Joël Elaine Kohout, a colorful and innovative violent-crime investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, died of lung cancer Saturday. The longtime Shoreview resident was 65.
Kohout's expertise in criminal-behavioral profiling was invaluable in such notorious cases as 1980s child sex abuse scandals in Jordan and at the Minneapolis Children's Theatre, the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, and murders of children such as Jessica Swanson of Cannon Falls in 1996, Corrine Erstad of Inver Grove Heights in 1992, and Katie Poirier of Moose Lake and Callie Jo Larson of Waseca, both in 1999.
"Whether she was working undercover or interviewing a murder suspect, she was tough as nails," said Tim O'Malley, Kohout's former BCA investigative partner and a former BCA chief who's now assistant chief compensation judge in the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings. "But she had a compassionate core and a deep-seated sense of justice."
Kohout was born in Chicago, graduated from Anoka High School and attended the University of Minnesota for a time, said friend Sharie Larson, who met her in the 1970s while working as her secretary in state Attorney General Warren Spannaus' office.
Kohout entered law enforcement in 1972 as an Anoka County dispatcher. She became a police officer in 1973 and in 1974 joined the Anoka County Sheriff's Office. From 1975-1980, she worked in the state attorney general's office. In 1980, she joined the BCA, where she investigated violent crimes until retiring in 2002.
"Joël was ahead of her time," O'Malley said. "She got into law enforcement when there weren't many women, and she could hold her own like a sailor with some pretty tough people -- criminals and cops."
In 1987, she was one of four officers nationwide sent to the FBI's yearlong behavioral science program in Quantico, Va. The skills she brought back made her even more invaluable as investigator and teacher, O'Malley and others said.
Wade Setter, current superintendent of the BCA, met Kohout when he was an Brooklyn Park police investigator of the 1990 murder of Jamie Cooksey, 14. "We kept coming up against dead ends, so they brought in the BCA," Setter said. "We were sitting in a briefing one morning and Joël profiled a suspect. Profiling was very new then. So I was amazed when the guy was arrested three months later and he fit the profile exactly."
In addition to high-profile homicides, she took on special assignments such as working with the Ramsey County medical examiner's office in 1993 and Minneapolis police in 1995, the year when the city was dubbed "Murderapolis."
Michael Campion, former state commissioner of public safety, said when it came to child sex abuse cases "that could take a lot out of you," but Kohout "had the tenacity to persevere, and the ability to be sympathetic with young victims."
After retirement, she returned to the BCA as a civilian crime scene analyst, worked in the Innocence Project and trained investigators in Australia and South Africa.
Her final role was as a part-time investigator with the Department of Public Safety's internal affairs unit. She stepped down upon her cancer diagnosis in March. "All of us in law enforcement were so sad when her illness came to light," Setter said. "We had tremendous respect and affection for her."
She is survived by brothers Hal Lamb of Torrington, Conn., and Forrest Lamb of Chicago. A memorial visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 20 at Mueller-Bies Funeral Home, 7050 Lake Drive, Lino Lakes.
Pamela Miller 612-673-4290