ID’s ‘Dead of Winter’ 2×06 “Nightmare in North Dakota” – Cora and Charley Abernathey Murders

Cora and Charley Abernathey Murders

Cora and Charley Abernathey Murders – Minot, North Dakota, experienced a profound shock in February 1985 when an elderly couple, Cora and Charley Abernathey, were brutally killed by two individuals known as Mr. and Mrs. Abernathey. This heinous crime became the focus of Investigation Discovery’s documentary, “Dead of Winter” Season 2 Episode 6, “Nightmare in North Dakota.” As the local police faced intense public scrutiny, they worked tirelessly to conduct an exhaustive investigation and eventually apprehended one of the individuals involved. However, it took eight years to bring the other individual to justice. If you want more details about this tragic event, read below.

Cora and Charley Abernathey Murder Story

Cora Olive Kortgaard Abernathey was born on a homestead in Burke County, North Dakota, to Martin Kortgaard and Anna Baglien. After graduating from high school in Columbus, North Dakota, she lived with David Houston’s family. She attended Minot Business Institute, where she met Charley Abernathey through a blind date arranged by their mutual classmate Ellen Bennell. Charley, born on June 16, 1909, in Leal Barnes County, North Dakota, was the son of John Franklin Abernathey (Cora’s father).

On October 19th, 1939, Cora and Charley Abernathey got married in Minot, Ward County, North Dakota. After their eventful beginning, they initially lived at Bennell Dairy in Surrey and later at OTT Dairy before finally settling in Nedrose Township in 1944. Charley served as a school bus driver and was a member of the Nedrose Township Board. He had been employed at Dakota Transfer, Border Freight, and Buckingham before joining Midwest Motor Express, where he eventually retired. In their daily lives, the Abernatheys enjoyed the comfort of their home, and Cora engaged in needlework projects while showcasing their Hackney Ponies at shows.

On the late afternoon of February 9, 1985, their peaceful existence was abruptly shattered when police and firefighters were called to a residence two miles north of Gavin Yard in Abernathey. They discovered Cora lying unconscious on her bed and Charley dead on the living room floor, both with gunshot wounds to their heads and slit throats. Based on the autopsy results, the medical examiner determined their death time was February 8.

Investigation and Arrest

Detective Vern Erck, Ward County’s leading investigator at the time, noted the unprecedented nature of the crime, stating, “In those days, home invasions or similar incidents were rare. Break-ins usually targeted businesses, providing people with peace of mind.” However, they were particularly vulnerable due to Cora Abernathey’s bedriddenness during her recovery from hip replacement surgery. Law enforcement discovered blood evidence and broken household items throughout the property, indicating that the criminals had ransacked it.

One of the most alarming aspects was the number of people present when the homicide investigators arrived. Furniture had been rearranged to facilitate better photography of the bodies. Due to parked cars in the driveway, tire track impressions could not be obtained. Nevertheless, police investigators were perplexed as both victims had died in similar ways.

A detective involved in the case observed, “From the crime scene, all we could deduce was how similar their deaths were.” During the investigation into this brutal double homicide case, it was revealed that only $300 had been taken, and Charley still had cash on him, despite public demands for an arrest. However, the police struggled for over eight months to make progress.

During this period, Calvin Newnam, 24, from south Minot, voluntarily confessed his involvement in the crime to law enforcement. Court documents indicated that Calvin had an extensive criminal history, including convictions for assault and burglary dating back to November 1982 and probation violations related to assault and burglary charges from November. On February 15, 1985, one day after Calvin and Kevin Austin was arrested on fraud charges at a Minot bank, the police interrogated Calvin for the first time regarding his involvement in the Abernathey murders.

Court records revealed that Calvin consented to the search of his car and house before being interviewed three days later. He also underwent multiple inconclusive polygraph tests over time. Over several months, the police extensively interviewed Calvin and conducted an official search of his residence, even seizing firearms from his father on September 20. Despite these efforts, they could not establish any direct connection between their findings and the crimes they were investigating.

On September 25th, Calvin surrendered himself after another formal questioning session at the Minot Police Station. One of the investigators described Calvin’s initial reaction upon viewing crime scene images as “real horror.” The investigator confronted Calvin, saying, “Yes, it was horrible, and you were there,” before questioning him further and repeating the line of questioning. Calvin affirmed all three statements. However, Kevin Austin, Calvin’s accomplice, managed to evade capture until 2008, even though authorities had placed both of them together at a South Broadway restaurant before the murders and at a Minot motel after each incident.

Prosecution of Calvin Newnam and Kevin Austin in Cora and Charley Abernathey Murder Case

Calvin Newnam faced trial on June 9, 1986, and was found guilty on multiple charges, including robbery, felonious restraint, and murder. He received concurrent sentences of 20 years for robbery, 5 years for felonious restraint, and four life sentences for the murders committed during that time frame. Despite efforts to arrest Kevin, they lacked evidence linking him to the time and place of the crime. Calvin refused to testify against Kevin, so the prosecution decided not to pursue Kevin’s case any further.

After spending several years behind bars without hope of release, Calvin had a change of heart and testified against Kevin in 1993, more than eight years after the double homicides occurred. During the investigation of their home, the police discovered two .22 caliber handguns used in each killing in Kevin’s parents’ attic, as Kevin had disclosed to the officers. Kevin faced trial on both murder counts in June 1993. Due to Calvin’s testimony and Kevin’s incriminating statements made during the trial, he was found guilty on both counts. He received two consecutive life sentences for each crime committed during the investigation.

Following an agreement between the prosecution and Abernathey’s family members, Calvin’s sentence was reduced from two life sentences to two concurrent 50-year terms each due to his cooperation with the authorities. After serving 33 years of his sentence, Calvin, now 62 years old, was released from prison on May 16, 2019. Currently 61 years old, Kevin continues serving his sentence at the North Dakota State Penitentiary until around 2100.

Must Read: ID’s Fear Thy Neighbor 8×04 Unwelcome to the Neighborhood – Brooks Jennings Murder

Exit mobile version