A Promising North Dakota College Student Was Found Murdered In Her Apartment
Police had five suspects in the murder of Mindy Morgenstern — including one suspect provided by the victim herself.
In September 2006, the students at Valley City State University in Valley City, North Dakota, were settled in for another semester at the town’s small college, and 22-year-old Mindy Morgenstern was among them. Mindy had grown up almost three hours west of Valley City, in New Salem, North Dakota. The tomboy/farmgirl who played high school basketball and drove a tractor around the family farm was happy in Valley City where she had a waitressing job and an apartment as she attended classes.
On Sept. 13, 2006, Mindy’s best friend Toni Baumann was at a bar in downtown Valley City when she called Mindy to get her to come out too. When Mindy didn’t answer, Toni asked another friend, Danielle, to try too. When the second call went unanswered, the two hopped in the car to head across town and check on Mindy.
Mindy’s white car was in the parking lot of the complex, so Toni knocked on her door and called out to Mindy, only to be met with silence. After a few minutes, she tried the door knob; the unlocked door to Mindy’s apartment swung open. It was pitch black inside as Toni took a few steps in and her foot bumped into something on the floor.
It was Mindy. Her throat had been cut and she’d been strangled. An empty bottle of floor cleaner was lying next to her, and she appeared to have chemical burns on her face and neck. A neighbor ran in and checked for a pulse but found none.
Officers from the Valley City Police Department and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation descended on the scene. Neighbors in the building flooded the hall, all trying to find out what had happened. In the midst of the chaos, one of Mindy’s friends noticed a man calmly exit his apartment and weave through the throng of people carrying a laundry basket.
Who Killed Mindy?
As police interviewed dozens of people, they learned that Mindy had no enemies, but there were plenty of suspects. Mindy had recently broken up with her boyfriend, and the ex-boyfriend’s father seemed unusually close to Mindy. Police were also suspicious of two neighbors: the one who checked her pulse and the one who calmly walked through the hall with a laundry basket.
Then, police discovered a report Mindy had filed about three weeks before her death. She felt like she was being followed at her job by a man who lived in a camper across the street from the restaurant where she worked. The man was frightening enough that Mindy filed a police report about him and told her friends she was terrified he would abduct her.
Authorities took DNA from their five suspects to compare with DNA found under Mindy’s nails and waited on the crime lab to process the samples, all the while keeping the suspects under surveillance for a long week while they waited.
The answer, when it came, was shocking to police: it was one of their own whose DNA was found under Mindy’s nails.
The neighbor seen casually walking through the halls the night of the murder was Moe Gibbs, a 35-year-old corrections officer from the Barnes County Jail. He lived with his then-pregnant wife in the same apartment building as Mindy.
After his DNA came back as a match, police questioned Gibbs, who admitted to having been in Mindy’s apartment, but said he was only trying to help her carry a heavy laundry basket.
Gibbs was arrested and charged with Mindy’s murder. In November 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is currently housed at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.
For more on this case, stream Murder in the Heartland: "The Farmer's Daughter" on discovery+.