David Flaget, Murder victim of James David Russell’s Cannibalism

In September 2021, 39-year-old James “Jimmy” Russell violently killed and allegedly cannibalized 70-year-old David Flaget in rural Idaho. Get the details on the gruesome case – Flaget’s brutal murder and mutilation, the charges against Russell, his history of mental illness, the court proceedings including a plea deal, and Russell’s maximum life sentence at the insistence of the victim’s family.

  • Flaget’s body was found dead in his truck. He had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and neck. His g*nitals had been cut off and flesh removed from his thigh. Some of this removed flesh was later found in Russell’s apartment.

  • Russell was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He was also initially charged with cannibalism, but that charge was later dismissed by the judge at a preliminary hearing.

  • According to court records, Russell believed eating human flesh would “cure his brain.” He had exhibited concerning psychiatric behavior in the past.

  • In November 2022, Russell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

  • Flaget’s family members gave victim impact statements at the sentencing, describing their trauma and calling for Russell to be imprisoned for life. They felt the murder was preventable given Russell’s prior history.

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What happened to David Flaget? Idaho Man Allegedly Kills Victim to “Cure His Brain”

Authorities in Idaho discovered 70-year-old David Milton Flaget dead in his own truck in September 2021. Deputies forced entry into the locked vehicle and found Flaget wrapped in plastic with bloody clothes in the rear seat.

An autopsy revealed signs of mutilation “along the right thigh, a*us, and g*nitalia,” according to law enforcement affidavits. Investigators alleged that 39-year-old James David Russell was the sole resident of a nearby loft.

Inside the loft, police found “suspected human flesh, latex gloves, bloody newspapers, bloody duct tape pieces, cutting implements with suspected blood, [and] several areas of blood,” court documents state.

“A bowl and microwave containing apparent blood and tissue were seized,” an affidavit reads. DNA testing by the state lab confirmed the bowl and microwave contained the victim’s DNA when uncovered in Russell’s apartment.

On the morning of September 10, 2021, Russell allegedly had an argument with his uncle Mark Russell. Later that day, Russell left a voicemail apologizing for his actions and saying, “Sorry…I might be a little sensitive – some sort of food I ate.”

Authorities claimed Russell believed consuming the victim’s remains would “cure his brain.” The Associated Press reported the cause of death as blunt force trauma to Flaget’s head.

In-Depth Police Investigation Into David Flaget’s Gruesome Murder

Police would uncover a horrific murder scene and disturbing evidence implicating 39-year-old James “Jimmy” Russell.

The investigation started when Bonner County dispatch received a 911 call just after 4pm on September 10th. Siblings Mark and Elizabeth Russell reported a possible homicide victim at their family’s land located at 168 Lower Mosquito Creek Road in Clark Fork, Idaho.

Mark Russell told dispatch that the victim, 70-year-old David M. Flaget, was found deceased inside a pickup truck on the property. Flaget had worked as a caretaker and groundskeeper for the Russell family’s land.

David Flaget Murder
Pic: David Flaget Photo (Source: Law and Crime)

Mark stated his belief that his nephew Jimmy Russell was likely involved in Flaget’s death.

The initial statements from Mark and Elizabeth Russell pointed to Jimmy Russell as a prime suspect. They told police that Jimmy had been seen earlier that day acting suspiciously.

Specifically, Elizabeth Russell reported seeing Jimmy carrying a large duffle bag and a blue bucket near Flaget’s truck around 10:30am. He was wearing shorts and a striped shirt at the time.

She noticed Jimmy was sweating and moving quickly. She felt it was odd for Flaget’s truck to be parked in that particular spot.

Police Spot Jimmy Russell Near the Crime Scene

Based on the witness statements implicating Jimmy Russell, police immediately began searching for him when they arrived at the sprawling Russell family property.

An officer spotted a man matching Jimmy Russell’s description from the witness statements. The man was standing near Flaget’s truck wearing latex gloves.

When the officer approached and confronted him, the man fled towards the main house and a detached loft structure. A foot pursuit ensued across the large rural property.

Additional officers assisted in establishing a perimeter around the main residential area. Soon after, Jimmy Russell was spotted inside the loft structure.

After a brief standoff where Russell refused to exit, police made entry and detained him without further incident. He was handcuffed and placed in a patrol vehicle.

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Notably, Russell was now wearing different clothing than described by the witness earlier that morning. He had tan casual pants and a striped shirt.

Police immediately recognized Russell due to previous law enforcement contacts in the area. They noted his long unkempt brown hair.

In their affidavits, police noted that the loft structure where Russell was found was a small apartment where he resided when staying on the sprawling Russell family property.

Although Russell had a troubled history of mental illness, he was known to occupy the loft frequently. This firmly established Russell as a resident in the location where he was apprehended on the day of Flaget’s murder.

Autopsy Reveals Disturbing Details of Flaget’s Death

After arresting Russell, investigators turned their attention to examining and processing the gruesome crime scene. Flaget’s body was located inside his work truck, which was locked with no keys available.

David Flaget
Pic: David Flaget (Source: Law and Crime)

Police had to break the window to gain entry. Inside, they found Flaget’s mutilated body wrapped in plastic and trash bags. His head was on the floorboard and his pants had been removed. Bloody clothes littered the back seat.

An autopsy revealed blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death.

