After Dale Barsness died, his son Jeff found two case files for unsolved murders spread out on a table in his dad's Minneapolis apartment.
"Still trying to solve a case eight years after he retired," said Jeff Barsness, a Hennepin County deputy.
Dale Barsness, 73, who died June 28 at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale from complications of cancer, was a retired 42-year Minneapolis police veteran who worked in several divisions from auto theft to sex crimes. But he is best remembered as the department's homicide chief in 1995 when the city saw a record 97 killings and got the notorious nickname "Murderapolis."
"When he got into homicide, he was pretty happy, especially because he made lieutenant," former Minneapolis police officer David Niebur said. But, he added, it "was a tough time for everybody in homicide."
In 1996, Gov. Arne Carlson sent troopers, state agents and helicopters into Minneapolis to help police track down parole violators and search for the city's Top 50 criminals. Intervention by a Republican governor wasn't warmly received by everyone in the predominantly DFL city.
Barsness, however, said he welcomed any help he could get "to relieve the caseload and better serve the victims of stabbings and shootings and other assaults."
At the time, three of the city's 18 homicide investigators were working on three killings believed to be the work of a serial killer. That left the remaining 15 investigators to handle about 800 cases a month, including assaults, threats, kidnappings and homicides. "We need more people and we need more experienced people," Barsness said then.
Barsness' career spanned crime cycles that also included a rise in gang activity and the tragic shootings of some of his colleagues. But through the years, friends and family members said, he never soured on the job, handled the pressure and was proud of the homicide division's pace of closing cases in the Murderapolis year.
In the weeks before he died, Jeff Barsness said his dad talked about how he missed the job and said it was "the camaraderie, being around all the other officers."
Barsness joined the Minneapolis police in 1968. Former colleagues described him as a quiet officer who did his job without drama, enjoyed "choir practice" — also known as visiting the bar after work — and was deeply affected when his supervisor David Mack was shot while serving a warrant in 1979. Mack died in 1986 from related injuries.
Niebur met Barsness when he came on the force in 1970. Niebur, who left Minneapolis in 1989 and went on to become police chief in other states, said Mack's shooting weighed heavily on his friend. "It was something he never got over," Niebur said.
Barsness may have gained his greatest prominence in 1997, when 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan came to Minneapolis to begin his deadly spree of shooting that ended with the death of fashion designer Gianni Versace in Miami. Cunanan first murdered his friend Jeff Trail, whose body was found rolled up in a carpet in his Minneapolis apartment. Cunanan then killed his ex-boyfriend, a Chicago businessman and a New Jersey man before shooting Versace. The killings vexed the nation, investigators — and Barsness.
"I think he's trying to play a game with us, yeah," Barsness said at the time, speaking of Cunanan. "I think he's thriving on the notoriety of all this. He's loving it."
Barsness retired from the police in 2010.
Besides his son Jeff, of Andover, Barsness is survived by daughters Kimberly Thometz, of Woodbury; Michele Van Kley, of the Netherlands; and Ashley Lund of Olathe, Kan.; son Anthony Barsness, of New York City; sister Dyann Schumacher, of Glenwood, Minn.; and eight grandchildren. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at Miller Funeral Home, 6210 Hwy. 65 NE., Fridley. Visitation starts at 11 a.m.