A 68-year-old north Minneapolis artist and community activist was found mortally wounded early Thursday after an apparent home invasion, the latest in a recent flare-up of violence on the North Side.
The victim, whom neighbors identified as Susan Spiller, lived in a modest wood-frame house on the 5100 block of Dupont Avenue N. Her body was found by police officers who were called to the house shortly before 9 a.m. for a welfare check, department spokesman John Elder said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her death was the second killing that occurred on the North Side in the span of seven hours.
A 42-year-old man was killed early Thursday in a shooting outside a home in the Willard-Hay neighborhood that left another man seriously wounded. The other victim is expected to survive, police said.
Spiller’s adult son made the welfare call to police sometime before 9 a.m., after he showed up to drop off his infant son, as he did on most mornings, neighbors said. He grew suspicious and called police when he found the back door had been kicked in.
When officers arrived, they found signs of forced entry and Spiller’s body in an unspecified part of the house.
Neighbors said Spiller lived alone, except for her dog Lily, a retired racing greyhound she dutifully walked twice a day.
Minneapolis leaders called a City Hall news conference Thursday afternoon to address the latest uptick in violence.
Police did not identify Spiller, but a visibly shaken City Council President Barb Johnson said the victim was an artist, a neighborhood leader and a personal friend.
Johnson said Spiller was on the boards of the neighborhood association and the Northside Arts Collective, and did “beautiful beadwork” as an artist — including on a chain she made for Johnson so the council member wouldn’t misplace her sunglasses.
“I can’t tell you how upset people in north Minneapolis are because of the loss of this lady,” Johnson said. “This is the neighborhood I grew up in: little story-and-a-half bungalows. When I grew up there were seven kids living in those houses. Now some have families in them, but some have single ladies living in them by themselves. And they are afraid — and they’re going to be more afraid.”
Neighbors described Spiller as a gentle woman with a ready smile who had recently retired to spend more time on her art: her colorful glasswork and artistic lamp shades have been shown in several local art galleries.
One nearby resident, who declined to provide her name for fear of retaliation, said that while Spiller didn’t have any enemies, she had confided in several people that a recent altercation with a troubled neighbor had left her shaken and afraid.
Investigators are treating the case as a homicide and so far have made no arrests.
Elder, the police spokesman, would not comment on whether anything was taken from the home or if investigators recovered a murder weapon from the scene.
Police provided little additional information at Thursday’s news conference, and Assistant Chief Kris Arneson said officials don’t know if the person or people who committed the crime knew Spiller.
Arneson said the crime was “very unusual” for Minneapolis.
“I can’t think of the last time we had one that was similar to this,” she said. “It’s been several years.”
Police officials said they are stepping up patrols in north Minneapolis in response to the home invasion and a spike in other violent crimes in the area.
Eight additional patrol officers have been assigned to the area, with a focus on five separate crime “hot spots” scattered throughout the Fourth Precinct. Police are also increasing the number of officers patrolling on bike, horseback and on foot to boost the number of interactions with community members.
So far this year, the city has seen 26 homicides and 111 nonfatal shootings, with two-thirds of those shootings happening on the North Side. Overall, nonfatal shootings are up just under 7 percent in Minneapolis from last year. The number of robberies is down and, overall, violent crime is up slightly.
Arneson said police attribute the increase in nonfatal shootings to a variety of factors, including people with “long-standing beefs” settling disputes with violence.
“People have whatever issues are going on between them and they’re resolving it with guns,” Arneson said. “You and I might argue about it, some people might fistfight it out. These guys are taking out guns and using them. It’s a very dangerous situation.”
Mayor Betsy Hodges said officials are aware people are concerned about recent events and that the city is reacting accordingly.
“We … are doing everything in our power to apprehend those suspects, to solve those crimes where they have yet to be solved and also to prevent future crime, future shootings and future homicides,” she said. “Everyone deserves to be safe and to feel safe in their homes, on their blocks and in their neighborhoods.”
In Spiller’s neighborhood on Thursday, neighbor Anissa Moore said she was on edge.
“I don’t understand it,” she said. “I did feel safe. Now I don’t know. What do we do? I have kids here. I don’t know if they’re going to be safe.”
Another neighbor, Dayna Hudson, sat on her front stoop, watching detectives going in and out of the crime scene across the street.
“She was always trying to get block clubs and ice cream socials going,” Hudson said softly of Spiller. “She’s definitely going to be a missed neighbor.”
Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or send an anonymous tip to CRIMES (274637) and begin message with: TIP 674 or call the MPD tip line at 612-692-TIPS (8477). The case numbers are 15-263264.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064