Kansas man faces charges in Mpls. murder case from 1980by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — A Kansas man has been charged with the brutal slaying of a young Minneapolis woman — 32 years ago.
Detectives say they tracked him down with the help of DNA evidence that had been stored in the department archives for decades.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1980, Mary Steinhart didn't shown up for work at a Minneapolis clinic.
"Her employer called her family, and they came over to the apartment here to check on her," said Cpt. Amelia Huffman with the Criminal Investigations Division in the Minneapolis Police Department. "When her sister entered her apartment, she found Mary Catherine dead on the floor, in the bedroom. Her body was bloody, there was a pool of blood on the floor. Her pillow was covering her face."
Authorities found the 22-year-old woman had been raped, and also stabbed more than two dozen times.
"The investigators at the time put together a picture of her movement, talked with her friends and family, but the leads trickled out," Huffman said. "The case went cold. The files went into a box in the archives."
But last week, the investigation led detectives to Robert Skogstad, 57, from Edgerton, Kan. Police say he's a convicted burglar, rapist and counterfeiter. He was arrested for Steinhart's murder and is being held in a Kansas jail, awaiting extradition.
CHARGES A LONG TIME COMING
Skogstad's trail actually stretches back more for more than 10 years. Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension picked up the Steinhart murder back in 2001, and tested evidence from the case. They put together a DNA profile.
"The suspect wasn't in our database," said Lt. Richard Zimmerman. "He had moved out of state."
But after Minneapolis police got a National Institute of Justice grant, they put investigators back on the case file, including, a box with bedsheets, blood evidence, a semen sample and, most importantly, traces of someone else's skin found under Steinhart's fingernails.
"It took until 2010 for the BCA to put together a profile that matched," Zimmerman said.
And even that wasn't definitive. There was more police work to do, like finding the suspect, confirming he'd been in Minneapolis, looking for other crimes and digging up witnesses from back in the day.
Robert Haugh has owned the building where the murder happened on Girard Avenue in Uptown since 1965. He said police showed him some photos from the case, but none rang a bell.
"It's been too long," Haugh said.
But Haugh said he must have met the alleged killer at one point — and actually hired him. Police said Skogstad lived nearby and worked as a caretaker in Steinhart's building. Haugh said he'd asked Steinhart herself to be caretaker, just days before she was killed.
"He must have been the one that I fired before this one started, or was going to start," Haugh saud.
A pair of detectives, Sgt. Barbara Moe and Sgt. Tammy Diedrich, tracked down that and other details — even the reports from a California rape conviction for a similar assault, right down to covering the victim's face with a pillow.
They questioned Skogstad in Kansas in February, 2011.
"In this case, Mr. Skogstad denied any relationship with the victim, denied having a sexual relationship with her, denied knowing her, denied even knowing anything about this apartment building," said Cpt. Huffman. "But you know certainly, if ... he were to assert that this was a consensual relationship, having your skin found underneath the victim's fingernails makes that a much tougher explanation."
Moe said it was gratifying to solve the case, after so many years had passed. But she said the charges were bittersweet, as well — she said it proved an unwelcome recollection for Steinhart's family.
"They're torn. Because it reopens a wound that was never fully closed," Moe said. But I think every family tries to come to terms with a death like this. A brutal death. So families are always conflicted, but they're very happy that someone's finally being held accountable for this murder."
And, Moe said, some don't even have that.
"There are a lot of other cold cases out there that have similar situations, similar evidence, that, unfortunately at this time, still are cold."
- All Things Considered, 09/12/2012, 4:54 p.m.