For reasons that should probably be diagnosed by a medical professional, Minnesota loves to claim anyone of note who spent even a minimal amount of time here as One of Us.
Vince Vaughn moved out of state before he turned 1, but don’t worry—he has a star on the Minnesota Walk of Fame. But that blade cuts both ways. This state has produced and played home to its share of frauds, bullies, clowns, and straight-up killers. What follows is a list of the worst Minnesotans, from the merely embarrassing to the downright evil.
Did we leave anyone out? Of course. (Lookin’ at you, Derek Chauvin.) Think of this as a small step toward recognizing that Minnesota is a great state and also occasionally home to some awful people.
Ever wonder what the worst of NextDoor would look like if it assumed human form? Meet Roberta Madison. The St. Paul resident was slapped with a restraining order in 2010 for, among other things, throwing feces at a neighbor’s home. But that’s (actually) kid’s shit compared to six years later, when she took offense to trees in a new neighbor’s yard. Accounts suggest she impersonated the homeowners when calling an arborist, who chainsaw-ed the trees in question before the real owners could intervene. (Madison ensured she wasn’t billed for the work.) Evidently emboldened by the smell of sawdust, Madison then repeatedly called 911 and the fire department, claiming other neigbhors were “suspicious” about people of a “different race” running a “sex operation” out of their home. When that spate of baseless belligerence earned her another restraining order in 2017, Madison doubled down. Our neighbor from hell took to violating her court order by threatening the individuals using racial slurs, throwing glass in their yard, sticking a sex toy on their fence, flashing her titties in their general direction, and more. That final rainbow of offenses led to charges of stalking, violating a harassment order, indecent exposure, and disorderly conduct.
We understand the pressures on a working journalist to churn out content. So many words have already been written, and lots of them are much better than the ones you’re typing at the moment. Who wouldn’t, as deadlines loom, be occasionally tempted to just cut and paste someone else’s well-turned bon mots? Here’s the thing, though: Don’t. Do. That. Unfortunately, Colin Covert, the Star Tribune’s longtime film critic, gave into that temptation not once, not twice, but repeatedly before his bosses finally caught him in 2018. Covert wasn’t even hiding his word thievery particularly well: His favorite source to cop from was Pauline Kael, which is like a city council member trying to pass off parts of the Gettysburg Address as their own words. Though Covert initially seemed suitably sheepish, he was less so in a post-resignation interview with MPR, oddly claiming it wasn’t plagiarism to use someone else’s distinctive phrases without attribution if you’re applying them to different movies. He called this “fair use,” a legal doctrine that has no application to an ethics breach. No idea how he came up with that defense. Maybe he’d heard another plagiarist say it.
Don’t you just love that queasy feeling when a terrible person in the national spotlight is unexpectedly revealed to have Minnesota roots? A few weeks ago you’d probably never heard of Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a typically garbage Republican congressperson. And you never would’ve, if he hadn’t called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch” within earshot of reporters. (Ocasio-Cortez’s sin was linking poverty to crime; figure out who you want to cuss out.) Yoho issued a weaselly non-apology, and had his sexism perfectly vivisected in Ocasio-Cortez’s historic speech on the House floor. Well, guess what? Yoho was born in Minneapolis, and lived here till he was 11. According to Yoho’s mother’s obituary, his grandfather was a pharmacist who was “instrumental in naming Anoka ‘The Halloween Capital of the World.’” Ted’s probably got ol’ grandpa rolling over in his grave—maybe even rising from it to haunt him on October 31, a few months before his fucking bitch ass retires, and Congress becomes more AOC’s than his.