A search warrant granted after Russell’s arrest allowed investigators to scour the loft where he was found for additional evidence.

Russell’s Statements and Actions on the Day of Murder Raise Suspicions

While Russell refused to speak with investigators after being detained, they learned of key statements he made before and during the murder through witnesses.

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Most critically, he left a voicemail for his uncle Mark apologizing for an earlier argument and attributing his behavior to “some sort of food I ate.” This appeared to reference the murder occurring concurrently.

Additionally, Elizabeth Russell observed Russell sweating and moving quickly near the crime scene that morning. His erratic behavior continued when he fled from police after being approached at the truck.

Who was David Flaget? Victim of Cannibalism and His Family

David Milton Flaget was born in 1951 in Whitefish, Montana. He grew up between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Ellensburg, Washington.

Flaget married his first wife Connie Kelso while in his 20s. They lived in Quincy, Washington where he worked at a manufacturing plant before divorcing.

He later worked on a cattle ranch in Montana and did heavy equipment operations in Washington. David married his second wife Connie Morris in 1978.

Flaget Settled in Clark Fork, Idaho with his Second Wife

Flaget and his second wife Connie Morris moved to Clark Fork, Idaho in 1978. They owned and operated a bar and restaurant there before eventually divorcing.

Most recently before his death, Flaget had worked as a groundskeeper on a private Idaho residence since his second divorce.

Despite his two divorces, Flaget maintained close ties with his large extended family in the Pacific Northwest.

David Flaget Surround by his Family Members
Pic: David Flaget in the center, is surrounded by his beloved family members (Source: Bonner County Daily Bee)

He had five biological children and three stepchildren. In total, his obituary lists that Flaget had 9 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren at the time of his death.

Flaget had three living sisters and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by two brothers and two sisters.

Russell Came From a Wealthy, Well-Known North Idaho Family

James David “Jimmy” Russell, 39, came from an affluent, prominent family that owned significant land and businesses in the Sandpoint area of northern Idaho.

Russell’s family established the Legacy Lands Trust which included large rural acreage. His grandfather also founded Tango Meats, a major employer in the region.

As part of the wealthy Russell clan, Jimmy lived a privileged childhood. He attended private schools in California and Switzerland.

James David Jimmy Russell
Pic: James David Jimmy Russell (Source: New York Times)

However, Russell exhibited troubling behavior from a young age according to family members. His mental illness and instability worsened over time.

Russell reportedly assaulted multiple groundskeepers in the year prior to the murder. No charges were filed despite complaints to the police.

Russell Was Described as a Recluse Who Often Lived in his Family’s Loft

In recent years, Russell was described as a recluse who occupied a loft apartment on his family’s land. He depended on his relatives but often had confrontations with them.

Russell refused most contact with family members in the months before the murder. He held irrational fears about technology and displayed bizarre beliefs related to healing himself.

Despite his seclusion from loved ones, Russell’s family had tried getting him psychiatric help numerous times. But ultimately he remained detached from his family.

Russell Initially Faced Cannibalism and Murder Charges

The disturbing murder committed in rural Idaho quickly moved to the courtroom as prosecutors built a case around murder and cannibalism charges against James “Jimmy” Russell. But legal twists ultimately led Russell to plead down the charges while still receiving harsh punishment.

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As the case unfolded, details emerged about Russell’s severe mental illness history. Police learned Russell previously expressed wanting to cut off his own skin to “cure his brain.”

His family said Russell assaulted multiple people leading up to the murder. On the day of the killing, Russell called his uncle to apologize for an argument, ominously referencing “some sort of food I ate.”

Murder and Rare Cannibalism Charges Filed

Based on the evidence and Russell’s disturbing history, prosecutors filed charges of both first-degree murder and cannibalism under Idaho’s rarely used law against human consumption.

The murder charge alleged Russell willfully tortured and killed Flaget in a premeditated manner. The cannibalism count implied Russell ingested the victim’s missing body parts.

In a June 2022 preliminary hearing, the cannibalism charge against Russell was dismissed by Magistrate Judge Tera A. Harden, who ruled the evidence was insufficient on just that specific offense.

David Flaget with his Recently adopted Puppy
Pic: David Flaget with his Recently adopted Puppy (Source: Bonner County Daily Bee)

However, Judge Harden upheld the first-degree murder charge against Russell. Under Idaho law, this exposed Russell to possible life imprisonment or even the death penalty if convicted.

Rather than take his chances at trial on the murder charge, Russell agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in November 2022.

He pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, which removed the possibility of a death sentence but still carried up to life behind bars.

At Sentencing, Judge Orders Maximum Life Term

At Russell’s January 2023 sentencing hearing, District Judge Barbara Buchanan focused on protecting society as her chief priority. She ordered Russell to serve a maximum life sentence in prison.

Judge Buchanan stated that strict incarceration was the only way to safeguard the public from Russell, despite acknowledging his mental health issues.

Members of Flaget’s family asked for the life sentence during emotional testimony at the sentencing hearing. They expressed anger that Russell had not been stopped earlier.

Russell apologized in a rambling statement but claimed he had been “normal” before a past head injury. The judge dismissed his statement in imposing the maximum allowable sentence.

In the end, Russell avoided a risky jury trial but will likely spend the rest of his life imprisoned for the heinous cannibalistic murder of David Flaget. His victim’s family finds some measure of justice.