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Denise Huber to Rest in Heartland Peace : Funeral: To residents of Herreid, S.D., the O.C. murder victim’s fate symbolizes urban ills.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a town where speeders are about the biggest menace, where there is barely enough work for one part-time cop, a symbol of big-city crime is about to be buried.

For the 485 residents of this rural community, the funeral today of murder victim Denise Huber represents the perils of urban life.

“This kind of thing just doesn’t happen around here,” said resident Rita Fjeldheim. “We don’t even lock our front doors at night. . . . It’s unbelievable what happened to that poor young girl.”

Her husband, Clarence O. Fjeldheim, who is mayor of Herreid, said: “We can’t imagine anyone would do a thing like that. Who would be so rude?”

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The Fjeldheims, like many residents here, will pay their respects to a young woman they never knew but whose family name lives on in this agricultural community. The 23-year-old Newport Beach woman will be buried next to her grandfather, Edward Huber, a farmer who once owned and operated the city’s only motel.

Although Denise Huber never lived in Herreid, her father, Dennis, grew up in these flat, grassy plains where summers are pleasant but winters can be brutal. He vividly remembers living in a farmhouse without running water or electricity.

“It’s a tough land,” said Dennis Huber, who left the state in 1967 after meeting and marrying his wife, Ione, who was a schoolteacher here. “It can be tough, but the people are good and honest.”

Even before Denise Huber’s handcuffed and bludgeoned body was found three weeks ago stuffed in a freezer and stored in a truck in Arizona, Dennis and Ione Huber had decided that they wanted to move to Bismarck, N.D., about 100 miles north of here.

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They said Southern California had lost its appeal after their daughter disappeared June 3, 1991.

“The memories are too strong” in Southern California, Dennis Huber said Monday from his mother’s house in nearby Mobridge, S.D.

Authorities believe Denise Huber was murdered three years ago in Orange County and preserved in the freezer by John J. Famalaro, a 37-year-old handy man. He is being held without bail in Arizona pending extradition to Orange County.

Denise Huber’s body was flown from Arizona on Monday and brought to a mortuary in Mobridge for today’s funeral. The family spent some time at the mortuary Monday evening.

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“It’s a real difficult time for us,” Dennis Huber said.

Folks here have been shocked by the news accounts of the young woman’s death, which they have been reading about in their local paper. Murder, they say, is what happens in big cities and on television shows, not in Herreid.

Lee Reinert, the local police officer and city maintenance worker, said he can’t remember when there’s ever been a homicide in Herreid.

“There really haven’t been no violent crimes,” Reinert said. “We occasionally get a burglary and some thefts, but nothing major.”

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Much of his police work is spent patrolling for speeding motorists along Highway 83, which stretches from Texas to Canada and serves as Herreid’s Main Street.

Reinert carries a firearm when on duty, but he has never had to draw it.

“I think it’s a friendly town,” he said.

Friendly--and slow.

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“There’s not a whole lot to do,” said Sue Volk, the city finance director. “If you want to go to a movie, you have to drive. If you want to go out to a nice dinner, you drive. If you want to shop, you drive.

“You learn to like it,” Volk said. “It’s real small time, but you have the safety of living in a small town.”

Mayor Fjeldheim, 64, said Herreid is a “wonderful place to raise children.” It’s about 40 miles south of the late bandleader Lawrence Welk’s birthplace.

Most of Herreid’s residents are farmers, who this time of year are busy tending to their crops of grain and feeding dairy animals. To fill space, the local paper often reports when local people leave town on vacations or when relatives come by and visit for supper.

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On the Town Council agenda Monday night, the hottest items were painting fire hydrants and fixing the brakes on “the city truck.”

The agenda also showed that even Herreid isn’t crime-free. The council was to discuss the recent theft of horseshoes from the city park and the unlawful dumping of grass clippings in a ditch.

“Those are the big issues,” Mayor Fjeldheim said with a chuckle.

If people here want big-city excitement they can drive about 100 miles southeast to Alberdeen, where the population is about 25,000, or, 100 miles north to Bismarck, with a population of about 50,000.

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But many residents find that Herreid has all the action they need.

“It’s pretty hard to beat a small town for quality living,” Fjeldheim said. “It’s a good feeling when you can say you know your neighbors. That’s why everybody around was so upset (about Denise Huber’s death). Everybody felt like they knew her because they know her family.”


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