In the 2000’s, a popular reality show surfaced on MSNBC called “To Catch a Predator“. In case you never watched it, its purpose was to catch men who were seeking sexual contact with underage persons. This was typically accomplished by impersonating kids ranging in age from 12 to 15 years old on the internet. Arrangements would be made to lure the men – under the guise of potential sexual contact – to a specified location, but they were then met by Dateline NBC’s Chris Hansen, who would confront them about their ambitions. Ultimately, they were arrested by local law enforcement.
While the show certainly had its critics, it illustrated two important facts. First, that the internet is not always a safe place for children. And second, that there are people with sexual ambitions that cross the lines deemed acceptable by society in general. Though these facts were made blatantly obvious, it’s only natural for us to hope that such investigations never need come to our families and communities. Yet, the reality is that far too often they do.
Oddly enough, such is the case with the Bismarck Police Department (BPD). To illustrate my point, just over a year ago, the BPD sparked an investigation very similar to those described above. And to top it off, it involved their own chaplain— Samuel Lee Saylor. Saylor was a chaplain of 18 years for the BPD and was a key responder in things like officer shootings and the NoDAPL protests.
According to an entry dated 06/12/17 on BPD’s Continuation Report, the investigation began because:
“Detective Betz had previous[ly] been assigned to the Internet Crimes against Children investigative spot and had visited the website and seen a picture of Saylor on his profile page while conducting an unrelated investigation… Under the profile it listed the physical description and average age of Saylor as well as a picture of him.”
The website referred to in the report is identified as ChatHour.com. Apparently users can set up profiles on this site and utilize it as a means of communicating with each other about topics of their choice. Seems fairly innocent until we read the reasons for their concern. I’ll leave the details to you in the report itself – they’re quite troubling – but after identifying some of Saylor’s friends, the investigative officer comes across this comment from one of them:
“… also looking for PEDOFILES so hit me up thanks.”
The report continues:
“There seemed to be some consistency with Saylor’s friends on Chat Hour that lead me to believe that he may be utilizing this platform to chat about issues that were extremely graphic and sexually deviant in nature. Due to this issue I created an online profile on Chat Hour under the screen name HarperJessen69. I listed my profile as a female that was fifteen years old who was bi sexual. In my relationship status I listed myself as being in an open relationship. I also listed in my profile that I was looking for an older man to make me more experienced… I then sent a friend request to Saylor and sent a message inquiring about him.”
Three days later, on 06/15/17, the officer logs back into his account and finds that Saylor had accepted the request. With access to Saylor’s account as a friend, the officer was able to see that Saylor’s account was set up under the name Lee Brown. But when the officer ran the phone number listed, it matched Sam Saylor’s.
As a means of adding the appearance of legitimacy to his 15-year old female profile, the officer also set up a Facebook account to match. On 06/19/17, he logs into this account and finds a friend request from Lee Brown. The request is accepted and it is here that Saylor initiates a conversation with the officer he believes to be 15-year old Harper Jessen. Here is the conversation – in part – from the report:
Saylor: Harper, you up for chatting now
Me: Sure… I forgot how we know each other?
Saylor: You contacted me on chat hour. At first I did not want to chat with you because your age was listed at 15, then I realized you were older.
Me: I actually am 15, why did you think I was older?
Saylor: Why does it say on facebook you are 18 and attend BSC
Me: at the time I made my account I wasn’t old enough to make my own account so I had to make some stuff up.
After a brief exchange about where they’ve lived, the conversation continues:
Saylor: It is disappointing you are 15 though
Me: why is that?
Saylor: not really a good idea to chat with someone so young
Me: Age is just a number!!! LOL
The two then continued in conversation about how to navigate the Chat Hour website where the detective discovers previous messages from Saylor that he’d missed. The messages are repeated attempts by Saylor to make contact. But among them is this:
Saylor: I want to talk with you harper
Saylor: Do you know what a dom is?
The latter comment especially raises concern for the investigative officer and he notes in the report:
“After receiving these messages there was a definite cause for concern as Saylor had asked whom he believed was a fifteen year old female if [s]he knew what a dom was? In my training and experience the term dom is short for dominant, and refers to the dominant person in a BDSM relationship and encounter. The acronym BDSM is an overlapping abbreviation of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. This term refers to the physical, psychological and usually sexual power-role play with participants.”
