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After A North Dakota College Student Is Killed In Her Apartment, Police Look At One Of Their Own
Mindy Morgenstern was a college senior with a bright future ahead of her — until she was brutally murdered in her own home.
It was pretty unusual for college senior Mindy Morgenstern to not answer her cell phone or call her friends back. But that's what had been happening all afternoon on Sept. 13, 2006 — so her friends Toni Baumann andDanielle Holmstrom drove by Mindy's apartment to check in.
What they found changed their lives.
"I ran inside and knocked on the door and there was no answer; it wasn’t locked and so I opened the door and stepped in," Toni Baumann told “An Unexpected Killer,” airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen. "About two steps in, I saw something on the ground right in front of my feet. It was Mindy. And then I noticed something around her neck.”
Baumann's screaming alerted a neighbor, Robert Linz, who checked to see if Mindy had a pulse while Baumann called the police.
“The apartment was located on the second floor of the building,” said Special Agent Mark Sayler of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “As I entered I could smell a very strong odor, like an ammonia disinfectant. The body of the victim was laying across the entry hallway.”
The smell was Pine-Sol, according to court testimony; she had been drenched in it after her death and an empty bottle of it lay near her fully clothed body. Her purse strap and a lanyard with her keys were still hanging from her right arm and, though her wallet and cell phone were both out on the floor, neither they nor anything else in the apartment had been disturbed.
“There was a belt wrapped around her neck and there appeared to be a broken-off knife still stuck in her throat,“ Special Agent Calvin Dupree of the ND BCI told producers.
The cell phone showed missed calls starting at 12:47 that afternoon. Autopsy results eventually showed that she died of a combination of asphyxiation and the deep cuts to her neck, but there was no indication of sexual assault.
“It was very difficult to see Mindy’s body in the condition that it was in when we found her, “ said Sgt. Dave Swenson of the Valley City Police Department. "I knew Mindy: She was a student at the college, I’d seen her at a lot of their events, and to see that it was her, I was really surprised and quite shocked.”
Police then went to canvas the neighbors in Mindy's building — and get DNA samples to rule people out. That's when they discovered that a corrections officer from the Barnes County Jail, Moe Gibbs, was also a neighbor. He told police he spent the morning at home after his shift, had lunch with his pregnant wife, and then packed and put boxes to the car, as the family was moving soon.
The only thing he said was out of the ordinary was the very strong scent of Pine-Sol in the hallway after he'd returned from lunch.
While interviewing Mindy's family, investigators learned that she didn't like Toni Baumann's boyfriend, James Robinson, and things were tense between them. Baumann said there were times that the relationship “had gotten pretty scary,” and Mindy had encouraged her to break up with Robinson.
In his interview with police, Robinson admitted that he had a criminal record for drug charges, but said he was trying to clean up his act. He told police he'd been performing court-ordered community service the morning of Mindy's murder and then he hung out with a friend. They were able to verify his alibi — but got DNA just in case.
Other suspects were considered, including a man Mindy's restaurant coworkers said made her uncomfortable and an ex-boyfriend's father. But s week after the murder, DNA results came back on the material found under Mindy's fingernails: It was a match for DNA collected after a brutal, still-unsolved sexual assault in Fargo that occurred two years before her murder — and to 34-year-old Moe Gibbs' DNA.
“I knew him personally,” Swenson told producers. “It really caught me off guard that somebody in the law enforcement community would’ve done something life this.”
They learned Gibbs had changed his name and his legal name before 2005 had been Glen Dale Morgan Jr. And, despite the background check he'd passed to join the corrections staff, "We found out that he was involved in a drive-by shooting and he had served five years in prison,” Swenson said.
(Gibbs, then known as Morgan, was convicted in military court of attempted premeditated murder and served his sentence from Jan. 1994 until April 1998 at Fort Leavenworth prison. His personnel file with Barnes County said he'd served in the Navy from 1990-1999.)
Gibbs was then invited into the station to speak with police, where they observed healing scratches on his hands. He admitted to having briefly been in Mindy's apartment prior to the murder, claiming she had been trying to carry a laundry basket and some other things, so he’d helped her out.
“I’m thinking he wanted to have an excuse for having evidence in that apartment,” said Dupree.
When confronted with the DNA evidence in Mindy's murder, Gibbs denied it was him. When confronted with the DNA evidence in the Fargo rape case, Gibbs also expressed disbelief.
Officers arrested him anyway.
After he was arrested, several female inmates from the local jail came forward and said that Gibbs had sexually assaulted them when he was working. One women in particular told police — though it was excluded at his murder trial as overly prejudicial — that he'd digitally assaulted her around 6 a.m. on the morning of Mindy's murder before his shift ended at 7.
He was eventually charged with six counts of sexual assault for his actions at the jail, one count of sexual assault for the rape in Fargo, and one count of first-degree murder in Mindy's death. He eventually pleaded guilty in the rape and sexual assault cases.
But in his July 2007 trial for Mindy's murder, the jury considering the case deadlocked on whether Gibbs was guilty. The defense had claimed that the amount of DNA found under her fingernails had been a touch transfer from when he'd helped with her laundry.
Gibbs' second trial was held on Oct. 22, 2007, and prosecutors were more prepared. In addition to presenting evidence about the quantity of the DNA, they used Gibbs' habitual texting and email habit to establish that he'd stopped texting just before the murder ... and resumed immediately after.
The woman to whom Gibbs was married at the time of the murder — who had divorced him by the time of his first trial — testified at his first trial that she'd actually texted to ask him to bring her a beverage, as she was heavily pregnant, at 12:33 p.m., but he hadn't brought her anything until 1 p.m. Prosecutors argued at trial that he attempted to assault Mindy in this time period but, when she fought back, he killed her instead and simply left.
They also presented evidence at both trials that Gibbs had confessed to his cellmate, Jeremy Leopold, who found religion thereafter and told police of the confession.
After 27 hours of deliberations, a jury found Gibbs guilty of murder on Nov. 20, 2007, with Mindy's family and Gibbs' new fiancée, Amy, in the courtroom. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
At his sentencing, Mindy's mother, Eunice Morgenstern, was the only person to give a statement.
"Mr. Gibbs, I forgive you publicly here," she said. "I also want you to know that I won't forget what you did to Mindy."
Eunice also told Gibbs "my heart goes out" to his family and children, for which he thanked her.
Eunice has since written a book about her daughter, which came out in 2019.
Gibbs remains incarcerated at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck. His scheduled release date is listed as 2100, when he would be 128.
For more on this case and others like it, watch “An Unexpected Killer,” airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen.