MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Charges are expected to be filed by noon on Wednesday against the New Brighton, Minn. man accused of shooting at a couple who lived across the street.
After a heated dispute, police say 57-year-old Neal Zumberge fired shots at his neighbors, killing one man and sending a woman to the hospital. The victims have been identified as 46-year-old Todd Stevens and his girlfriend, 48-year-old Jennifer Cleven.
Police were called around 8:30 p.m. Monday to the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive in regards to the shooting. Upon arrival, police found Stevens already deceased and Cleven injured with gunshot wounds. Investigators say the argument was over feeding deer.
Stevens and Cleven lived together and had a history of arguments with Zumberge. The series of arguments, and police visits that sometimes accompanied them, were well known in the neighborhood.
Word spread for years along Knollwood Drive that a problem existed between two neighbors who lived across the street from each other.
“Did I really think it was going to come to this? No,” said fellow neighbor, Cathi Williams.
For more than two years, Zumberge had been engaged in a heated dispute with the couple over the corn feeder they kept in their front yard.
Jim Kroschel was a close friend of Stevens.
“The neighbor didn’t like the deer but there’s 2,000 acres behind those homes with river and swamp and deer are going to be here,” he said.
Last year, Zumberge wrote a letter to his neighbors, complaining of Stevens and Cleven’s deer feeding. In it, he referred to Stevens as “Mr. Corn” and blamed him for attracting deer and rats into the neighborhood.
Zumberge cited the health concerns over deer ticks as the primary carriers of Lyme disease. He included some medical documents that showed treatment for the disease in both himself and his dog.
Cleven received one of the letters and thought it was a joke. She cited some of the claims in Zumberge’s letter, saying, “Deer bring lice to the area and wolves to the area. Wolves will eat your children.”
In December 2012, Cleven got a restraining order in Ramsey County Court against Zumberge. He was arrested for violating that restraining order in the past.
She alleged his repeated harassment, including leaving deer legs and other dead animals on their property, including dead squirrels. She alleged that Zumberge was the one responsible for stealing a feeder from their yard, which the couple later cemented into the ground.
More seriously, Cleven alleged that Zumberge is the one responsible for shooting deer in the neighborhood, including a doe and a fawn in December 2012, which were found on the couple’s front lawn.
Neighborhood watch captain Bob Comer knew Stevens well. And like seemingly everyone in this neighborhood, he knew that Stevens and Zumberge didn’t care for each other.
“He was very out going, a very friendly guy. He was a hunter. He used to hunt with my son,” Comer said. “[Zumberge] did everything he could to make it miserable for Todd.”
Comer says Stevens showed him Zumberge’s letter in the past.
“You can tell the letter’s written by a guy who doesn’t have both his marbles together,” he said.
Comer says his son saw Zumberge just before Monday night’s shooting.
“He was wearing like a heavy army coat of some kind. A camouflage coat. And he [was] walking down the trail and he got out of sight and about 10 minutes you heard the shots – bang, bang, bang,” he said.
An argument between Zumberge’s son Jacob and the couple at a nearby VFW, may have also played a role in what happened Monday night.
“From what I understand there was a lot of foul language put out there. It sounds like it was all over name-calling of parents, between Jake’s parents and Todd and Jenny,” said Bob Fisher, an auxiliary member with the Spring Lake Park VFW.
A man who answered the door at Zumberge’s home, but who would not identify himself, had this to say about the situation: “I do not regret what he did but they’re f—ers. They’re swamp people. They don’t deserve our respect here.”
After Monday night’s shooting, Zumberge called police and turned himself in within an hour. A rifle was recovered from his home that is believed to be the murder weapon.
He is currently at Ramsey County Jail, facing charges for murder and attempted murder which are expected to be filed Wednesday.
New Brighton Police Chief Bob Jacobson said his crews had been called to their residences before. He said in this case, they did use SWAT entry to make sure no one else got hurt.
Jennifer Cleven was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. She said that Todd Stevens died in front of her and she said she could hear someone yelling “keep shooting” from outside.
She also said her dog was also shot, but survived.