected matched Huber's wife.
In the following weeks and months, search warrants were executed by investigators from the Riegel residence, Huber’s apartment at 671 24th St. W. #19 to Hagen Junior High School. Police learned from the Stark County state’s attorney that attorney Gerry Galloway was representing Gladys Huber in a pending divorce action and had papers and letters that were sent out prior to the murders, according to an affidavit filed on Aug. 30, 1983.
With the Huber case, Bartz conducted the initial interview with Huber and was the main detective collecting evidence from the murder scenes. He took the pictures, tire prints, footprints, wrote up the search warrants for all of the crime scenes and helped log all of the evidence.
During the first week of the Huber murders, Bartz's wife said he didn't come home for three straight days and she had to bring a change of clothes to the station.
Bartz learned by working this case that anything's possible, he said. Though it's a lot of work, it's all about the details in order to build a case. People pondered, asking questions that Bartz and fellow detectives couldn't answer.
"They couldn't believe it. Here's an upstanding junior high school teacher that just did all of this. This was a particular heinous crime for this part of the state. Nowadays, it isn't. But it was then," Bartz said, with a chuckle.
More than a year after the murders took place, the trial finally kicked off. According to Bartz, Huber continued his insanity plea to which it was no avail. Tim Riegel, one of the lead witnesses out of 16, told the jury his wife and two children were sleeping the night of the killings when Huber came to their home. Tim Riegel also testified that Gladys Huber told him her husband had threatened to kill her.
In previously published articles, Stark County Sheriff’s Office Detective Larry Buck described to the jurors the scene on Lefor Road, where Gladys Huber and O’Connell were shot to death. O’Connell was shot in the head through the rear pickup window while he was still behind the wheel and Gladys Huber was shot outside toward the rear of the vehicle, according to Buck’s testimony. Kathleen O’Connell was shot in the head at a very close range through the diamond-shaped window in the door as she looked out to see who was there.
In addition to the mounting evidence, the tire tracks in the O'Connells’ driveway matched Huber’s Ford Bronco. Three of O’Connells’ children and a daughter-in-law of Huber testified that they had seen Gladys Huber’s face bruised and that they had heard loud arguments between Huber and his wife.
The jury found Huber guilty on all charges and was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.
"That's the stiffest sentence I've ever seen in my life. Old Judge Stewart out of Hettinger was the residing judge. He gave five consecutive life sentences, not concurrent," Bartz said, adding that at the time most judges sentenced convicts to concurrent sentences. "... He'll never get out."
Later in life, Bartz went to homicide school, attended profiling school and spent two weeks with Denver Homicide. He also learned more about evidence photography by attending a course at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va.
When asked what caused Huber to commit those crimes, Bartz noted that it’s a question no one will ever truly know the answer to.
"First of all, it's a personality thing. (Then it's) paranoia, and they feed on that. They can't let go and it keeps building and they start fantasizing; it keeps building more and more. And pretty soon it comes to they got to do something about it — that's my opinion," he said.
Now in 2021, Huber resides at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.
As Bartz looked at the evidence photos he took 38 years ago, he shared one piece of advice.
"If you're experiencing this, you need to do something. You just can't let it fly and think it's going to get better. It (is) not," Bartz said. "... Things don't go away."