Born in Minneapolis and raised in St. Louis Park, this award-winning word-mangler rose to prominence after the fall of the Soviet Union by peddling a kinder, gentler twist on “greed is good.” Global capitalism would spread unparalleled equality and peace, he consistently assured the managerial class in his New York Times column, famously (and incorrectly) contending that no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever warred with each other. Filled with such idea-like approximations of thoughts, Friedman tomes like The World Is Flat flew off airport bookstore shelves. Tom championed the 2003 invasion of Iraq by saying sometimes America needed to tell its foes to “suck on this,” and dug in his heels when said foes bit down hard instead. His writing became more baroquely incoherent (“The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”) and his predictions more desperate: For years, he foresaw victory “in the next six months,” like a 7-year-old promising to go to bed in five more minutes. Friedman never lost his column or his reputation, because his job isn’t to be right, it’s to repeat what his readers want to believe: Whether inequality, war, or environmental destruction, the solution to capitalism’s outcomes is always... more capitalism.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
For decades, readers have been charmed by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s scrappy tales of life on the prairie. But the Little House series is chock full of not-so-quaint depictions of whiteness in the pioneer era. In the first book’s opening chapter, “Going West,” Wilder wrote that the family sought to reside on unoccupied land “where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” They find that land in Wisconsin, a place where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” When a reader pointed out this problematic line in 1953, publishers changed “Indians” to “settlers.” But that’s not the only dehumanizing/racist thing about the book; one neighbor repeatedly states that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and much of the series deals with the family’s frustrations that nearby tribes aren’t cool with them squatting on their land. Pa also dabbles in blackface for a minstrel show—some publications even included an illustration of the performance—while Ma admits that she just doesn’t like Native Americans. The series is a story of Manifest Destiny, the false idea that America was uninhabited, and that God wanted whites to travel West and make money off the land.
If you were a connoisseur of goofy ’90s TV shows, you may have fond memories of Kevin Sorbo, a Minnesota State University-Moorhead grad who starred in syndicated schlock such as Hercules and Andromeda. These days, he fights his looming irrelevance by talking shit on Twitter, writing, “Not one feminist has defended Sarah Sanders” in 2019. “It seems women’s rights only matter if those women are liberal.” A former co-star clapped back that “the person who repeatedly tried to pressure his three-decades-younger co-star into sleeping with him, publicly shamed her on set when she refused to, and insisted the director add unnecessary sex scenes” shouldn’t “flap his gums about feminism.” Other things Kevin has thoughts on: Black Lives Matter, men who grab pussy, our lord and savior Jesus Christ, and hydroxychloroquine. (Guess which one of those he doesn’t care for?) When he’s not making fun of Dr. Anthony Fauci, antiracists, and antifa, he’s starring in quality films like Piranha Sharks, Bernie the Dolphin 2, and Let There Be Light, executive produced by Sorbo friend and noted auteur Sean Hannity.
Keillor’s #MeToo divorce from American Public Media is enough to land him on this ignoble list. But let’s focus on the few years that followed his 2018 scandal, and the decades that preceded it. Somehow, throughout its 32-year run, Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio program tricked listeners into thinking it was a smart, funny love letter to Upper Midwest culture. Rather, the show’s blindingly white portrayal of Minnesota life reduced us to stock characters, aw-shucks Lutherans puttering around with folksy oafishness and tablecloth-thin dimensions. APHC committed comedy’s cardinal sin: lacing hack jokes with winking smugness. Then there’s post-grope Keillor, who has taken the predictable heel turn favored by so many powerful men: becoming a reactionary P.C. police alarmist. Even Keillor’s toady social media fans called him out for a July post that pompously questioned the notion of white privilege (“crazed self-righteous people” misunderstood his musings, Keillor wrote). Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: In 2007, the Anoka-born radio legend caught shit for his depiction of “stereotypical” gays; in 2016, he called then-Rep. Keith Ellison a “lackluster black Muslim.”
Terri Petter ran Fur-Ever Wild, a petting zoo/slaughterhouse located in Eureka Township. People would pay to interact with wolf puppies, foxes, horses, cougars, and a menagerie of other creatures. But once the animals were past peak cuteness, they would be killed for their fur or meat. According to Petter’s boyfriend, Daniel Storlie, the property pelted 1,500 foxes in 2007 alone. The smell of rotting carcasses and the vermin that came to dine on them eventually caught the attention of people who lived nearby, who sued. Fur-Ever Wild next caught the attention of animal rights groups. In 2017, a federal lawsuit cited violations of the Endangered Species Act and a report from the USDA, which found an animal with an open wound, fetid green water, and “excessive” mud and feces in enclosures during a visit. Just as the animals were scheduled to be seized from the property, they disappeared overnight. Enter Joe Exotic, the “Tiger King,” who began posting wolf picks on Facebook. Turns out Exotic had illegally purchased 28 wolves, 25 of which were eventually removed from his property (two had “disappeared,” while one had died from infection). Under a settlement reached in late 2019, Petter was barred from killing gray wolves or selling their parts for five years.