As the days continue on, Saylor continues to engage in online messaging with the officer he believes to be 15-year old Harper Jessen. He asks whether she has a boyfriend, has dated older guys, and expresses his need to be cautious about topics. He then says that he’s a “careful person” after he acknowledges that people can go to prison for “anything sexual” with minors.
Then on 06/28/17 Saylor goes to the library. After making his location known and being told that Harper is just “sitting around”, he suggests that she “could read a book”. With repeated refusals to go to the library, the conversation picks up here:
Me: Oh really? What did you have in mind for entertainment… (winky emoji)
Saylor: Lol not to be found at the library or discussed here
The report then says that the conversation shifted to “talk about how people make him feel good” and it includes this from Saylor:
Saylor: Good to feel close to others
Me: Yeah, that is good!!
Saylor: ever notice the difference between touching you self and being touched by someone else.
Eventually Saylor asks Harper how far she lives from the Holiday gas station. The officer responds that it’s “less than a ten minute walk”. At this point, Saylor says he’s going to go there to “get a cookie and maybe a drink”. The insinuation is obvious— Saylor wants Harper to meet him at the Holiday.
With Saylor on his way to the gas station, the investigator and another officer made their way to the neighboring Wendy’s parking lot to observe if Saylor shows up— which he does. While inside, Saylor sends a message to Harper and says it’s “decision time”. After about seven minutes in the store, Saylor exits and sits in his vehicle in the parking lot for another 24 minutes.
After watching him leave, the detective sends a message to Saylor – as Harper – saying that she was purchasing a cookie. Saylor offers to turn around, but “I informed him that I was just checking out.” And this is where it gets interesting. The investigating officer notes:
“Saylor and I then began conversing and Saylor informed me about how police sometimes pretend to be undercover girl[s] to lure guys in. Saylor admitted that he had been lied to before online and that he is a very cautious person.”
I think it’s fair to say that, at this point, Saylor realizes in the back of his mind that the situation might not be what he thought it was. Yet, despite him essentially acknowledging this as a possibility, the very next day he has this exchange:
Saylor: do you swim in the river
Me: haha. Sometimes I go in but usually im just on the beach getting some sun!
Saylor: I have heard that river can be a pretty dangerous place to swim, I am not into the sunbathing thing
Saylor: so you a bikini gal
Me: What do you think?
Saylor: No idea really. I assume so
Me: Well yeah silly! I don’t have any one pieces… LOL
Saylor: well mine are all one piece
Then in an exchange on 07/05/17 Saylor is led to believe that Harper likes to hang out by the river at Steamboat Park. The following day, while traveling “in the direction of the park”, Saylor tries to get specifics as to the location of Harper. But with no confidential informant in place, the investigating officer remains vague.
On 07/10/17 Saylor again brings the conversation around to Harper’s swimsuits— including how many she owns, which is her favorite, and what color. But the following day is when things seem to begin changing for Saylor. It’s almost as if the idea of this being a sting operation is more at the forefront of his mind. According to the report, he begins to ask very specific questions about her “personal life”. It’s almost as if he’s trying to determine if Harper Jessen is an actual person or not. We then get this exchange:
Saylor: And as I have told, there are many who are predators are so be careful especially on here and in chat hour
Me: Yeah. Well there must be some good people on their cause I met you. (wink face emoji)
Saylor: Well thank you. I can assure you that I am not predatory. I am breaking my own rule for even talking to you due to your age, but I enjoy it and try to keep it above board.
To conclude a conversation on 07/11/17, Saylor inquired where Harper likes to shop. He is told Kirkwood Mall. Then in a conversation the very next day, Saylor messages Harper and says that he is shopping at the mall and will be stopping at the Holiday on his way back to work. The detective noted:
“It appeared as if Saylor wanted me to come to the mall and/or Holiday gas station again without him actually directly inviting me.”
On 07/13/17, Saylor continues to make the attempt to actually see Harper Jessen. His reasoning?
Saylor: It would be nice to see you one day, not meet you, but to just see you
Me: What do you mean just see me?
Saylor: Just that. See you walking down the mall but no contact. Just see that you are real lol
Me: Haha. Maybe I don’t know. I’m 100% real. lol
Saylor: I am sure you are, just not a good idea for me to be meeting a gal your age
Me: Like I said age is just a number (winky face emoji). And I can keep secrets.
