From home burglaries to high-profile homicides, criminals didn’t stand a chance when Don Enger was on the case.
Enger was a tenacious detective for 31 years with the Edina Police Department and later with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
He was known as a “down-to-the-ground boot cop” who used his sleuthing skills and strong relationships in the law enforcement community to crack some of the most difficult crimes, including the killings of teenagers Katie Poirier and Callie Jo Larson, both in 1999.
“He was the best detective ever, skillful,” said Al Garber, who worked with Enger as an FBI supervisor and later police chief in Champlin. “He could work with anybody and any agency. He was a good investigator. He knew how to find things out.”
Enger, formerly of Chaska and most recently of New Richmond, Wis., died July 24 after a tumor developed in his lungs. He was 73.
Enger grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from Minnehaha Academy. He attended St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University, Mankato. At 18, he started working in the Edina parks department and worked with the engineering department before joining the city’s police force in 1966. He quickly rose to the rank of detective.
He solved two of the city’s most notorious cases, the murder of Beverly Thompson by her husband in 1987, and Charlie Bathel, who claimed he had found a dead man on the side of a highway but later confessed to the killing. In the 1980s, Enger cracked cases involving burglars who had stolen fine art from homes and caught the thieves involved in several home invasions.
“He would not sleep until he solved these cases,” said Edina Sgt. Kevin Rofidal. “He worked until he figured out who did it.”
Enger left Edina in 1997 to work as a homicide detective for the BCA, where he investigated the headline cases of Poirier, who was abducted from a Moose Lake gas station, and Larson, who was stabbed and strangled in her Waseca home.
“He was really great at asking the right questions,” said Jeff Hansen, Enger’s partner at the BCA. “He was tenacious and hard-nosed.”
When he could not solve a case, he knew whom he could call. His deep network of friendships was witnessed by the more than 200 visitors who stopped by his hospital bed in the days before his death.
Enger left the BCA in 2001 and finished his career with Ramsey County, retiring in 2004.
No matter where he went, Enger was an advocate for victims, tireless in seeking justice for them, said Lt. Mike Nibbe, an Edina detective and co-worker.
“It was impressive that way,” Nibbe said. “He was relentless, a nice guy to have on your side.”
Outside the police station, Enger was an outdoorsman who loved hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, trapshooting and horses. He often took trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Lake Superior and Lake Mille Lacs.
Enger was active at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and often helped his father at a camp run by the church. He was one of 90 foster kids his parents took in. He was later adopted by them. Enger then adopted his daughter, Lisa.
Besides his daughter, Enger is survived by his wife, Susan; sisters Alice Tobie, Patricia Enger and Sheryl Lee, and foster brother Jeff Hofford.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Bethany Lutheran Church, 415 Bridge Av., Star Prairie, Wis. Visitation will be held one hour before the service. A second service will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 12 at Christ Presbyterian Church, 6901 Normandale Road, Edina, with visitation at 10 a.m.