Even in the underbelly of North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields, the murder of Doug Carlile stands out, a tale of a Matt Damon look-alike felon, an Indian tribal leader and an accused hit man with a check list that included items like “practice with pistol.”
There’s even a voice from the grave: “If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back, promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it.”
Those were the words Doug Carlile spoke to his family about his business partner before a masked gunman cut him down in the kitchen of his Spokane, Washington, house last December. Police say that Carlile’s murder was probably motivated by a series of complex business transactions that “went bad” in North Dakota’s oil fields.
Spurred by breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, North Dakota now produces more than 1 million barrels of crude a day, surpassing OPEC members such as Qatar and Ecuador. The Bakken’s output, along with surges in Texas and elsewhere, has the U.S. poised to overtake Saudi Arabia next year as the world’s biggest source of crude. Where Teddy Roosevelt once hunted bison, drilling rigs and work camps now crowd the horizon.
Along with oil prosperity has come a spasm of crime unlike any before on the prairie. Where farmers once sealed deals with a handshake, authorities now contend with drug gangs, meth labs, violent crimes, prostitution and investor fraud, all with the same aim in mind: making a quick score.
“It’s like a gold mine,” said Troy Eckard, a Dallas-based asset manager who’s spent three decades arranging private-equity deals in the oil industry. “They are all just trying to see if they can hit a gold vein and get their money and run like hell.”
This account is based on three dozen interviews and a review of criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases in federal and state courts, as well as corporate filings. James Henrikson hasn’t been charged in the murder. He’s in custody in North Dakota on federal weapons charges unrelated to Carlile’s case. Henrikson has pleaded not guilty and faces a July 22 trial.
For Carlile, the Bakken represented the big score he’d never landed through years of new businesses and financial struggles. A devout Christian, he was a classic nice guy incapable of uttering a profanity even at work, said Reggie Olson, a trucker who knew Carlile. He and his wife, Elberta, raised six children, living on a 126-acre alfalfa farm in central Washington.