A guy like John Stumpf could be viewed less as an architect of vulturous banking than a symptom, if we’re being charitable. If only Stumpf was. Raised in a crowded family on a central Minnesota farm, Stumpf liked to talk about the mentality that upbringing impressed on him. Fuck if we can find it in his reign as head of Wells Fargo, during which the bank pressured employees to convert “sales” (the opening of new accounts) to absurdity: eight new accounts a day, except for January, when the daily goal was 20. Feeling no choice but to cheat, workers took out extra accounts for unwitting customers, who got hit with fees. As he had throughout his career as CEO, Stumpf blamed the lowest-ranking staffers, thousands of whom were fired. Fortunately, that didn’t cover the trail leading to the top. Stumpf was forced to give back $70 million in assets and stock options, and earlier this year was recommended for a $17.5 million fine. Ouch, right? If Stumpf and his family keep living as they’re accustomed to, he might someday have to tap his $22.5 million pension.
“Boy, do you sell those pillows.” That was President Donald Trump, in his typical oratorical grace, praising Mike Lindell, aka the MyPillow Guy. Before he became an unavoidable infomercial presence and Trump’s buddy, Lindell was a deity-free drug addict. A handful of his dealers staged an intervention—if we’re to believe Lindell, who can’t resist telling the story to anyone who’ll listen—and he was born again filled with entrepreneurial spirit. This he parlayed into a Chaska-based pillow empire, netting millions in revenue despite its ‘F’ grade from the Better Business Bureau. For some reason, Trump invited the crucifix-clad pitchman to a coronavirus briefing in March, where Lindell offered his epidemiological expertise. “With our great president, vice president, the administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever,” Lindell effused. The virus has since killed around 150,000 Americans. Now, at Trump’s urging, the pillow huckster is exploring a run for governor in Minnesota. Sleep well.
America’s first known serial killer was a spoiled playboy who patronized high society in Gilded Age Minneapolis. That’s if you take Harry Hayward’s word for it. Born wealthy, Hayward spent his three decades on earth carousing and gambling on his father’s dime, eventually settling in downtown Minneapolis. It was there he met and charmed Kittie Ging, whom he loaned $10,000 for her dressmaking business. (The cash was counterfeit.) Hayward convinced Ging to make him her beneficiary on an insurance policy, then talked a handyman into murdering her. Testimony from Hayward’s brother and the handyman got Hayward sentenced to hang. Condemned, Hayward coolly confessed to killing three other people—a girlfriend, and two fellow gamblers, one of whose skulls he crushed—and said he’d considered the murder of “dozens” of others, including his brother. These tales were either the con man’s final grift, a narcissist’s bragging he’d brought more death than the truth, or the cold confessions of a man who saw people as a means to an end. “My god was money,” said Hayward, whose hanging in 1895 was the last execution in Hennepin County.
Michele and Marcus Bachmann
Michele and Marcus Bachmann have managed to astound and abash their home state with a potent combination of staggering homophobia, contempt for science and basic facts, and generally refusing to be even remotely chill about a single goddamned thing. In 2005, Michele, eventual congressperson and presidential candidate, “ran screaming from a constituent forum, claiming that a lesbian had attempted to keep her there against her will,” in the tempered words of the Washington Post. A few years later, Marcus, a therapist who still runs a Christian counseling center with offices in Burnsville and Lake Elmo, compared gay people to “barbarians” who “need to be educated, need to be disciplined.” He later insisted the audio had been doctored and he had actually been talking about children. (Is that better?) In more recent interviews, Michele has called Donald Trump “highly biblical” and “godly.” She’s also speculated that coronavirus might have been God punishing the Trump administration for being a little too hard on Israel, and that climate change can’t be real because God already got that flooding the Earth stuff out of His system with Noah. Her favorite food is celery. Celery. These two are a power couple, and their “power” is sucking.
