Eric Haider was born prematurely, tiny and frail, with a heart murmur. He wasn’t expected to survive. But he did.
As a child, Eric, who was deaf in one ear, learned how to sign and went through years of physical therapy for the complications he endured as a preemie. But the tiny baby eventually turned into a strong, six-foot-tall man who, according to his mother, once literally gave the shirt off his back to a stranger who needed it for a job interview.
“That’s who he was,” his mother Maryellen Suchan told Dateline. “He may have had a weak heart medically, but he had a heart of gold. And he cared so deeply for others.”
Eric had a heart of passion for helping others, but his heart was still weak physically and he continued to have complications throughout his life. When he was in his 20s, he suffered multiple strokes. But yet, he survived.
At just 27 years old, a pacemaker was implanted in his chest to help with his heart issues. He would survive another three years until his pacemaker marked his time of death at 12:19 p.m. on May 24, 2012.
But it wasn’t from his history of heart complications. It was a Thursday in May just before Memorial Day weekend when he got buried in a trench six feet under the ground, beneath heaps of dirt at the construction site where he had been working that day.
His mother, Maryellen, told Dateline that ever since she almost lost Eric as a baby, she was always afraid of losing him.
“To lose Eric like this, is unthinkable,” she said. “He defied the odds so many times, and lived. For him to be buried alive, murdered, is just not something we’ll ever be able to get over.”
Eric Haider, who lived in Bismarck, North Dakota, was just a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday when it happened. He had just started working with Cofell Plumbing and Heating and the company had been working on a sewer main project off Highway 22 in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Memorial Day Weekend was fast approaching, but the crew of six, including Eric, continued to carpool from Bismarck to the site in Dickinson.
His mother Maryellen remembers the last time she saw Eric. She had just dropped him off at the pickup point for the crew.
"Last thing he said was, 'Give me a kiss and hug,’ and said, 'Love you, Ma. Talk to you later.' That was the last time I saw him," she said.
After a long day of work, Eric and the crew would usually be back in Bismarck by 6:30 p.m. where his fiancée Jody would be there to pick him up.
But on May 24, Eric never returned from the construction site. His fiancée would later tell police that she attempted to call his cell phone but it went straight to voicemail, which she said was out of the ordinary.
The Dickinson Police were notified and an investigation was launched. According to a police report provided to Dateline, the responding officer contacted the job foreman Jack Bettenhausen who was at the site that day.
He told police that the crew returned from lunch around 12 p.m. Eric’s fiancée, who often talked to him during the day, told police she spoke to him on the phone at 12:04 p.m. and that everything seemed normal.
About 15 minutes later, the crew could not locate Eric, according to the report. A couple of hours later, they called his cell phone but it went straight to voicemail.
The foreman told police that Eric was very quiet and didn’t really interact with the crew, according to the report. He said Eric had requested vacation for the Memorial Day weekend, but was denied, so the foreman told police he thought Eric was upset over the denial and possibly walked away.
So the crew left the site that day with Eric’s lunch box, backpack, and paycheck, which had been distributed to the crew that morning, but there was still no sign of Eric.
Eric’s fiancée Jody later told police there was no way Eric just walked away from the job site, stating that Eric “doesn't know how to quit” and had a strong work ethic.
Eric had only been with the company for a short time, but was always looking to move on to bigger and better things for his family. A father of two, a son and a daughter, the 30-year-old had been taking college classes for engineering.
But he never got the opportunity to move forward in life.
After he was reported missing on May 24, police began interviewing Eric’s co-workers. According to what they told police, Eric was last seen in and out of one of the trenches, working to seal a pipe and collecting tools.
The rest of the crew started backfilling holes. One co-worker assigned to backfilling holes had a call marked on his phone at 12:14 p.m. that day, a time the man said he was in the loader moving dirt. It lasted five minutes.
They told police they had not realized Eric was gone until the foreman tried to reach him on his cell phone around 1:30 p.m.
During an initial search for Eric by the police, his phone was pinged in the area which led to an exhaustive ground and air search that lasted for weeks.
Maryellen told Dateline she knew from the beginning that her son had not walked off that jobsite.
“He never left - he was there, buried in that ground,” Maryellen said. “I remember waking up at night for years wanting to cover him with a blanket, especially in the winter. I knew he was cold out there in the ground.”
Five days after Eric’s disappearance, the police began excavating the construction site based on directions the crew gave them.