Saylor: I am sure you can. I am not looking for secrets though. I just happen to like you as a young friend.
In my opinion, it is here we are again sensing Saylor’s heightened caution with the situation. To this point, he has been unable to actually meet or even see Harper Jessen. His obsession seems to be the need to verify that Harper is an actual person. In fact, he even admits to giving “hints” about “where I was going to be at a certain time” in an effort to meet her. The investigator notes:
“Saylor openly admitted to me via our conversation that he had given me hints as to where he was going to be at certain places and times so that contact of some sort could be made.”
Then, on 07/19/17, Saylor seems to let his guard down just a bit. On a day he describes as “feeling stressed”, he asks Harper if she’s a “massage expert” and the following conversation ensues:
Me: … I am definitely good at massages!! So I’ve been told!! (Winky emoji)
Saylor: Tempting, it is my neck and should[er] that are so tight right now
Me: aww. poor baby!!
Saylor: is that sarcasm
Me: no no. I really do feel bad
Saylor: honestly wish you were older
Me: well. I don’t see it as a problem, only a number
Saylor: just a concern to even meet someone so young
Yet, despite Saylor expressing his concerns with meeting “someone so young” he goes on to once again make the attempt to arrange a meeting place and this time goes as far as suggesting a specific time “within walking distance”. When this doesn’t work out, the investigating officer notes that Saylor resorts back to reassuring him that he only sees Harper as a “young friend and not as a potential for something else”. They even discuss the age of consent in North Dakota and Saylor says that he’s seen men make mistakes and be branded as sex offenders the rest of their lives.
On 07/28/17, permission is sought and granted to utilize confidential informants on Saylor’s case.
Finally, on 08/10/17, with officers nearby and in place, two informants are placed inside Raging Rivers Water Park with the purpose “to present Saylor with an actual person so that he could verify that he was actually communicating with a real person.” A message is sent to notify Saylor of their whereabouts and he shows up, approaches the fence, and then gets back in his vehicle after watching them for a short time from a distance. After another ten minutes, he exits his vehicle, approaches the fence again, and messages Harper to go to an area where he can see her again— which the informant does.
The conversation via messaging continued and Saylor tells Harper that both she and the swimsuit she’s wearing are “cute”. He then gets in his vehicle and exits the park.
Later this same day, conversation continued between the two. The report documents it as follows:
“The conversation continued into the evening and Saylor asked me about my friend that I was with and how much I had told her about him. Saylor then invited me to get an ice cream, and I declined. The conversation continued about how Saylor didn’t want to see me get hurt. Saylor informed me that he actually wanted to meet me as friends and talk face to face.”
It’s interesting to note now that Saylor had seen a person he believed to be Harper, he begins to press for a face to face meeting— something he had previously said he didn’t want to do. On 08/14/17, their conversation turns to this:
Saylor: Wish I could have caught up with you when you were out though
Me: Why is that?
Saylor: well I would still like to see you closer up rather than at a great distance
Me: Yeah, why do you want to see me closer up? Did you like what you saw? Lol
Saylor: you are very cute from what I could see
In the days that followed, Saylor repeatedly tried to encourage meeting in person. And on 08/16/17, the investigating officer notes:
“Through the numerous conversations that I have had with Saylor it is apparent that he wants to meet me to discuss topics that he is concerned could be tracked on the internet. Saylor has told me numerous times how he feel that he would feel better talking in person.”
In what appears to be an odd turn of events, on 08/29/17, Harper tells Saylor:
“… we were looking for different things and that I am going to have to look somewhere else. Saylor informed me whatever you want. The conversation then ended.”
The next notes we have are from 09/07/17 when Saylor is brought in to the BPD interview room, advised of his rights, and was confronted with the situation as the investigating officer explains that he is the person who was portraying himself as Harper Jessen. While admitting curiosity about Harper, her family, and what was going on in her life, Saylor points out “that there was absolutely nothing on his part that would in any way involved sexual contact.”
Saylor went on to admit to having attempted, on multiple occasions, to set up meetings with Harper and that he indeed had suspicions that the profile was that of a police officer. But while denying any wrongdoing, he said that his only intention was to “try and help her” and that his whole reason for wanting to meet was to “tell her of how dangerous it is to be online.”
