Jeff Mintz: The search for his killer, and meaning
Columnist Steve Lange looks back at the life--and death--of the former Rochester attorney. And big personality.
It was just before 10 on a Wednesday night in December 2020, and Jeff Mintz — local attorney, area karaoke staple, the wicked-hook Willow Creek golfer, the synagogue president, the kind of person who bought a dog on a whim at the Boys and Girls Club auction, the guy who left his law practice to risk it all on a factory startup — was driving, well, somewhere.
If you knew him, and you had to guess, you’d probably guess a karaoke bar or some karaoke party. When Covid shut down the bar scene, he and some friends set up mini karaoke studios in their houses.
On that Wednesday night, he was headed south on Snelling Avenue toward University. Jeff had moved up to the Cities a year or so earlier.
He moved up to the Cities during a period when, as he put it, he was “going through some personal issues.”
That factory startup, Envirolastech, had failed. His longtime marriage had ended. His two kids — now grown — were off doing their own things.
Jeff was 55. He was going through the same kinds of personal stuff we all do.
So he moved to Minneapolis and started driving for Uber. Stepped up his karaoke game. Focused on qualifying for — and this is a real thing — the Karaoke World Championships.
That was Jeff.
He grew near Chicago, the third of four brothers. “We all used to dress up in Beatles wigs and dance around the living room,” says brother Steve.
That kind of attitude, for Jeff, never ended. He spent days setting up karaoke parties in his garage — with a stage and sound system and big-screen monitors. Spent hundreds of dollars on costumes, like a Gene Simmons outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in the KISS museum in Vegas. Spent hours working on his Gene Simmons make-up.
We always joked that he probably designed these entire parties just so he could sing for everyone. He never denied it.
Even after he moved to Minneapolis, he still made his way down to Rochester for some of our regular Friday night poker games. We’d been playing together — the same eight or so players — almost every week for 15 years. In the same basement of the same house. You can’t help but get to know each other.
We all got to know Jeff. He was not the kind of person you could spend a few hours with and not get to know. He had, as they say, a big personality.
He’s the guy who bought a spot in a Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy Camp, then talked the drummer for AC/DC into leaving a voice message on our friend’s phone.
The guy who would storm out of poker nights during some meaningless argument in which he had to be right. Then show up an hour later with champagne and scratch-off tickets for everyone.
He was one of those people — and I put a lot of stock in this — that you could call in the middle of the night if you needed help.
But those last few times he played poker with us, he talked about how he had lost some connections. With family. With friends. He’s had some arguments. Left some things unsaid.
And, like all good friends would do when someone occasionally showed real emotion at the poker table, we mostly ignored him. Which is just the way he would have wanted it.
His daughter, Gabi, was getting married in a month. His son, Lee, was working on some new songs with his band. Jeff bragged about his kids a lot.
“Jeff had really begun to emerge from a funk,” says Jeff’s brother, Steve. “One of the things he said was, ‘I’m going to focus on spending time with people that I care about, doing things that bring me joy and bring others joy.’”
There’s always time, we figure, to reconnect. To make things right.
But then, at 9:43 on that Wednesday night, Jeff Mintz drove south down Snelling Avenue, and, as he pulled through the intersection at University, someone in a minivan fired a gun into Jeff’s Prius.
The bullet tore through his back.
Jeff pulled off to the side of the road. Called 911. Police and EMTs were there within minutes.
He just wanted to talk to his family, he told them.
There was no time. They tried to find where the bullet hit him. Tried to stop the bleeding. They tried to get Jeff to Regions Hospital in time.
And then he was gone.
“I never got to say goodbye,” son Lee says.
Kristy, Jeff’s former wife, talks about how Jeff was “a super dad.” Says he loved his two kids “to the end of the world.”
That conversation with his brother Steve — the one about Jeff wanting to spend time with people that he cared about — was the last time Steve talked to his brother.
They have still not caught the person who shot Jeff. Recently, the St. Paul police posted blurry photos of that intersection of Snelling and University. Of the van where the shots came from. Of other cars that may have had witnesses inside.
And of Jeff’s Prius, just sitting there, on the side of the road.
When I saw those blurry photos again, I thought about Jeff, sitting in that car, just wanting to talk to his family.
It’s one of those reminders for all of us. To send that text. To make that phone call. To not leave those things unsaid.
Because then he was gone.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.