This sort of thing doesn't happen in Fargo.

It's hard not to think that over the past two weeks because charges in the slaying of Philip Gattuso paint an unfamiliar picture: allegations of a murder-for-hire, with the grandfather footing the bill to kill with a hammer the single dad of his 3-year-old granddaughter.

"That's certainly different than what we normally see," said Fargo police Capt. Tod Dahle. "I struggle to think of something to compare this to. I can't think of anything off the top of my head."

That's partially because any murder is somewhat rare in Fargo. Since 1999, Fargo police have recorded only 11. Most of those, like murders anywhere, were impulsive crimes or linked to drugs or alcohol.

"I think it's unusual for any jurisdiction," Dahle said of the Gattuso case.

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Denis Stead, an associate professor of sociology at Minnesota State University Moorhead, isn't so sure.

"Paid hitmen are not strange occurrences," said Stead, a criminologist.

The Gattuso case - with its alleged premeditation and hired killer - seems so out-of-the-ordinary because of the low murder rate in the area, he said. If it happened in a city where organized crime was prevalent, it wouldn't be so shocking.

"In the scheme of things, those things aren't rare or unique," Stead said.

If you take a longer look across the region over the past decade, Stead's point makes more sense.

While the specifics are vastly different, there have been many high-profile murder cases with ties to Fargo in recent memory.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.

Rodriguez, a convicted rapist who just six months previous had finished a

23-year prison term, was a prime suspect in the days after 22-year-old Dru Sjodin went missing in 2003 in Grand Forks, N.D.

Rodriguez was arrested barely more than a week after Sjodin disappeared, her blood found in his car. But it wasn't until five months later that her body was found in a ravine near Crookston, Minn.

He was convicted in 2006 in federal court in Fargo of abducting and murdering Sjodin and sentenced to an execution that's still being appealed.

Given the brutal rape and murder came at the hands of a man authorities knew was at risk to reoffend, the Rodriguez case is credited with raising awareness of sex offenders and to leading to the establishment of a national registry for sex offenders.

Kyle Bell

Authorities have never found the body of Jeanna North, the 11-year-old girl who Bell is serving a life sentence in federal prison for killing.

Two years after North's disappearance in 1993, Bell confessed to her murder just hours after he was sentenced to 30 years in an unrelated molestation case. He said he put her body in the Sheyenne River off the Cass County 20 bridge.

Then he recanted, unsuccessfully suing prosecutors for coercing his confession. It wasn't until four years later that he was convicted of killing North, a prosecution complicated because numerous river searches failed to find her body.

After his 1999 conviction, Bell escaped in New Mexico from a private bus that was taking him to a prison in Oregon.

He was brought back into custody 88 days later after two appearances on "America's Most Wanted." He was recognized by apartment managers as a tenant.

Joseph Duncan

Duncan awaits execution on three separate federal death warrants for raping, kidnapping and killing a 9-year-old Idaho boy, a brutal series of events that came after he jumped bail in 2005 on two molestation charges in Becker County, Minn.

The child killer had been living in Fargo at the time, traveling from Fargo to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

In Idaho, he killed two adults and a 13-year-old in their home so he could kidnap the 9-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister.

Duncan took them to a remote campsite in Montana, where he raped and tortured them for weeks, videotaping some of the abuse.

He shot and killed the boy, Dylan Groene, while still at the camp. Days later in Coeur d'Alene, the girl - Shasta Groene - was saved when a restaurant waitress recognized her and Duncan and called police.

Dennis Gaede

The butchered body of Timothy Wicks was found in 2002 in the Menominee River separating Michigan and Wisconsin. His head was decapitated, and his torso was severed.

Gaede was convicted four years later in Fargo in the killing, bringing him a life sentence in a North Dakota prison without the chance for parole.

Prosecutors said Gaede stole the identity of Wicks, working under his name in Fargo while he embezzled from a company.

Telling Wicks that he had a gig for him drumming in a bar band in Winnipeg, Gaede lured him to a home he bought in Gardner, N.D., using Wicks' name. He shot him, later scattering Wicks' dismembered body in the Menominee.

The bizarre case had so many twists and turns that NBC's "Dateline" featured it in an episode last year.

Aron Nichols and Tamara Sorenson

Though it received little notice outside the region, the case of this couple convicted last year of killing Sorenson's former in-laws bears some resemblance to what police allege happened in Gattuso's death.

Both center around a child. Police think that the father of Gattuso's late wife paid to have Gattuso murdered because he didn't like the way the Fargo dentist was raising his daughter.

Sorenson and her fiancé, Nichols, killed Donald and Alice Willey - the parents of her late husband - after the Willeys fought for the right to visit Sorenson's 8-year-old daughter, their granddaughter.

Nichols was convicted of shooting the grandparents, then burning down their rural Sykeston, N.D., home to hide the evidence, and Sorenson was convicted as an accomplice.

They were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535