The murder of a North Dakota man has authorities investigating whether other recent missing persons cases are connected or the work of separate criminals who've descended on the area known as the Bakken Formation, where new discoveries of oil and natural gas have drawn thousands of transient newcomers and strained the resources of police.
Police on Tuesday found the body of 58-year-old Jack Sjol in a shallow grave about six miles southeast of his ranch in Williston. Sjol was shot "multiple times," and authorities arrested and charged 33-year-old Ryan Stensaker with his murder, Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching told FoxNews.com. Stensaker, who has a history of drug-related convictions, is being held on $1 million bail.
"He would give the shirt off his back for someone," Sjol's niece, Aubrey Millar, said in an interview. "When you think of the stereotypical North Dakota cowboy, that's him."
"He was always there to help. He never wanted anything in return," Millar said of her uncle, a 30-year Williston resident, who was last seen on April 24.
Sjol's case is one of several missing persons cases to hit the area since an influx of people moved to the region in pursuit of high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry.
Kristopher "KC" Clarke, 29, was last seen more than a year ago in the Williston area. Clarke, originally from Washington state, disappeared under suspicious circumstances, according to his mother, Jill Williams.
Authorities are also searching for 30-year-old Eric Haider, who lived in Bismarck and worked in Dickinson, about 132 miles away from Williston. Haider was last seen on May 24, 2012, at his job site.
Investigators are considering whether the men's disappearances are connected or whether they are separate crimes committed by convicts who find it easy to go undetected in an area that's experienced a recent population boom because of discoveries in the 200,000-square-mile Bakken Formation, which stretches through swaths of North Dakota and Montana. So many men have moved in recent years to North Dakota, where unemployment is the lowest in the nation, that they must live in camps and RVs because new home construction can't keep up with demand.
"They're separate cases right now but the possibility that they may be connected is being looked into," Busching told FoxNews.com."We have a tremendous transient population. We have very few addresses," Busching said. "We have over 9,000 man camp beds permitted in Williams County alone, and countless RV’s, RV parks, sanctioned or not."
We have people living in tents and under bridges," he said. "They come and go."While authorities describe an overwhelming task at hand, the victims' family members, like Jill Willliams, are outraged over what they say is a lack of publicity given to the missing men.
"They cannot keep track of anybody," Williams said of the local police. "It is absolutely like the Wild West. They're ill-equipped to do anything. They’re overwhelmed and overworked."
"It is the perfect hiding place for rapists, pedophiles and serial killers," she said. "This isn’t just about my son. It’s about everyone missing out there."
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Kristopher "KC" Clarke is being urged to call the Williston Police Department at 701-577-1212. For tips or information related to the disappearance of Eric Haider, the public is urged to contact the Dickinson Police Department at 701-456-7762.
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.