By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Duane Clark parked his beat-up Chevy pickup outside the Crystal police station. Clark's friend and passenger, Kalina Rasmussen, was pushing him to tell the cops his story.
"I told him he had to do it for the kid," Rasmussen recalls.
Clark, a man with slicked-back hair and a landscaper's build, relented. He stepped out of the Silverado that cold February afternoon and headed for the main entrance.
Just before he walked in, he called his mother.
"Where are you?" Donna Marie Thotland asked.
"I'm walking into the police station," Clark replied.
Clark was already a wanted man, sought by police over a domestic dispute with his wife that morning.
Two of Crystal's finest met him in the lobby, in front of a trophy case bearing the department's commendations. The cops expected Clark to talk about the fight he'd had that morning with his wife, Tiffany.
Officer Tracie Lee noticed Clark was breathing heavily and appeared shaky as he extended a hand to Sgt. Robin Erkenbrack.
"I have something to confess to you," Clark said. "About three or four years ago, my wife and I had a baby in the house. And after the baby was born, I buried it in the backyard."
In August 2003, nearly two years after the birth of their first child, Victoria Rose, Duane Clark and Tiffany Hoppes married. They had a second child, Wesley Duane, in April 2004.
After the couple moved into their house on the corner of 57th and Quail, Duane built a tall wooden fence around the property.
"They are the most unsocial people there ever was," one neighbor says. "Nobody knows anything about them."
In police interviews, Tiffany, 28, describes herself as a woman without a best friend and says Duane, 31, interfered with her relationships. Duane became abusive early on, hitting his wife during her first pregnancy, according to Tiffany. (Duane declined to be interviewed for this story.)
The family's problems intensified over the years, and the couple separated this past January. Duane moved out of the family home to be with Trisha Jean Johnson, a 21-year-old single mother he'd picked up at a casino, putting her up in a Brooklyn Park apartment.
Duane runs his own business, Pro Lawn Care and Snow Removal, and on February 27, he was doing maintenance on his plows in the backyard of his Crystal house. Later that morning, Duane knocked on the door and asked his estranged wife for permission to retrieve a wrench from the basement.
Inside the home, an argument ensued. By both accounts, it became physical: Duane shoved Tiffany against the drywall in the basement; Tiffany attacked their dryer with a hammer to scare him off.
Upstairs, the fight escalated as Duane cleared their kitchen counter, smashing the family toaster. He threatened to take the children so she would "never see them again" but left after chasing Tiffany outside, according to her account.
That evening, Duane returned and was let into the home by their daughter. He brought a replacement toaster as a peace offering. But soon the couple began arguing, and Duane refused to leave. They started fighting again. Scared, Victoria locked herself in the bathroom.
Duane grabbed Tiffany and put her in a headlock. Their son Wesley jumped on Duane's back. "I'm going to hurt somebody!" Duane threatened, according to Tiffany.
But Duane left instead.
Tiffany asked her mother, Sandy Ruhland, to come over to the house for protection. Sandy never liked Duane; she had even interfered with their plans to attend prom together.
Duane again came knocking the next morning, February 28, and said he wanted Tiffany to let him move back in.
But Tiffany refused. Not only was she concerned about her own safety, she was scared for the children.
When Tiffany tried to close the door, Duane stuck his foot in the way. Sandy rounded the corner, threatening to call police, which she did even as Duane left the house. It was the first time anyone summoned cops to the Clark family home.
Kalina Rasmussen left her son, Gavin, with Trisha Jean Johnson that morning. Rasmussen trusted Johnson, her best friend and Duane's girlfriend, to watch her child. Shortly after Rasmussen left the apartment, Johnson began calling her phone.
"Shit is going down," Johnson said. "You need to get your ass home."
That morning, Duane burst into Johnson's Brooklyn Park apartment crying. Duane unloaded a bizarre story on his young girlfriend: Tiffany had given birth to a child in their home several years ago and "buried it alive."
Johnson insisted Duane report the death to police, or she would.
"I had to do this for [Tiffany]," Duane responded. "I had to keep it secret because it would embarrass her."
Duane's frenzied appearance at the home alarmed Johnson, who called the 24-year-old Rasmussen back. Inside her messy bedroom, Johnson explained the situation to Rasmussen. Then Duane started talking about "unburying" the baby.
"He wanted to dispose of it," Rasmussen remembers. "Throw it in the garbage so nobody would ever find it."
Duane shared a different version of the baby's burial with Rasmussen: Duane claimed that the baby drowned in the toilet and he buried it to protect Tiffany.