A man has been convicted of fatally shooting his older brother inside a camper and towing it to a wooded trail in northern Minnesota, where the body remained until its discovery many months later.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours in Aitkin County District Court and found James R. Hess, 49, of Hill City, guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the death in October 2021 of William H. Hess Jr., 52, also of Hill City.
James Hess remains jailed ahead of sentencing Aug. 7. The jury also ruled the judge can apply aggravating factors to the sentence, given that the defendant hid the body for such a long time, County Attorney Jim Ratz said.
According to the complaint:
On the night of May 12, the Sheriff's Office was tipped off about a body in a homemade camper sitting on a trail about a mile west of 380th Avenue in Hill Lake Township.
A sheriff's sergeant and two deputies went to the trailer. One of the deputies climbed on top and saw a body inside. An autopsy by the the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office found that William Hess Jr. had been shot in the head.
The sheriff's sergeant knew that William Hess lived in the camper parked outside his brother's home in the 200 block of N. Pine Street. He also had heard rumors that James Hess "had grown irritated" with his older brother.
The sheriff's sergeant also knew that William Hess had not been seen in the community for quite awhile, that James Hess might have had something to do with the disappearance and that there was no missing person report filed by the family.
A confidential source shared with investigators text messages he had exchanged with James Hess in October that revealed the younger brother's anger about William Hess breaking into his home, stealing items and causing damage.
"I'm just waiting to catch him breaking in," one of several angry texts read. "I'm going to end this once and for all, one way or another."
On Monday, James Hess told law enforcement he came home and found his brother yelling on the roof of his house one day in October. James Hess said he followed his brother into the camper and shot him. He hooked up the camper to his SUV, pulled it more than 4 miles to the trail and left his brother's body inside.