Rommal Bennett's trial revisits spate of gay murders in the Twin Cities

Case could solve August 1996 slaying of Wally Lundin

Wally Lundin was the kind of guy who never forgot to take out the recyclables. Every other Sunday, the grass-green bin brimming with bottles, cans, and newspapers turned up, like clockwork, at the end of his drive. But on August 25, 1996, the bin failed to appear, and Lundin's front door hung ajar, a wound gaping in the breeze.

On Monday, the squad cars came. When Lundin hadn't shown up for work at American Express Financial—he was fastidiously punctual—his co-workers came to check on him. They found him on his bed in his underwear, dead. He lay on his stomach, hogtied: feet tied to his neck with bindings made from ripped cloth, hands bound behind his back with a yellow cord. He'd been strangled with a necktie.

The cops dusted doorframes and window ledges, covering every surface with ashy fingerprint powder. They took their time, lingering until late afternoon. "If you're waiting for the body shot, it's not going to happen for a while," one cop told impatient television news crews.

Already convicted of one slaying, Rommal Bennett has been linked to an unsolved murder in Minneapolis
courtesy of the Times Herald-Record
Already convicted of one slaying, Rommal Bennett has been linked to an unsolved murder in Minneapolis
Wally Lundin was found hogtied and strangled with a necktie
courtesy of Jeff Smollar
Wally Lundin was found hogtied and strangled with a necktie

Lundin's neighbor across the street, Dennis Seviola, heard them and ducked inside his house, not wanting to watch his friend carried out under a sheet. Seviola told the investigators he'd seen Lundin at the Gay 90's nightclub on Saturday around midnight. The men had passed each other in a bustling crowd that was visiting the Twin Cities for a national gay softball tournament. A dark-skinned, round-faced man—whom Seviola had never seen before—followed close behind, hanging on Lundin's arm.

The Minneapolis police catalogued the items missing from Lundin's home: a black boom box and a navy blue duffel bag. They worked intensely on the case for several months, chasing potential suspects: an accomplice in a similar murder a few years before, a man who hogtied and robbed someone else a few months later. They speculated about the motive: a botched robbery, a sadomasochism scene gone too far, a hate crime. "We really couldn't rule anything out," recalls Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher, who was a 26-year-old homicide investigator at the time.

As the months stretched into years, and alibis checked out, the suspect list was exhausted and the killer had yet to be found. The case went cold. Whoever killed Wally Lundin was still out there, stalking new prey.

One night in 1972, James "Andy" Anderson, an openly gay college junior at the University of Minnesota, saw a murder in Loring Park.

Gay men—many of them closeted, with wives and children at home—were known to congregate in the park. Anderson was out with friend and fellow student John Moore. As the friends watched, a gaggle of young men swooped in and surrounded a young park cruiser. "Fag," they called him, and gave him a horrific beating. Terrified, Moore and Anderson sprinted to the White Castle on Nicollet Avenue where the police drank their coffee, and asked for help. But it was too late—they returned to the park to watch the body carted off, draped in a white sheet.

They searched every newspaper, but could find no mention of the killing. Murders involving gay men were often kept quiet by the families. "There were no investigations in the '60s and '70s," Anderson says. "The shame was huge."

In the 1970s, no self-respecting white Lutheran would run a gay bar, so the Jewish syndicate did. Moore and Anderson worked for Ron Pesis, a Jewish mobster who operated the Saloon, where he wined, dined, and blackmailed Minneapolis power brokers until federal bribery charges landed him in prison. Moore and Anderson bought the place and became the cities' first openly gay bar owners.

As the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, violence against gay men seemed to be escalating. In 1986, the Minneapolis Police Department conducted a survey of gay homicides in eight cities, concluding that there was no nationwide trend of increased violence against homosexuals. But Minneapolis City Councilman Brian Coyle, the first openly gay man to serve in that capacity, criticized the survey, noting that his office had received an increased number of calls about violence against both gays and senior citizens. In 1985, gay homicides had increased 41 percent in New York City over the previous year, and 69 percent in San Francisco.

From April 1984 to December 1986, 19 gay people were murdered in Minnesota. Among them was Lyle E. Kastner, a retired contractor who was found strangled in his condo near Loring Park two days before Christmas 1985. Several neckties were wrapped about his throat. Five days later, John J. Kieley was found in his Minneapolis apartment, strangled with a cord. Kastner's and Kieley's homes were ransacked, but there were no signs that the killer had had to break in. The bodies were found nude or nearly nude. Three months later, a backhoe operator working in an undeveloped area of Fridley unearthed the body of Dennis Prochaska, who had also been strangled with a cord. Prochaska had been missing for five months. Minneapolis Police Chief Patrick Farrell said the strangulations and burglaries fit a pattern, but speculated that if the cases were serial murders, they may have been committed by a transient no longer in the Twin Cities.

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