And while Saylor was under no obligation to say anything, in addition to his denials of any wrongdoing, he did openly admit to things that weren’t even part of the investigation. I’ll leave the details to you in the report, but needless to say – and according to his own admission – the BPD chaplain has a long history of inappropriate sexual encounters via the internet. And that includes encounters that occurred in person as a result of utilizing various websites to arrange meetings. Meetings that Saylor says numbered “less than fifty times”.
Following a forensic examination of Saylor’s phone – in which it was determined that there was “no evidence of him communicating sexually with underage females” – it was decided that “the evidence collected does not meet the threshold for a criminal charge” and the investigation was dropped. And in the days that followed, his status as the BPD chaplain of 18 years was ended.
Sam Saylor’s version of his intentions with the fictitious Harper Jessen are highly questionable— at best. After all, why would he inquire into whether someone with a profile listing them as 15-years old knew what a “dom” is? Furthermore, why would he make inquiries into their preferences of swimsuits and even make comments about how cute they were— all while trying to arrange meetings? Yet, these aren’t the only questions that surface as a result of this case.
Who made the determination to bring the case to a close? It seems to have came to an abrupt halt of sorts prior to bringing Saylor in for an interview. According to our source, that person was former Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin. And while we have no evidence to back up that claim, everything else we were told prior to obtaining the open records has now been verified through that request. Donlin can obviously speak for himself, but I’m guessing he at least had knowledge of how the investigation was progressing and what decisions were being made.
I also find it interesting that North Dakota’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation was brought in by Dan Donlin to investigate the nine officers who signed the recall petition for his buddy Mayor Mike Seminary, but for something like their own chaplain potentially luring underage girls we find absolutely nothing indicating BCI involvement. Why?
Aside from this, in the course of our looking into this situation, it appears we may have discovered evidence of someone from within the BPD tipping off Saylor to our recent open records request regarding this matter. In this screenshot from Saylors website known as “Northern Plains Chaplaincy“, you’ll notice that a paragraph has been added. Here’s the before:
And here’s what it currently looks like:
Now, just in case you are viewing this from your phone, this is the paragraph that has been added under the heading “Restoration”:
“In September 2017 Sam confessed to sexual sin to his family, church leaders, and a public confession to the congregation he had served for nearly 19 years. He entered into a restoration process required by his denomination. That process required that no ministerial activity be conducted for one year, intense counseling to assist with depression and burnout, work with a mentoring pastor, and required reading. The year has been painful with the brutal reality of lives hurt including family, colleagues, friends, and parishners. Yet, it has also been a humbling and helpful time. In the second year of restoration the denomination allows limited ministerial activity under the supervision of the Regional Bishop. I am so very thankful for my denominations willing to restore a fallen minister and for the help recieved from the counselors, family and friends. I do understand better how depression and burnout affect us although I have made clear that I offer no excuses for my actions, but own the responsibility for them.”
Considering the entirety of the situation, it seems this was added in anticipation of this story coming out. Now, maybe this is all just coincidence, but I have a hard time believing that it is. And if it’s not coincidence, who was it that leaked the fact that questions were being asked and records obtained in regards to his case?
Forgive me for the skepticism, but there almost seems to be a whitewashing of sorts going on here. At the very least, an effort to change the narrative on all of it. Further evidence of this is found in relation to a video that existed on the internet of Saylor carrying out a sex act. Prior to our source providing us information on the BPD case against the former chaplain, another source had contacted us in relation to the aforementioned video— something they described as horribly inappropriate. That video has since been removed. Who removed it?
Then there’s the ecclesiastical aspect of all this. It’s obviously no secret that a hot button topic in the media lately involves churches and scandals involving clergy and sexual abuse of minors. The examples of articles are too numerous to cite. But suffice it to say that many Americans are upset – and rightfully so – because some of the aforementioned clergy were alleged to have knowingly been allowed to continue in positions where they were a threat to children.
Yet, on Saylor’s own website it lays out the path for him to return to a limited capacity in the ministry – during his “second year of restoration” – in spite of the investigation and his problematic sexual history.
There’s too much that just doesn’t seem right here. And I think the people of Bismarck deserve answers.