Amid a night of costumed Halloween revelry, a man found beaten to death

In its eighth season, the Dakota Spotlight podcast is re-examining the killing of Joel Lovelien, which took place outside the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks on Oct. 28, 2007.

Patrons at the Broken Drum bar on the evening of October 27, 2007 caught on security video. Joel Lovelien was found beaten to death in the parking lot after stepping outside.
(Screenshot / James Wolner)

GRAND FORKS — It was a chilly October night, and Paul Balstad was driving a taxi cab, looking for a fare.

He noticed emergency vehicles with flashing light outside the Broken Drum bar. There must have been some sort of incident there. It was the wee hours of Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007, and Halloween revelers were still crowding the bars.

Listen to Episode Number 1 — Halloween at the Broken Drum

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Then, someone flagged him down. It was a young man dressed in something yellow, waving his arms. He hopped in Balstad's cab.


The driver noticed a few things. The yellow outfit was some sort of Halloween costume, part of it was missing, and another part had blood on it. And he looked beat up: a fat lip, bruised knuckles, a serious black eye and a lot of blood on his face.

"He looked like he was kind of in shock, in a daze," Balstad said, recalling the night. "I mean, you couldn't have used a paintbrush or a roller to get more blood on there."

Balstad didn't know it then, but the man's name was Travis Stay, and earlier that evening he had been at the Broken Drum bar. Also at the Broken Drum — a man named Joel Lovelien.

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Lovelien, 38, was found beaten to death in the parking lot outside the bar. Stay was later charged with murder, but a jury found him not guilty in December 2008. Nobody has ever been convicted of Lovelien's murder.

Now, the Dakota Spotlight podcast is launching an in-depth examination of the case, exploring what happened that night, digging into the trial of Travis Stay, and examining the various theories about the case.

About Dakota Spotlight, Season 8 — Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien

Joel Lovelien was beaten to death outside the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2007, amid a night of Halloween revelry. Nobody has ever been found guilty for his murder.

Suspicion immediately fell on a variety of costumed partiers that night, including some dressed as a lion, the joker and a hunter. Local police and prosecutors thought they had their man, the one dressed as a lion that night: Travis Stay. But Stay was found not guilty in December 2008 in a high-profile trial -- a sensational result that has made the case a staple of true crime shows, including the Dateline TV program.


Welcome to Dakota Spotlight's eighth season: "Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien." With unprecedented access to case files and evidence, prosecutors, police, witnesses and family members, Dakota Spotlight creator and host James Wolner will use his unique investigation and reporting style to pursue the case's central questions: Who killed Joel Lovelien? Why was Travis Stay found not guilty? And why does so much suspicion linger around others in this case?

Why Dakota Spotlight picked this case

For seven seasons, Wolner and his Dakota Spotlight podcast have looked into largely unreported crimes, or at least, relatively unreported by true crime TV shows and podcasts. But the Lovelien case is not an unexplored topic, including by NBC's well-known Dateline show in 2013 and 2019.

Wolner, however, believes that while the Dateline show did give a good high-level picture of the case, most other true crime shows did little to no interviews and investigating of their own, instead just retelling the same story largely described in the Dateline broadcasts.

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"I believe that all this has led to some misunderstandings about Joel’s case as well as many rumors, theories and hearsay," Wolner said in episode one of this new season about the Lovelien case.

Wolner, instead, is taking a fresh, in-depth look at the matter, through interviews with law enforcement, family members, witnesses and others, reviewing police files and legal documents, and plans to explore any new leads that come up in the reporting of the show.

People in this episode

  • Paul Balstad: A taxi driver in Grand Forks the night Lovelien was killed, he drove Travis Stay home and noticed he was dazed, had blood on him and looked like he had been in a fight.
  • Heather Eastling: Joel Lovelien's fiancée.
  • Joel Lovelien: 38-years-old, technical systems analyst for Altru Hospital: Joel went to the Broken Drum bar with his fiancée Heather Eastling, then later went outside to take the phone call. He was found beaten to death in the bar's parking lot.
  • Travis Stay: A reveler at the Broken Drum bar that night who was driven home with blood on his lion costume. He was later charged with Lovelien's murder and found not guilty in December 2008.
  • Keith Swartz: Discovered Lovelien in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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