Hopkins horror: 90-year-old was slain

The woman was found dead in her apartment Monday, the city's first murder case in nine years. Neighbors and police want answers.

Hopkins police said the death of a 90-year-old woman found in her apartment Monday night has become the city's first murder case in nine years.

Meanwhile, concerned neighbors at the normally safe and quiet Hopkins Plaza Apartments flocked Tuesday evening to City Hall in search of answers from police.

Those in the well-kept apartment complex, where wind chimes and flowerpots adorn patios, said the woman, identified by friends as Irene Kunze, was a fixture at the apartment complex, where she had lived for about 15 years.

"I was just at her 90th birthday party. I've known her my whole life," said Margie Gendler Marks,  of Golden Valley. "I don't know who could have done this to her."

The death was ruled a homicide Tuesday afternoon by the Hennepin County medical examiner's office, which is expected to confirm her identity and cause of death today, said police spokeswoman Connie Kurtz. She said the woman was not shot, and there was no sign of forced entry.

Police held a meeting Tuesday night with about two dozen residents of the complex at Hopkins City Hall to quell fears and ask for information. The meeting was closed to media and the public, police said, because it is part of the investigation.

Police Capt. Tony Hanlin said the motive and cause of death are unclear, but nothing indicates the killer would strike again. He advised residents to exercise normal caution and be aware of their surroundings.

"We are checking a ton of leads," he said. He wouldn't comment on whether a weapon was used.

He said the woman was last seen Sunday at church by her daughter. When she didn't answer calls Monday, the daughter checked her mother's second-floor unit in the building at 151 8th Av. S. She found her mother dead about 10 p.m. Monday and called police, Hanlin said.

Andrew Barnum, 24, lived across the hall from Kunze and spoke to her on occasion. She was a kind and friendly neighbor, he said.

"She seemed really nice. She told me once, 'Wow, your apartment is really quiet,' and I told her thanks," he said.

"I don't understand why anyone would do that to her."

He described Kunze as "short" and "sweet," a woman who walked with the assistance of a cane. He arrived home at 10 p.m. Monday to find Kunze's daughter outside the apartment "hysterical."

"I heard her saying she checks on her mom every day," he said.

Kurtz said the woman was found clothed with no sign of sexual assault and no disarray in her home. Police were still talking to neighbors Tuesday, but none interviewed had heard anything unusual, Kurtz said.

"She was a very classy lady,'' said Bob Stacken, Kunze's former neighbor. "She was very social. This comes as a real shock.''

Stacken lived a couple of doors down from Kunze when she lived on the north side of Hopkins. She loved to entertain on her deck, he said. She was active in her church and still driving at age 90, he said.

Stacken attended Kunze's 90th birthday party. "She was very arthritic and walked with a cane, but that didn't stop her," he said.

She was an independent woman, he said.

Gendler Marks said she first heard about the death of an elderly woman at the apartment complex and called Kunze to see whether she was OK. She worried when there was no answer at Kunze's home or the home of her daughter. It was then that she heard the name on the news.

"I just started screaming," she said.

Kunze was a grandmother and great-grandmother who still sent Christmas cards in perfect handwriting, Gendler Marks said. Her mind was "impeccable," and the two joked together at the birthday party in April.

"I said to her 'I'll be at your 100th,'" she said. "She said, 'I plan to be here.'"

asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 jadams@startribune.com • 612-673-7658 mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788

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