Eyed for decades as a possible murderer, Minnesota man finds himself back in the spotlight (2024)

CLIMAX, MINN. – Brian Evenson has long lived with outsiders' suspicions that he murdered a woman he loved ― and has even on occasion wondered himself if he strangled her in the middle of the night, drove home and then forgot about it.

In the 40 years since Nancy Daugherty, a 38-year-old mother and nursing home aide, was killed in her Chisholm, Minn., home, investigators have interviewed Evenson a dozen times. They collected his DNA, the shirt he wore the last time he saw her, a list of places he left his fingerprints in her home. He was among the last to see her alive. He was the one who touched her cold, stiff fingers the next day and knew she was dead.

At a news conference in July 2020, Chisholm police and other law enforcement officials said another man, one who had never been a suspect, had been charged with Daugherty's murder thanks to advances in genetic genealogy. The cold case had its first arrest — Michael Allan Carbo Jr. — which came after authorities tested the DNA of more than 100 suspects and thousands of dollars in reward money went unclaimed.

"Oh my goodness, finally," Evenson remembers thinking when he saw the news reports.

A jury found Carbo guilty in St. Louis County District Court in 2022. But he and his attorneys said his defense was hindered because they were not allowed to point to an alternate perpetrator. This month, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed and sent the case back to District Court for a retrial.

That threw Evenson back in the spotlight. He is the alternate perpetrator.

"I want to start off by saying I did not kill Nancy," Evenson, 69, said recently as he sat at his kitchen table — empty save for a small red-and-blue toy ambulance at the center, a gift from Daugherty when he finished school to become a paramedic.

Evenson lives more than 200 miles from his hometown of Hibbing, Minn., in this Red River Valley town of 243 people named for chewing tobacco, according to lore. He has a small, simply kept home in a row of houses just beyond downtown. Fields abut two sides of the property. The home is neat, without much decoration.

He works part time on his cousin's farm. He's lived here for more than a decade; he plans to retire soon and live here until he dies.

Every day, Evenson said, his mind winds back to Daugherty. He considers her the love of his life. He's detailed and remembers the important dates.

The two met in 1979, but the bulk of their friendship, which turned romantic for about eight months, was between 1982 and 1986. They were on the same ambulance crew in Chisholm and shared a circle of friends. Some of their best times, Evenson said, were just sitting across from each other and talking.

Daugherty was a softball player, a skier and a sunbather. She liked to fish and camp. She had plans to move to the Twin Cities and go to school to become a paramedic. She was adored at Heritage Manor Nursing Home, where she was an aide.

There was an ease to being with her, Evenson said. "Just [her] way of looking at things. It was so refreshing," he said. "And just kindness, what a heart."

Beyond investigators and a courtroom, Evenson has held tight to the story of Daugherty's final night alive and finding her dead in her home. He hasn't told new friends or even his immediate family. He contacted the Star Tribune after the Supreme Court ruled on Carbo's retrial; he wanted to break his silence.

Eyed for decades as a possible murderer, Minnesota man finds himself back in the spotlight (3)

Eyed for decades as a possible murderer, Minnesota man finds himself back in the spotlight (4)

Vince Tuss, Star Tribune

Nancy Daugherty, 38, was found murdered July 16, 1986, in the bedroom of her Chisholm, Minn., home.

Evenson had left the Iron Range by the summer of 1986 and was a paramedic in Appleton, Wis. He and Daugherty stayed in touch through phone calls and letters. The letters would pop up during the investigation: handwritten missives that told about his life, reminisced about old times and expressed frustration that she wasn't often writing back.

Evenson got the itch to return to the Twin Cities area. After a job interview in Minneapolis, he drove to the Hibbing-Chisholm area to see family and friends — including Daugherty.

Evenson stopped by her house, and they hung out for a bit. Daugherty received a phone call that she took quietly, without commenting about who was on the line. Then the two went to Tibroc, a pizza parlor and bar in downtown Chisholm, for a few hours.

