Just days before Halloween in 2009, beloved periodontist Philip Gattuso was found bludgeoned to death at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. What the authorities then uncovered was a sinister murder-for-hire plot that shocked everyone. Investigation Discovery’s ‘See No Evil: Murder at Sunrise’ chronicles how the police used surveillance footage and eyewitness reports to catch the culprits. So, let’s find out more about what happened then, shall we?
How Did Philip Gattuso Die?
Philip Gattuso was the youngest child in his family and grew up in Gretna, Louisiana. After high school, he earned a Biological Sciences degree from the University of New Orleans in Louisiana. Eventually, Philip pursued dentistry and took over a practice in Fargo. He had two sons from a previous marriage before he met Valerie Kirkpatrick. They married in 2001 and had a 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy, together. In March 2009, Valerie passed away due to complications from heart surgery.
On the evening of October 26, 2009, Philip didn’t pick Kennedy up from daycare. He had also missed a work teleconference. Worried, a neighbor went to check on Philip only to find him dead on his bedroom floor. The authorities arrived at around 7:45 pm and noticed that the 49-year-old was hit in the head at least ten times with a hammer. There were multiple items of value missing from the residence like laptops, money, camera, and Philip’s Porsche. The initial assumption was that it was a burglary gone wrong. However, the investigation would reveal a plot far more sinister.
Who Killed Philip Gattuso?
Witnesses reported seeing Philip’s car on a flatbed trailer connected to a dark-colored pickup truck. Another witness saw the trailer at a rest stop close to the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The authorities then examined the surveillance footage from the rest stop, getting a look at the license plate of the truck as well as the driver. They traced the license plate to 41-year-old Michael Nakvinda in Oklahoma. He was arrested without incident on October 31.
Michael had a lengthy criminal history and served time for burglary in the past. Also of note to the authorities was that he was Gene Kirkpatrick’s handyman. Gene was Valerie’s father and Philip’s father-in-law. The police learned that Kennedy’s custody was a source of contention between Philip and the Kirkpatricks. According to Philip’s brother, Roy, Gene had previously threatened to kill Philip if he didn’t raise Kennedy in Oklahoma.
Furthermore, there was a letter that Valerie’s family said was written by her. According to that, Valerie wanted her sister to raise Kennedy because she didn’t like Philip’s parenting. In an interview with the police, Gene stated that he wanted Philip “gone or dead” and offered to pay Michael $3000 for the job, promising to pay $10,000 more. He later said of his son-in-law and Kennedy, “I just felt like he was going to ruin her life. I thought her future welfare was more valuable than his life.” Gene even admitted to videotaping Philip’s home and giving it to Michael.
The authorities found Philip’s car, electronic devices, and a hammer with his blood and hair in a storage unit rented by Michael. The evidence heavily implicated Michael, but at his trial, he claimed that Gene framed him. Michael’s lawyer claimed the handyman was under the impression that he was picking up a car that Gene had bought on eBay. There was another witness, Deborah Baker, a friend of the Kirkpatricks. She had Michael do some work around her house and stated that he talked about taking care of Philip and mentioned using a hammer.
Where Are Gene Kirkpatrick and Michael Nakvinda Now?
At Gene Kirkpatrick’s trial, he took the stand and claimed that he paid Michael for some past and upcoming work. Gene added that while he did discuss having Philip killed, it was just “locker-room talk.” During the police interview earlier, Gene stated that he thought Michael would enlist someone else to kill. In the end, in December 2010, Michael was found guilty of murdering Philip and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In July 2011, Gene, then-64-years-old, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and burglary. The defense unsuccessfully tried to argue that Gene was only venting his frustrations out and that Michael went ahead with the murder without Gene’s say-so. In October the same year, Gene also received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. A report from 2019 indicated that he was serving his sentence out at a correctional facility in South Dakota. On the other hand, Michael remains incarcerated at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck, Burleigh County.
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