Fifty years ago, on July 2, 1969, farmer William “Willie” Vocks was found dead, allegedly murdered, on his property near Doran, Minnesota.
The Vocks murder is the only cold case in Wilkin County, Minnesota, according to current Wilkin County Sheriff Rick Fiedler. The case is “nothing new” to Fiedler, as it has been passed down through the years. He has been the Wilkin County sheriff since February 2011. The case is still an open investigation with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The Valley Alert, a former newspaper which covered Wilkin County and the surrounding area, reported on the case.
According to the Valley Alert, Vocks was last seen alive on June 29, 1969 by his neighbor Ersal Link. The neighbor called the authorities after noticing that Vocks didn’t get his mail for three days. Breckenridge Police Department Patrolman Gary Johnson, “also a special deputy to the sheriff,” responded to his summons.
Johnson came to the property and found the door latched from the outside and a pair of rubber boots scattered across the yard, the newspaper reported.
After coming around the northeast corner of the house, Johnson found Vocks lying on the ground barefoot with a coat over his mutilated head.
“Vocks has been a tempting candidate for foul play throughout the years,” stated the newspaper. “The victim seemed to take a special delight in flashing large amounts of money he kept in a billfold which he always carried in a chest pocket of his bib overalls, his favorite apparel. Officials suspect that robbery was a likely motive for the apparent homicide, as no billfold was found on the victim’s body.”
“We don’t know for sure how Willie died,” Sheriff Wilson said at the time. “But we are speculating it was some type of high-powered rifle.”
The post mortem examination conducted in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, showed that no bullet or lead fragments could be found on the victim, Valley Alert reported.
The evidence appears to indicate that the assailant shot Vocks in the head walking from the house to his outdoor toilet facility. Then, the assailant dragged the body to the north side of the house, according to the newspaper.
Fiedler explained how the handling of the case would look different if it happened today instead of 50 years ago. The advances in technology would be a major player in a case like this.
“Taking the DNA evidence to the lab and getting that information would’ve been very helpful,” Fiedler said.
He explained that the clothing would have been sent in and the medical examiner’s office would look for DNA.
Fiedler walked through how the situation would have been handled step-by-step by the Wilkin County Sheriff’s Office of today.
First, they will secure the house or property and identify what they are dealing with. Next, they would call the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who would bring the mobile crime lab with agents. While they investigate, Fiedler said they will canvass the area to see if there are any witnesses who have heard or seen anything unusual.
“And then, depending upon the scene, the BCA would have to be there for a few days investigating the scene. And from there it involves getting the reports back from the BCA on gunshot wounds or the reports back from a medical examiner and tying all that together and getting a case built up and then giving that case to our county attorney for possible charges we have a suspect,” Fiedler said.
The sheriff at the time of the murder was Ellert Wilson, who held the office from 1956-1978.
“A cold case is a case that has been investigated and has not been solved,” Fiedler said.
A case becomes “cold” after all of the leads have been exhausted, all of the tips have been followed up on and there is nothing more to be done.
One way that the BCA continues to work cold cases is through the Cold Case Playing Cards Initiative. Playing cards with photos and information about cold cases in Minnesota are given to police departments, county jails and sheriff’s offices to help generate more information to solve these cases, according to the BCA website.
The Vocks case hasn’t been shut, Fiedler said. The BCA is still taking tips called in and investigating those tips.
“We have not forgotten about this case. It’s always in the back of our minds,” Fiedler said.