The unsolved stabbing death of Nanette M. Haghi, 46, this summer left her family and friends confused: Who could have done that to her?
And yet friends knew that Haghi, a longtime street prostitute and crack addict, was long at risk.
Haghi, 46, with no permanent address, was stabbed to death Aug. 16 along E. Franklin Avenue between 4th and 5th Avenues.
A newsletter from the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fifth Precinct a couple of years ago said Haghi had been arrested 50 times for prostitution, 31 times for loitering with the intent to prostitute and several other times for narcotics and trespassing.
That was Haghi’s public face, often on a mug shot, but to the homeless community who knew her, she was a bubbly personality, a friendly woman who would help others if she could, despite her addiction.
“When I first met her, she was living on the streets. She was using crack. That was her thing,” said Curtis Harper, a man who recalled Haghi while at the Peace House Community house on Portland Avenue South. She sold her body to buy the drug, and through the years cycled back and forth between addiction and sobriety, he said.
“She has a good heart. She would bring food to the people in the streets, because she knew how it was.”
Harper said Haghi’s best friend had been an American Indian woman who was killed by a drug dealer several years ago. He didn’t remember her name, or the details of her death.
“We used to dance together,” said Andrea Bertsch, who was also at the Peace House Community. “Just at the Salvation Army. We weren’t supposed to be in the TV room after hours and we used to go in there and dance. She was just full of life,” she said.
Bertsch said she and Haghi did time together at the Hennepin County Workhouse, and she knew that most of Haghi’s friends were addicts.
“It’s a really bad drug [crack]. Some people can shake it; some people can’t,” said Bertsch.
“It’s all like Satan. When you smoke it, everyone who’s not good will be lured into your life. And everybody’s up to tricks and games and deceit and stealing.”
Donald Buchmann Brown, an Army vet who has been homeless this summer, said he knew Haghi for four years, and saw her last just a few days before the stabbing.
“She was her same chipper self. She had a bubbly personality,” he said. “I hate to say it but for being a junkie, you know, she had this radiance to her that, like, drew people to talk to her. She was 99 percent of the time drama-free. She didn’t like drama. And she had a good heart. Her heart was sincere.”
He heard from a source on the street she was stabbed over $40 worth of crack.
“Of course she was really outgoing and everyone did like her,” said Steven Berry, a friend of Haghi’s. Haghi struggled to stay focused, he said, and could be easily distracted by everyday life. He called it a mental illness.
After she died, Berry and a group of about 10 of Haghi’s friends met at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis on a Saturday. A minister said a few words and then people took turns speaking about Haghi.
The city’s shortage of housing for homeless people has worsened, said homeless advocate Monica Nilsson.
“We cannot find housing for people as fast as they are coming,” she said. The Salvation Army center where Haghi often stayed has room for 350 people, but often has 550 staying there, said Nilsson.
“The challenge is, people will hear words like “prostitution” and “drug addiction” and there’s a lot of shame attached to that, but if the phrasing started with that she went through childhood trauma, or that’s she’s living with a mental illness, somehow those things aren’t as much her fault. I get concerned that the behaviors that people exhibit are seen as the problem, rather than the result.”
“It’s easy for us to say, ‘How awful she chose to be a prostitute,’ rather than ‘I wonder what kind of trauma or mental illness she endured?’ ”
Haghi’s mother, Nina Bohme, who lives in the Twin Cities, said the death has been particularly hard on Haghi’s sister.
She said her daughter would get depressed and instead of getting help, she used drugs. The self-medication led to addiction.
Bohme said Haghi left behind two daughters, a sister, a brother and a stepfather.
“She’s had a hard life,” said Bohme. After her daughter died, Bohme gathered family and friends at an Old Country Buffet and had a memorial for Nanette. They’re still hoping that her killer will be found.