Charles Lindbergh grew up just outside Little Falls, on a farm on the banks of the Mississippi. There’s a statue of him at the state Capitol, and it’s easy to see why. His reputation as a legendary pilot is well earned. It’s the stuff he was into on the ground that skeeves us out. In addition to aviation, Lindbergh developed a keen interest in the eugenics movement. In the ’20s, he befriended renowned French surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel, a man who once said it might be cool to “kill off the worst [of us] and keep the best, as we do in the breeding of dogs,” presumably right before a swarm of bats erupted out of his mouth. Lindbergh traveled extensively in Germany in the ’30s, received a huge swastika-shaped medal for his neat airplane tricks, and confessed he found the country to be “the most interesting place in the world today,” and that “some of the things” he saw there “encouraged [him] greatly.” He then tried to use his enormous public clout to keep his home nation out of World War II. He claimed, in a 1941 speech, that the British and the “Jewish race” were pushing us toward war with the Nazis.
Employed, perversely, as a nurse, this Faribault man became obsessed with suicide—though not his own. Melchert-Dinkel lingered in online chat rooms dedicated to suicide, and talked to vulnerable people about ending their lives. Coached them, really, explaining exactly how to use a noose for maximum efficiency. Melchert-Dinkel posed as a young Asian woman, one who was often offering to make a suicide pact with “her” correspondent. Melchert-Dinkel would later admit to making suicide pacts with “about 10” people, and that five had carried out their end of the deal. One, Nadia Kajouji, was an 18-year-old Canadian who felt desperate after an unexpected pregnancy; she jumped to her death in 2008, ignoring the advice of “Cami” that she hang herself instead. When cops came asking, Melchert-Dinkel at first blamed his daughters, then confessed, admitting he’d done it for the “thrill of the chase.” In 2014, Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of aiding in two suicides, Kajouji’s and that of a depressed Englishman who’d taken the stranger’s advice on how to hang himself. He served six months in jail and was put on probation for 10 years.
When Loring Pasta Bar (now Loring Bar & Restaurant) and Varsity Theater reopened in recent years, both iconic Dinkytown establishments went out of their way to advertise their new ownership. That’s because the former owner, Jason McLean, is facing $6 million in judgements related to his alleged participation in the sexual abuse of minors at Children’s Theatre Co. in the 1980s. Instead of facing justice, McLean ran off, first to California, then to his multimillion-dollar Mexican villa. Eventually, McLean divested and live music returned to the mostly shuttered Varsity, and he, surprisingly, returned to the U.S. late last year to visit a restaurant he owns in Oakland, California. “It was like seeing a ghost,” one former staffer said, adding that nobody was expecting the notorious businessman to show up. Around the same time, McLean was renting his place in Cabo San Lucas for $1,500 a night, and looking to sell it for $3 million.
Forget “just following orders.” Michael Karkoc was the one giving them, according to an Associated Press investigation, which in 2015 exposed just what the longtime northeast Minneapolis resident had done. As leader of a Ukrainian fascist unit in World War II, Karkoc was said to have led the 1944 massacre of a Polish village where dozens were slaughtered, including women and children, in revenge for the killing of a Nazi SS man. Karkoc lied about that past when he immigrated to America in 1949, and a decade later, he became a U.S. citizen. For reasons known only to him, Karkoc volunteered his war years in a 1995 biography, penned in Ukrainian, after years attending church and working as a carpenter in Minneapolis. Both Germany and Poland found sufficient evidence implicating Karkoc, who died, at age 100, late last year without facing justice. He lived a long, peaceful life after the massacre, and was said to suffer from memory problems in later years. Lucky him.
The former archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was a personal creep, on levels bad enough, using his figure of authority to make unwanted advances on men who worked in the church and felt they couldn’t say no or report it. Multiple men (some who’d been as young as teens at the time) accused Nienstedt of inappropriate, predatory behavior, and one believed his career in the church was ruined because he’d said no. It gets so much worse: Nienstedt harbored or employed a handful of priests and other employees accused of sexual abuse or other offenses, and said, in a 2014 deposition, he wouldn’t have reported anything to the police unless they came asking. (They didn’t... until they did.) Nienstedt’s Catholic church did find ways to engage the public, lobbying both for more restrictions against abortion, and, in 2012, for the amendment to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution. The Minnesota Catholic Conference spent $600,000 trying to pass the ban, and Nienstedt wrote parishioners that they must “understand love and sexuality through God’s lens and his perfect plan for us,” and reject gay marriage. A couple years later, when Nienstedt was under oath, his flock would finally learn just how far they’d been led astray.