Death shakes small towns
Two Twin Cities men arrested
By Craig Gustafson
LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Who could have bound and killed a mother and her two teenage children? After two Twin Cities men, their faces bruised and cut, appeared in court to face murder charges, residents in this small town finally had an answer.
But now there's a new question: How and why the men, with only small offenses in their criminal histories, could be accused of a rampage that left five people brutally killed in 12 days?
On Thursday, authorities charged the men with second-degree murder in the killings of Holly Chromey, 49, and her children, Katie Zapzalka, 18, and Jerrod Zapzalka, 16. Their bodies were found Monday night, beaten and stabbed, in their home in Long Prairie in west-central Minnesota.
About 100 miles away in Minneapolis, authorities also plan to charge Christopher Earl, 20, and Jonathan Carpenter, 21, in the deaths of an elderly man and his disabled daughter who were found dead in their home two weeks ago.
"There was no reason for them to die," said Amber Carlier, 19, a high school classmate of Katie's who attended Thursday's court hearing to see "the last faces that they saw."
Residents of Long Prairie live with their doors unlocked and car windows down. But when the bodies of Chromey and the Zapzalkas were found, a new sense of fear crept into the town of 3,000 in the middle of Minnesota.
All were relieved that one of their own hasn't emerged as a suspect in the crimes.
Amanda LeNore, 18, a friend of Katie's, could barely speak after a morning news conference where authorities announced the charges.
"At first when we heard this, we thought that it was somebody we know, that would have been horrible, but to think that is a random act ..." said LeNore, her voice trailing off as she began crying.
"This is terrible," said Richard Geis, 57, who has lived here 14 years. "It shakes the whole town up. You tend to lock your doors. ... It will affect us for a while. We will have bad memories."
Investigators believe the three were asleep when the suspects broke in. They were beaten and stabbed, and bound with electrical tape, Chromey and Jerrod struggled to free themselves before they were killed, according to a criminal complaint and authorities.
"This appears to be a random, senseless act of violence," Long Prairie Police Chief Chuck Eldred said. About 70 spectators filled the Todd County courtroom Thursday to hear the charges against the pair. Others waited outside.
According to the complaint, Earl admitted to investigators that he and Carpenter killed the Long Prairie family while burglarizing their home. Earl told officers he and Carpenter had no prior relationship with their victims.
Asked about the discrepancy between Earl's claim of innocence in court and what he allegedly told investigators, Dave Bjerga of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension replied: "He's putting a different spin on who did what."
While Long Prairie police discussed details of the killings there, Minneapolis police conducted a news conference of their own to accuse Earl and Carpenter in the April 17 killings of William Schwartz, 88, and his daughter, Claudia Schwartz, 50, who were found dead in their northeast Minneapolis home.
Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson said the Schwartzes had been severely beaten and stabbed and their throats slashed. The father was in frail health; his daughter was paralyzed on her right side, and neighbors said she had epilepsy.
Police believe the cash taken from the Schwartz home included rare coins. Olson said a bank in Plymouth reported receiving several coins that appeared similar, but they had not yet been examined.
"The bottom line here is money," Olson told reporters in Minneapolis.
Neither Eldred nor the complaint said what might have been stolen from the Long Prairie home.
Until Brooklyn Park police received a tip, nothing had pointed investigators to the suspects, who were arrested about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at a house in northeast Minneapolis not far from the Schwartz home.
Olson said both of the men tried to pull guns on the officers, but they were subdued without shots being fired.
The guns in their possession appeared to have been stolen from Becker County, and police were investigating whether the men might have been involved in other crimes in Minnesota.