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West Found Guilty in Murder/Dismemberment Case in Cook County

On Wednesday, February 8th, a Cook County jury found Robert West guilty of being an accomplice after the fact in the murder of 34-year-old Richard Balsimo, Jr. He was also found guilty of interference with a dead body.

Balsimo, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, was shot multiple times by Jacob Colt Johnson while inside Johnson’s vehicle in St. Paul on June 20, 2021. Johnson transported Balsimo’s remains to West’s home in Superior, WI following the shooting. There, West and Johnson conspired to conceal the body, eventually transporting it to a property owned by a friend of West’s located southeast of Superior. It was there where they dismembered the body and concealed it in multiple five-gallon buckets and one large tote. They filled the containers with concrete for weight. West admitted to authorities that it was his idea to dismember the corpse.

West transported the remains to Grand Portage, MN, then hired a local boater to bring them out and drop them in Lake Superior. The local boater claims that West said the containers contained a dead dog and some personal items from his deceased grandmother.

Balsimo’s remains were recovered from Lake Superior on July 15 and 16 with the cooperation of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. West was indicted in Cook County on July 16, 2021. Crossmon Consulting, an underwater recovery firm based in St. Louis County, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s rescue team were instrumental in locating and recovering Balsimo’s remains from the bottom of Lake Superior.

West’s trial began Monday, January 30. A short deliberation on February 8 delivered the guilty verdict. A date for sentencing has not been announced.

West faces more charges in Wisconsin resulting from his actions with Johnson. He has been charged with discarding the handgun used to kill Mr. Balsimo into Lake Superior, mutilating a corpse as a party to a crime, harboring/aiding a felon, and possession of a firearm. A trial date has not been set yet for those charges.

Minnesota Sixth District Court Judge Michael Cuzzo presided over the trial. The state was represented by Minnesota’s Assistant Attorney General Dan Vlieger and Cook County Attorney Molly Hickens.

Balsimo’s family felt that law enforcement officials did not seriously consider the missing person case they filed on June 29, 2021, when Balsimo hadn’t been seen and did not respond to texts or voicemails in the days after June 20, 2021. They retained Applied Professional Services, a private investigation firm in Duluth, MN to investigate Balsimo’s disappearance, and Hickens credits Applied’s investigation results in helping, “break the case.”

Jacob Colt Johnson is scheduled to be tried for one count of murder in the second degree for the death of Richard Balsimo, Jr. on July 18, 2023, in the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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