Student plays detective in decades-old murder case

Larissa Johnson is investigating a cold case with Minnetonka police.

Larissa Johnson shows the shooting range Tuesday afternoon at the Minnetonka Police Department. Johnson is an intern there and has been working on a 1973 cold case where a 22-year-old male was shot in the head and left in the woods. The case is Minnetonka’s only unsolved homicide.

Erin Westover

Larissa Johnson shows the shooting range Tuesday afternoon at the Minnetonka Police Department. Johnson is an intern there and has been working on a 1973 cold case where a 22-year-old male was shot in the head and left in the woods. The case is Minnetonka’s only unsolved homicide.

Frank

No detectives who worked on the 1973 homicide of a 22-year-old man are still with the Minnetonka Police Department. The case remains the only unsolved homicide in Minnetonka history.
But with a fresh perspective from University of Minnesota sociology student Larissa Johnson, the police hope to shed new light on this decades-old cold case.
Shot in the head and left in the woods nearly four decades ago, the young manâÄôs death has left a pile of documents for the 21-year-old âÄúintern detective.âÄù
Since mid-January, Johnson has spent roughly 15 hours a week in her own cubicle at the Minnetonka Police Station, poring over hundreds of pages of documents from the past.
Johnson is trying to see if previous detectives on the case missed anything.
The soft-spoken student can be found in her cubicle three days a week looking at photos and creating electronic copies of files.
This week Johnson compiled a presentation for the detectives at the station to let them revisit the facts with the case. From here, the detectives will see if new-age technology, such as DNA evidence, can help advance the case further.
âÄúItâÄôs entirely possible [that the case can be solved], although I donâÄôt know how optimistic I am that we will come up with a 100 percent resolution,âÄù said Sgt. Dave Riegert, who directly oversees Johnson.
âÄúWe wanted to have somebody that was a little bit younger to help us,âÄù said Riegert, a 17-year veteran of the force.
With only four case detectives to follow-up on more than 3,000 cases a year, the Minnetonka Police donâÄôt have enough manpower to pursue everything, Riegert said.
Johnson, whoâÄôs originally from Golden Valley, said she heard about the position through a family member.
âÄú[The intern position] is a way to allow us to look at things more closely than what we normally would have time for,âÄù Riegert said.
While a detective internship is not necessarily rare, many smaller agencies, such as the Minnetonka Police, donâÄôt offer internships often because it can pull away resources from the department.
In the short time Johnson has been with the police station, she has been on a police ride-along, accompanied an officer to the courthouse to submit documents and even shot some rounds at the shooting range in the basement of the police station.
Though she receives no salary and will not get class credits from the University, Johnson said she is trying to soak everything in as she decides whether to enroll in a police academy.