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A Hill City man is charged with the shooting death of his brother, leaving his body in a homemade camper in the woods last fall.

James Robert Hess, 48, faces one count of second-degree murder in relation to the death of 52-year-old William Harold Hess Jr. If convicted, Hess faces "not less than three years nor more than 40 years" in prison, charging documents indicate. He was arrested Tuesday at his home by the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office.

According to the criminal complaint, the sheriff's office responded on May 12 to a woodsy area where a dead body was reported inside a homemade camper, about one mile west of 380th Avenue in Hill Lake Township. People who found the body said they were out "mudding" when they made the discovery. A sergeant who responded to the scene was aware of the camper, as he knew from previous contact that Hess Jr. lived there. In addition, it was known that the victim's brother had "grown irritated" of him.

Hess Jr. was never reported missing by his family during the lengthy period he was not seen in the community.

Inside the homemade camper, authorities observed that the body found was starting to "severely decompose in the head area." According to the complaint, the structure was a topper that had been converted to a camper that contained a platform bed, shelving and a large amount of the victim's personal property.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office determined that his cause of death was due to "a single bullet wound to the skull," noting that the "entry wound was through the victim's eye, with one projectile found inside the skull."

A little over a week later, investigators spoke with a man identified as "Adam," saying he had exchanged text messages with Hess about his older brother. 

The text messages show that Hess had complained about his brother breaking into his home, claiming he would "steal or wreck something." 

"He knows I don't call the cops and they don't do s*** anyway. Putting lumps on his head don't change things either," Hess said in text messages, according to the complaint.

"I'm just waiting to catch him breaking in, I'm going to end this once and for all, one way or another."

Adam told police that Hess told him his brother was "trying to commit suicide" on Hess' "expense." He said he didn't hear Hess mention his brother again after Oct. 28, 2021, when the last text he sent about him stated: "If he comes back, I'm going to beat him with an axe handle before he even gets to the property. You might think I am lying to you by now, but you can't make this s*** up."

Hess Jr.'s daughter spoke with investigators and told them she hadn't spoken to him since October 2021 when he asked for money. His mother also spoke with police, saying that "it was unusual" for Hess Jr. to be out of touch with her for a long period of time. She attempted to call his phone but it went straight to voicemail. She also noted that, while she was in the hospital from Oct. 17-26, 2021, Hess claimed his brother had broken into the home and took a spare key to the "gun room" and stated a 9mm Ruger handgun was missing. 

Another friend of the victim, identified as "Bob," said he believed Hess would hurt his brother because he previously "had shot at the victim, resulting in a bullet hole on the left side of the victim's jacket."

After initially denying having anything to do with his brother's death, Hess told police on Monday in a recorded statement that in mid-to-late October 2021, he came home "to find the victim on the roof of his house yelling." Hess claimed his brother told him he was "going to shoot him or cut off his head with a sword." Hess admitted that once his brother attempted to get into his camper, he shot him with the 9mm Ruger, killing him. 

He went on to say he picked up the spent casing, pulled the camper out to the woods with the victim's body inside, and hid the firearm in the garage. 

Hess is currently being held at the Aitkin County Jail, according to the complaint. He will make his next court appearance on June 6.

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