Some of his neighbors considered 90-year-old Earl A. Olander part of their family. Others, including a national television audience, marveled at the vitality and self-sufficiency of a bachelor farmer who lived alone on 160 acres in rural Carver County.
And no one could make sense of an apparently violent end to a life well lived.
Carver County Sheriff’s deputies said they found Olander dead in his ransacked home in the 16000 block of Homestead Road in San Francisco Township at 7:19 p.m. Saturday. His hands had been bound, and it appeared that Olander had been assaulted, authorities said.
The crime left his neighbors feeling shaken and vulnerable.
The killing “has totally violated our sense of safety,” said neighbor Jayne Kane. “When you live in a rural area … you don’t expect a murder in the back yard.”
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jason Kamerud said deputies visited Olander’s home, about halfway between Chaska and Belle Plaine, after they were called by a neighbor who was concerned about Olander’s welfare.
Autopsy results were pending on the precise cause and manner of Olander’s death. The Sheriff’s Office plans to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Tuesday to talk about the case.
William Boecker said he had been Olander’s close friend and neighbor for the past 22 years and knew him as “a stand-up person. You never heard a swear word out of his mouth.”
Boecker said Olander was a lifelong bachelor who still dabbled in farming, continued to drive and was “totally self-sufficient.”
Boecker recalled that his neighbor only needed a doctor’s help once, when “he had something in his eye.”
Boecker said he and his wife, Maria, often welcomed Olander to their home up the road to celebrate Christmas.
“We considered him a surrogate grandfather for our kids,” Boecker said. “He was a great example for the kids. He lived a clean, pure life.”
Kane often marveled at Olander’s vigor, noting, “He still loved the land and everything that comes with it. … He modeled a life we all should lead. … He lived a very uncomplicated life. He loved simplicity.”
Olander’s robust ways were documented by NBC-TV and reporter Andrea Mitchell in 1997, when she visited the area and filed a piece titled, “Ever Younger: Longevity Secrets of Carver, Minnesota.”
Mitchell heard from Olander about his ability to avoid doctor visits. He was shown at age 73, carrying hay and overlooking his herd of cattle.
Neighbors are uneasy
The Rev. Thomas Stutelberg, pastor of East Union Lutheran Church, said Olander lived all of his days in Carver County and was a “member of the church his whole life.”
Boecker wondered Monday whether he was the last person to see Olander alive, except for whoever might be responsible for the killing.
Olander stopped by Boecker’s place Thursday, just as he had many times before. “We were yakking, checking the garden out,” Boecker said.
Crimes are few and far between in this mostly rural part of the southwest metro. Boecker recalled “some burglaries last year down a dirt road. Some tools were taken out of a shed.”
Neighbor Fern Sullivan said there are six children in her family. “I’ve always felt safe in this neighborhood,” she said. “I’m rethinking that now.”
Chief Deputy Kamerud said “it’s too early in the investigation to know for sure” whether the killing was carried out by someone who knew Olander.
In the meantime, Kamerud continued, authorities are encouraging residents in the area to practice “the usual safety measures: Lock your doors and windows, report suspicious activity.”
Anyone with information about Olander’s death is urged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 952-361-1212 or after hours at 952-361-1231. Crime Stoppers of Minnesota (1-800-222-8477) has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and charges in the case.