'We had been told and led to believe that that portion of the ditch had been backfilled prior to Eric's disappearance,” Detective Sgt. Kylan Klauzer told NBC affiliate KFYR-TV . “We had already went further than the information we did have at hand.”
But they were digging in the wrong direction.
On May 21, 2015, three years after Eric vanished from the construction site, his body was found buried six and a half feet underground, less than 10 feet away from where police originally dug, according to a statement released by Discovery Investigations, Inc., a private investigations firm that was hired by the family.
According to the police report, the private investigator, Ron Switzer , and his partner, discovered there was going to be additional excavation in the area of Eric's disappearance to add drainage functions. So they contacted a cadaver K9 handler to come to the site. They convinced them to dig where the K9 made an unofficial indication.
During the dig, they discovered a red glove that contained human remains. Further excavation revealed the rest of Eric’s remains and they called the Dickinson Police Department.
“We just happened to be fortunate enough to try to bring some closure to the family,” Ron said in the statement that was released following the discovery. “They need some time to rest. It’s been a tough go for them for three years.”
Detective Sgt. Kylan Klauzer, the lead investigator on the case, wrote in a statement that positive identification was made through medical records, distinguishable tattoos and personal effects, including his wallet and cell phone, found in clothing that was on the body.
According to a narrative by Sgt. Klauzer, Eric’s body faced a water pipeline, the same one Eric's crew was installing at the time of his disappearance. He was in a squatting position, and bent over to the anterior side of the body.
He went on to state that Eric’s body was “positioned in a manner that was consistent with dirt being pushed in on top of it while it was seated near the pipe or while it had been standing and had been forced to the ground.”
Eric’s yellow hard hat was positioned underneath the face and it appeared to have been knocked off when the dirt hit the body, the report read.
Eric’s body was transferred to the University of North Dakota forensics lab in Grand Forks for testing. His pacemaker marked his time of death at 12:19 p.m. - just five minutes after his co-workers began backfilling the trenches. The cause of death was ruled to be undermined.
But the discovery of Eric’s body was only the beginning of an investigation that would leave his family even more frustrated and desperate for answers.
While Eric’s family believes he was buried alive, and that his death was covered up by the company, his co-workers’ statements to police indicated they thought Eric had walked away from the site, upset over not getting vacation time, and that his death was simply a workplace accident.
Jay Cofell, owner of Cofell’s Plumbing and Heating, told the Grand Forks Herald newspaper in 2015 that he was “very sorry” to hear that the body was Eric. He added that his company and the employees who were working with him the day of his disappearance had cooperated with police investigations. Attempts by Dateline to reach the company for comment on the case were unsuccessful.
In the years since Eric’s body was found, the investigation came to a halt.
Sergeant Kylan Klauzer told Dateline that a thorough investigation was conducted by the Dickinson Police Department and presented to Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning. He declined to file criminal charges in the case, stating that his decision not to file charges does not mean that he doesn’t believe a crime was committed. Rather, the nature of the event makes it difficult to develop probable cause for a case, as it is unclear who is responsible.
With the decision Henning made not to file charges, Sgt. Klauzer said the Dickinson Police Department decided to close the case. He added that anyone who may have information that could reopen Eric’s case can call the police department.
Eric’s death, and the circumstances around it, have been difficult on his family, and the fact that they are no closer to an answer about what really happened has been even harder - especially for his daughter, Brynn Hastings.
Brynn, was just 12 years old when her father went missing. When his body was discovered at the construction site that day in 2016, she was there, along with her family. She was only 15.
The page is updated often with information about Eric’s case and pleas for it to be reopened and investigated again.
Maryellen hoping for answers about her son’s death for her own peace of mind, and for her family’s as well. Her mother, Eric’s grandmother, with whom he was very close, never got closure before she died last summer.
“She had heart complications like so many did in our family,” Maryellen said. “But her heart broke even more when Eric died. The only comfort I have now is that they’re together.”
Today, Maryellen keeps her son’s ashes in an urn at her home, where they’re safe and warm, above ground and surrounded by love.
“I couldn’t put him back in the ground after we found him,” Maryellen said. “Never again.”
This week marked nine years since Eric’s death, and while his family has spent the decade looking for him and then mourning him, they’re not even close to giving up their fight for the ones involved in his death to be held responsible.
“I’m not done fighting,” Maryellen said. “As long as I’m alive, I’ll keep fighting.”
Anyone with information about Eric’s case is asked to call the Dickinson Police Department at 701-456-7759.