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Mpls. police seek help to solve fatal stabbing of activist last year

Minneapolis police detectives want the public’s help in finding whoever killed prominent North Side activist and artist Susan Spiller in her home last year.

Spiller, 68, was found beaten or stabbed to death in her Lind-Bohanon neighborhood home on the morning of July 16, 2015. The grisly killing shocked residents and police officials with its brutality and apparent randomness.

No one has ever been charged.

“We need some fresh information as far as a suspect and we’re looking for the community to help us with that,” said Sgt. Darcy Klund, a detective assigned to the case.

Police have interviewed several people in the case and evidence recovered from the scene was sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab for analysis, Klund said in a short video posted on the department’s website Friday.

“What can help with this case is for people to generate some conversation about it, to talk about it,” Klund said in the video.

Police didn’t reveal any other details of their investigation.

Officers found Spiller, who was a personal friend of City Council President Barb Johnson, badly beaten on that July morning in her modest wood-frame house on the 5100 block of Dupont Avenue N. When they arrived, the officers found signs of forced entry. Spiller was pronounced dead at the scene.

The killing shocked the neighborhood, where violent crime had receded recently.

An autopsy concluded that she died of “complex homicidal violence,” suggesting that there was more than one type of trauma.

Police briefly considered a teenager with a long history of run-ins with the law as a likely suspect, but he was never questioned because investigators couldn’t locate him, according to a department official.

Hours after Spiller’s death, officials hastily called a news conference on the steps of City Hall to say that authorities would not rest until the killer was caught.

A cash reward is being offered for information leading to a suspect’s arrest. Police are asking those with information to call the department’s tip line, 612-692-8477, or text “MPD (the tip)” to 847411. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through CrimeStoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or texting “Tip 747” plus the tip to 274637.

 

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064

Mpls will dig deeper on repairing streets thanks to cash infusion

Minneapolis is likely to stop putting lipstick on a pig when it comes to repaving its streets, thanks to a fresh infusion of paving cash.

For years, the city has been scrimping on its money-starved repaving program by scraping the top inch or two of asphalt from its streets and then slapping on a fresh course of asphalt. That makes the road look better for 10-15 years but does nothing to address the underlying conditions that contribute to pavement failure.

But now there's a fresh infusion of $21.2  million annually for 20 years approved in April as part of the park-street funding deal at City Hall. That was approved for streets without analysis by the Department of Public Works of where the money will be spent that the Park Board did before the deal was cut. Revamped recommendations for specific projects n the first five years of the program may surface in September. 

But it's likely that the digging will go deeper.

"It will involve a tremendous amount more reconstruction," former Department of Public Works chief Steve Kotke said in an interview shortly before he retired from the city. But another technique, known as renovation, likely also will be increased.

Unlike a minimalist mill-and-overlay, the reconstruction or renovation of streets means excavating down to at least their gravel base. For reconstruction, there's often correction of a faulty base that may contribute to pavement breakup. Both techniques can involve repairing curbs and gutters, typically more for a reconstruction. The deeper work also can allow any needed repairs of  both public utilities such as water and sewer lines and private gas lines.

Residential streets make up the bulk of the city's street system. After the completion in the late 1990s of the city's multi-decade street paving system, the plan was to go back and do some renovation of the streets paved earliest in that program. But all bets were off when the state about 10 years ago slashed aid to local government to help balance its budget.

That caused a drastic reduction in practices such as sealcoating of streets, which can help lengthen their lifespan. The city began milling and repaving the surfaces of its streets as a way to deal with potholed surfaces, but that's only a 10 to 15-year fix. The city in recent years has reconstructed a mile or two of its streets annually, and resurfaced about 30 miles per year. But Kotke said last spring it should be reconstructing 15 miles and resurfacing 40 miles per year just to avoid further deterioration.

Now the city's spending boost is likely to tilt more toward reconstructing or renovating streets rather than merely giving them new surfaces. "We're going to make a longer-term fix," said Lisa Cerney, the deputy public works director and that department's interim leader until Kotke's replacement, Robin Hutcheson, arrives later this year.

The extra money means that the Department of Public Works will need to revise where that spending will happen and what repaving technique is used for each project. New criteria are being developed by consulting firm Kimley-Horn to guide the selection of paving projects, including factors to ensure that streets are repaved in a way that treats low-income communities of color fairly.

When repaving ramps up next year, the city will need more projects to use the extra money. That extra work is likely to come from a list of projects already planned for 2018 and later in the city's five-year paving program, according to Jenifer Hager, the department's director of transportation planning and programming.

The first use of the new criteria will likely happen in selecting projects to fill behind the paving projects that are accelerated to 2017. The revised five-year list of projects through 2021 will be presented as part of the department's budget this fall.

The extra money that the council approved for paving isn't all of the extra money that will be heading the department's way. Street projects typically also are financed by assessments on adjacent property owners, and more miles of streets will mean more property will be assessed.

(Photo above: Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis before this segment was one of the few in the city to be reconstructed.)