A handgun found during a police traffic stop in Minneapolis in May unraveled a five-year-old mystery in Washington County, where a Lake Elmo woman was shot four times as she headed home in her car after watching her daughter play softball.

Zachary R. Wiegand, 31, of Dresser, Wis., was charged Wednesday in Washington County with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree aggravated robbery and four other felony charges involving assault and car theft. More felony charges are expected soon in St. Croix County, Wis., relating to robbery of an armored vehicle and arson, said Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton and Marty Jensen, the police chief in Hudson, Wis.

Wiegand was arrested Tuesday at the Wal-Mart where he worked in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

"He acted by himself" and a search of his house uncovered "a significant amount of evidence," Hutton said.

Wiegand is suspected in a chain of crimes that began the night of May 28, 2003, when, according to the charging complaint, he tried to take Julie Bever's car at the rural intersection of Inwood Avenue N. and 15th Street in Lake Elmo. Wiegand tried to force her from the car and shot her four times when she tried to drive away, the complaint said.

Bever, then 42, was shot in the jaw, lower torso, left arm and left shoulder. Then, according to the complaint, Wiegand carjacked another vehicle at gunpoint after the woman driving it saw Bever's car swerve and stopped to help her, hearing Bever scream, "I've been shot, I've been shot, I'm bleeding, I'm bleeding."

On Wednesday the sheriff and the police chief, flanked by detectives from both departments, described how ballistics tests on the handgun found in May led to Wiegand's arrest. The Smith and Wesson 9-millimeter handgun matched casings found at the Lake Elmo shooting scene, they said. The gun, purchased new in 1989, had several owners and it wasn't in Wiegand's possession when it was found, they said. However, it was registered to him, Hutton said.

Wiegand bought the gun in March 2003, the complaint said.

Hutton said leads in the case had dwindled about a year after the crimes were committed. Wiegand wasn't a suspect in the initial investigations. Several agencies had worked together to solve the case and "we are extremely pleased" at the result, Hutton said.

Wiegand once lived in nearby Oakdale and was familiar with the area, Hutton and Jensen said. According to the complaint, Wiegand told police Tuesday after his arrest that he left his car at a park-and-ride in Hudson and walked to Lake Elmo, where he hoped to steal a car to use in a planned armored vehicle robbery. He arrived at the Lake Elmo intersection near dusk "and walked around until he found the intersection which was the darkest and provided cover for him," the complaint said.

Wiegand said he ordered Bever out of her car but she rolled up the window and tried to drive away, the complaint said He then fired at her. Seven bullet casings were found at the scene.

The minivan he stole from the other woman was the same one he used the next morning in the robbery of two American Security Corp. guards outside a Hudson bank, the complaint said. More than $200,000 was taken in the robbery, Jensen said. The minivan was later found torched, which led to a huge manhunt.

Hutton said that the only other evidence of unlawful activity involving Wiegand was in 1999 when a gross misdemeanor warrant was issued for his arrest in an employee theft at Menards in Oak Park Heights. Jensen said he hasn't uncovered any crimes in Wiegand's background in Wisconsin.

"I couldn't begin to get in his mind to figure out why he began or ended his career at that point," Hutton said of the 2003 felonies.

Hutton said he met Tuesday night with the Bever family to explain Wiegand's arrest and said their reaction "was through the spectrum of emotion." Julie Bever had been in critical condition after the shooting.

Bever, a longtime Minnesota Department of Public Safety employee, had spent more than half of her life helping Minnesota crime fighters. She joined the human resources department in 1995, working primarily with the State Patrol and the Office of Justice Programs.

Attempts to reach her Wednesday to comment were unsuccessful.

Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this story.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554