Nancy A. Sullivan was moving out of her Shoreview home Tuesday morning when she was apparently killed by her live-in boyfriend, a scenario that has played out at an alarming rate in the Twin Cities this year.
Sullivan, 57, and her boyfriend of several years, Johnny L. Simpson, 65, were both dead at the scene from gunshot wounds when sheriff’s deputies arrived at their home in the 5900 block of Grotto Street at 9:58 a.m. Two others were wounded. Regions Hospital confirmed the wounded as Katie Fay, listed in critical condition, and Tony Brown. No information about Brown’s condition was available.
Sullivan, a lawyer and active community volunteer, is the seventh metro-area woman killed this year allegedly at the hands of a boyfriend or husband.
“To have so many this early in the year is very concerning,” said Carol Arthur, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Project. “It seems like in this scenario, as far as we know, she had taken some steps to be safe.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has revealed few details about what happened inside the home, citing the continuing investigation, other than to confirm that the deceased woman was moving out, the deceased man is the only suspected shooter and that the two were in a relationship.
Neighbors identified the couple and described both as friendly and social. Court records showed no order for protection filed for either party nor any domestic violence convictions for Simpson.
But court records from Simpson’s 2002 divorce from his ex-wife accuse him of domestic abuse and bullying behavior.
“John has a pattern of escalating anger which culminates in very abusive verbal behavior, and sometimes escalates to physical,” Simpson’s ex-wife wrote in a 2005 affidavit concerning custody of their son. “John has caused me stitches in my cheek and has also choked me.”
Neighbors said they couldn’t recall any trouble between Sullivan and Simpson or police calls to the home until Tuesday. Neighbor Roger Menk said another neighbor was the first to rush into the house as movers fled in a panic.
A moving truck and boxes sat outside the house as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigated the scene. Menk said a moving truck left the home Monday, and that he briefly saw Simpson in passing Monday.
“He seemed in OK spirits,”said Menk. “If you asked people who knew him, they’d say he was a really good guy. To me, he’s a quiet, soft-spoken guy.”
Authorities are not calling the deaths a murder-suicide, but sheriff’s spokesman Randy Gustafson said they were not looking for any suspects. The suspected weapon, a handgun, was recovered at the scene, Gustafson said.
Menk said the wounded woman was Sullivan’s daughter and the wounded man was the daughter’s boyfriend.
Kfir Batiller, 19, lives next door to Sullivan and Simpson and said they’d invite him and his siblings to swim in their pool or work out at the community center, and that they regularly barbecued with friends.
“They seemed like normal people,” Batiller said.
He said he saw Simpson doing yard work on Sunday and “he was laughing and looked happy to me.”
Reams of paperwork documenting a bitter divorce and child custody dispute between Simpson and his ex-wife illustrate a different picture of Simpson, who worked as a chef.
Simpson’s ex-wife wrote in a 2002 affidavit that Simpson attacked her on March 27, 2001, she moved out four days later and that on April 26, 2001 she served him with divorce papers. A letter from the law firm that prosecuted cases for Shoreview at the time shows that Simpson was charged with fifth-degree domestic assault and disorderly conduct in 2001.
“John Simpson has many admirable qualities, but when he is under stress or surprised by new facts that he did not anticipate, he will respond in an angry and abusive manner, so much that I have a serious facial scar on my lip from being pushed by him when [our son] was a baby and this physical abuse occurred again on March 27, 2001,” his ex-wife wrote in court documents, adding that he allegedly withdrew $58,000 from their joint account without her permission a few days after she moved out in 2001.
He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to one year of probation, a $300 fine and domestic abuse counseling.
In his request for temporary sole legal custody of their only child, Simpson wrote in 2001 that he was the boy’s primary caregiver and that his wife of 25 years “walked out” on them.
Sullivan worked at Barnes and Thornburg law firm’s Minneapolis office. She had practiced for more than 25 years, advising businesses on employee benefits, retirement plans, tax issues and similar matters.
She graduated cum laude from Moorhead State University in 1977, and earned her law degree with honors from the University of North Dakota School of Law in 1980, according to her law firm.
“She was an extraordinarily generous person, and the world loses a lot when it lost her,” said Sullivan’s sister-in-law, Beth Sullivan of Richfield.
She said the family doesn’t yet know exactly how the incident happened.
“I’m sorry. We’re all still processing this right now. … We’re still trying to piece together the real story,” she said.
Beth Sullivan declined Tuesday evening to discuss her sister-in-law’s pending move, and her breaking off with Simpson.
“That kind of thing I can’t get into right now, or won’t until we can congregate a little as a family,” she said. “We’re all split up right now.”
Peter Ekberg, managing partner of the firm, issued this written statement: “We are greatly saddened to learn about the loss of our beloved law partner and colleague, Nancy Sullivan. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nancy’s family at this difficult time. She was an exceptional lawyer and a wonderful person. We will miss her greatly.”
Sullivan contributed to the community, Ekberg said, including through her pro bono work for the Children’s Law Center. She was active in several community organizations, including Hope Family, the Cristo Rey High School Mentorship Program and Pathways to Success, which helps get college scholarships to youths who are typically underserved.
“We’re all going to miss her,” Ekberg said.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.