Eerie coincidence or Barbara Cotton's abductor? 'Dakota Spotlight' search reveals potential tie to serial killer. Listen to episode 18

Four days after Forum Communications' podcast Dakota Spotlight asked listeners for assistance in locating an individual, a troubling possibility surfaced. Williston Police Department investigators will look closer at man in custody. Scroll to the end of this story to go directly to the podcast.

C. G. Sullivan is currently being held on murder charges in Nevada / Washoe county sheriff department

In April of 1981, 15-year-old Barbara Louise Cotton vanished from Williston, North Dakota, never to be seen or heard from again. Since January of 2021, the Dakota Spotlight podcast has investigated the case with Season 5, "A Better Search for Barbara."

One person of interest in Cotton's disappearance was 21-year-old Stacey Demarr Werder, reported to have been with Barbara on the night she vanished. Three months after Barbara Cotton disappeared, Werder took his own life in a Montana jail cell after being arrested for disorderly conduct.

Eerie coincidence or Barbara's killer?

As part of his investigation this year, podcast producer James Wolner petitioned Phillips County, Montana, to review the coroner's inquest of Werder's death. Wolner attained the inquest transcript last week.

Included in the inquest file are details about Werder's arrest on the night that he died. Werder was arrested for disorderly conduct at a movie theater on July 15, 1981, in Malta, Montana. The inquest transcript also reveals that Werder was in the company of a man named C.E. Sullivan, also known as Red Sullivan. Sullivan was not arrested with Werder.

The transcripts also reveal that, at the time of the inquest in November of 1981, Sullivan had left the area and could no longer be located by law enforcement.


In Dakota Spotlight's latest episode The Inquest, listeners are asked to help locate C.E. Sullivan with the hopes of learning what he may recall about Werder's potential involvement in Cotton's disappearance. As a result of that query, Dakota Spotlight received information from a listener about a suspected serial killer operating as early as 1979 named C.G. Sullivan. (It might be noted that the middle initials, E and G, are similar phonetically, which could lead to an error in the inquest transcript.)

"All evidence points to defendant being a serial killer."

Attorney General Aaron D. Ford - Nevada

C.G. Sullivan, whose full name is Charles Gary Sullivan, was arrested in 2019, suspected of murdering Julia Woodward in 1979, after DNA reportedly tied him to the crime. Woodward's body was found near Reno, Nevada.

More victims?

Sullivan is currently awaiting trial in Nevada. In court filings, Aaron Ford, the attorney general of Nevada stated, "All evidence points to defendant being a serial killer.”

Ford and prosecutors called Sullivan a suspect in the killing of Jennie Smith, a 17-year-old waitress at a Reno hotel-casino whose body was found in November 1979, as well as the unsolved disappearance of Linda Taylor, 23, in March 1979.


Williston Police Department to look closer at Sullivan

In a phone conversation the morning of Friday, Oct. 29, Dakota Spotlight producer James Wolner passed along the information on C.G. Sullivan to Williston Police Department’s Investigations Capt Steven Gutenick.

Gutenick said the potential C.G. Sullivan connection to Barbara Cotton’s case was "interesting" and would be looked into further. In regards to the discrepancy between the middle initials "E" and "G," Gutenick also noted the phonetic similarity. “E and G are pretty interchangeable," he said.

Listen to Episode 18

Listen to the Barbara Cotton Story

RELATED Podcast homepage | Newsletter | Season 3 videos | Season 2: 1976 Zick murders |


15 year old Barbara Cotton went missing from Williston, N.D. on April 11, 1981 Photo courtesy of the Cotton family

James Wolner is a Digital Content Producer at Forum Communications Company, Fargo North Dakota and the creator, producer and host of Dakota Spotlight, a true crime podcast. He has lived the Upper Midwest since 2013 and studied photojournalism at California State University at Fresno. He is fluent in English and Swedish.
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