Evenson drove Daugherty home around midnight, used her bathroom, lingered until she said she was tired. He then drove to his parents' home in nearby Hibbing, where he talked to his sister and father, drank a glass of milk and went to bed.

Evenson was ready to help Daugherty move the next morning. When he arrived at her house, he found the curtains closed and door locked — out of character for her, or anyone else in this town in the mid-1980s. He tried calling. There was no answer. He returned repeatedly throughout the day.

A neighbor intervened. He told Evenson that early that morning his teenage daughter and her friend, who had been at a party, heard fighting coming from Daugherty's house. Evenson discreetly checked with his mother, who worked at the emergency room.

Had she seen anyone he knew the previous night, he asked. Her "no" triggered a bad feeling.

Evenson and the neighbor summoned Chisholm police. Daugherty's car keys were found in the grass. Inside the house, her eyeglasses lay on the kitchen floor.

They found her in her bedroom, lying beneath a blanket. She had been raped and strangled.

Forty years removed, the memory still brings Evenson to tears at his kitchen table.

Carbo, whose DNA was found in Daugherty's body and under her nails, and whose vomit was found in the yard, was convicted two years ago in Hibbing. He was 18 when Daugherty was murdered and lived within a mile of her home. His defense team argued the two had consensual sex — but that Carbo left afterward and did not kill her. His was the only DNA found at the scene.

Carbo was sentenced to life in prison with a chance for parole. He is housed at the prison in Rush City.

"To the kids and family of Nancy Daugherty, I did not kill Nancy," Carbo said in a prepared statement at the trial. "I obviously had sex with her, and I don't remember."

In their appeal, Carbo's defense attorneys said the girls who heard the fight at Daugherty's home saw a dark-colored truck parked outside in the middle of the night. At the time, Evenson drove a gray Ford Bronco II. Daugherty was missing one of her earrings, which had been a gift from Evenson. Had he taken it as a token after killing her?

Evenson was obsessed with Daugherty, the defense team argued in court documents, and believed she had made plans to go out after he left her that night.

More than a decade after the murder, Chisholm's then-Police Chief Scott Erickson asked Evenson if maybe he lost his temper that night and didn't realize what he had done.

"You know the human mind is a strange thing, and I've often wondered, geez, did I wake up in the middle of the night, drive over there and kill her, go back to bed and not know it?" Evenson told Erickson, according to court documents.

Evenson has answers to the accusations. Carbo's father had a dark-colored truck. He says he wasn't obsessed and jealous; he and Daugherty were friends. He has maintained his innocence, and the same story, since the start.

"If there was evidence to show that, I would have been arrested a long time ago," he said.

While the defense was barred from using an alternate perpetrator defense, Evenson's identity and spare details about him were vaguely referenced during the trial. Reading the trial transcripts, he was surprised at how often he came up.

Evenson describes this as "crap that [Carbo's attorney J.D. Schmid] was spewing about me."

The retrial promises to go into greater detail.

"The Supreme Court's decision ensures that the jurors are going to get a much more complete picture that someone else did it," Schmid said.

Daugherty's family doesn't want to endure another trial. Dave Haggard said the process feels like his wife's mother is getting murdered all over again. The family says they believe Carbo is guilty and that there has never been enough evidence to charge Evenson.

"Brian was probably persecuted more than any single person in any case in this state," Haggard said. "In most crimes, the last one to see her is the one who did it. He was never even brought to jail."

Evenson lives with decades worth of questions for which he might never learn the answers.

"Who called her that night?" he asked. "And what happened between 12:45 and 3:15 a.m.?"

Correction: Brian Evenson's age and the location of a job interview were incorrect in an earlier version of this story. He is 69 and his interview was in Minneapolis.

Eyed for decades as a possible murderer, Minnesota man finds himself back in the spotlight (2024)


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