A monthlong manhunt that had police scrambling from Arden Hills to Shakopee ended peacefully Thursday morning when authorities arrested murder suspect Lyle “Ty” Hoffman after he was spotted perusing the drive-through menu of a fast-food restaurant in Shakopee.
Police caught up with Hoffman, who has been charged in the Aug. 11 killing of former partner and business associate Kelly Phillips, shortly after 10:20 a.m. outside an Arby’s restaurant on the east side of the city. They were tipped to his whereabouts by a woman who saw him acting suspiciously as he walked the area. Hoffman, who was disheveled and unshaven, was unarmed and cooperative as police approached.
“It’s a good day for us,” said Ramsey County Chief Deputy John Kirkwood, whose agency has been leading the investigation. “It’s a great relief.”
Hoffman, 44, allegedly shot Phillips three times — once in the head as Phillips begged for his life — in the parking lot of a gas station in Arden Hills after the two pulled up in the same vehicle and were seen and heard arguing. The shooter then drove over Phillips’ body as he fled.
In the weeks since the slaying, Hoffman has been charged with second-degree murder and is also suspected of robbing a bank in Blaine while on the run. Authorities said Thursday that additional charges could be filed against him in coming days. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul Friday afternoon.
What investigators still didn’t know as of Thursday afternoon is where Hoffman had been hiding for the past month or whether anyone had helped him evade capture.
At a news conference, Kirkwood said there is still work to do — and a murder weapon to be recovered. Police are looking for a Glock semiautomatic .45-caliber handgun, camouflage in color.
“It’s probably in the Shakopee area,” Kirkwood said. “We’re doing extensive searches now.”
He cautioned anyone who finds the weapon not to touch it “for safety and evidentiary reasons,” but to “stay with it” until police arrive.
Kirkwood said that “anything is possible” when asked whether someone had helped Hoffman elude police, adding that if someone had done so, “We’re eventually going to find out.”
Despite the work ahead, law enforcement officials were upbeat at two news conferences — one in Shakopee shortly after the arrest and another in Ramsey County later in the day. After a month of chasing Hoffman from Arden Hills to Blaine to Prior Lake and finally, to Shakopee, police had their man.
Kirkwood said he is not surprised that Hoffman surrendered without a fight.
“People get tired of running, and people are relieved to get caught,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘Now I don’t have to look over my shoulder.’ ”
Disheveled and skinnier
Ben Christensen, who owns a jewelry store across the street from the Arby’s, said he saw Hoffman speaking calmly with an officer on a grassy boulevard near the drive-through moments before the arrest.
“It looked like a casual ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Christensen said. “She [the officer] didn’t have her gun drawn. … There wasn’t urgency.”
A “disheveled” Hoffman “looked very similar” to the photos that have been widely distributed by law enforcement, but skinnier and with a 5 o’clock shadow, Christensen added.
Chatter on the police scanner in the minutes leading to the arrest indicated that Hoffman, wearing jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses and a ball cap, was walking from one store to the next.
“He was first observed by the officer looking at the drive-through menu,” Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate said. “[Hoffman] was on foot.”
Soon after came a declaration from an officer over the scanner: “One in custody.”
It was a quiet conclusion to weeks of tension and suspense.
Last week, police showed up in force in response to Hoffman sightings near Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake and in neighboring Shakopee. And SWAT teams in full gear had twice scoured the Blaine-Anoka County airport and the wooded areas nearby. Officials say Hoffman may have been in the Twin Cities the entire time.
Kirkwood said he thinks law enforcement was “very close a couple of times” to capturing Hoffman. He said little about Hoffman’s movements throughout the Twin Cities, other than to say that “we do have some really significant information from Metro Transit” that shows he was using public transportation.
‘It just feels raw’
Phillips, 48, was an attorney and Boston Scientific vice president who was active politically, advocating for passage of Minnesota’s same-sex marriage law. He and Hoffman had been in a personal relationship for many years and, together, had opened Lush nightclub in Minneapolis several years ago — continuing their business relationship even after their personal one ended.
Over the past year, however, Hoffman and Phillips had been engaged in an increasingly tense personal and professional dispute. Hoffman had been fired from the club and evicted from a nearby home that Phillips owned.
Phillips, meanwhile, was to marry Nathon Bailey on Aug. 30. After he was killed, family and friends instead held a private memorial service for him on that day.
“No amount of justice will heal the broken heart that I will carry forever,” Bailey said Thursday afternoon as he addressed the media outside St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Minneapolis. “Today’s events won’t bring Kelly back to life, and that is all I think about every second of every day.”
Asked what he thought when he heard Hoffman was taken into custody, Bailey, wearing a gold band around the ring finger of his left hand, said, “I thought I would feel a sense of relief ... but it just stirs everything up again. It just feels raw.”
Bob Cohrs, a longtime friend of Phillips, said he felt “some sense of relief” and was “thankful nobody else was hurt.” He called Phillips “just a wonderful human being. Just a very sweet man.”
In Mason City, Iowa, Kelly Phillips’ father, Jim Phillips, said he was picking up prescriptions at a store when he heard that Hoffman had been found, ending a month that he called “a nightmare.”
“We’ve kind of ridden a roller coaster,” Jim Phillips said. “We’re relieved that it happened, that they caught him.
“But,” he added, “we’ll never be able to replace our son.”
Staff Writers Pat Pheifer, Karen Zamora, John Reinan and Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.