Between 1980 and 1982, Minneapolis residents were being terrorised by a sadistic serial killer. He became known as the “Weepy-Voiced Killer” due to the emotional phone calls he would make to police following his grim murders.
It was New Year’s Eve of 1980 when the “Weepy-Voiced Killer” made his very first attack. 20-year-old Karen Potack, a University of Stevens Point student, was attending a nightclub with several friends. As the nightclub was closing at 1AM, her friends noticed that Potack was nowhere to be found; she had already left and was walking the short distance back home. As she strolled down the street near Pierce Butler Road and Syndicate Avenue in St. Paul, she was ambushed. She was bludgeoned across the head with a tire-iron before being left for dead under the winter sky.
After the attack, local police received a phone call at approximately 3AM. As his voice cracked with emotion, he directed police to the crime scene. “There’s a girl hurt here,” he wailed before abruptly hanging up the phone. When police and paramedics arrived on the scene, they were horrified by the brutality of the attacker. The beating was so violent that it exposed Potack’s brain.
Miraculously, she survived the attack but was left without her memory. The next victim wouldn’t be so lucky.
On the 3rd of June, 1981, a group of teenage boys stumbled across a gruesome scene. As they were walking through a wooded area north of Superior and Oneida Streets near the Interstate 35E, they found a body. The body would be identified as 18-year-old Kimberly Compton from Pepin. She had been stabbed 61 times, mainly on the chest, with an ice pick. Furthermore, she was strangled with a shoe lace.
After her murder, police received another phone call, much similar to the phone call they received following the first attack. The man down the line declared: “God damn, will you find me? I just stabbed somebody with an ice pick. I can’t stop myself. I keep killing somebody.” Police were successful in tracing the phone call to a pay phone at a bar across the street from the bus depot at 9th and St. Peter Street. When they arrived, there was nobody there.
Two days after the discovery of Compton’s body, the man called 911 once again. He told officers he hadn’t meant to kill the girl and that he would turn himself in. He didn’t. Instead, he called police and told them “I’ll try not to kill anyone else,” adding that he “couldn’t help it. I don’t know why I stabbed her. I’m so upset about it.”1
Despite the fact that the killer had by now left multiple phone calls, police still hadn’t identified him.
On the 21st of July, 1982, 33-year-old Kathleen Greening from St. Paul was scheduled to go on a vacation to Mackinac Island with her best friend, Carol Kellogg. On the morning they were scheduled to leave, Kellogg had planned to drive to Greening’s home for breakfast before the duo departed. When Kellogg arrived at her friend’s house, she knocked on the front door. When nobody answered, she let herself in; the door was unlocked. She called out for Greening but there was no reply so she started to search room to room. She got to the bathroom and noticed that the light was on with the door partially closed.
Kellogg pushed open the door and discovered exactly why her best friend wasn’t replying when she called her name: she was dead. Greening’s naked body was face up in the water with her head under the tap and her knees bent toward the front of the tub. Initially, police ruled her death as an accident. As a matter of fact, those who didn’t buy the accidental drowning theory pointed their finger at Greening’s estranged husband. It wouldn’t be until years later that her death would also be attributed to the “Weepy-Voiced Killer.”
The fourth victim would 40-year-old nurse from the Minneapolis side of the river, Barbara Simons.
On the 5th of August, 1982, Simons had been at the Hexagon bar where she met her killer when she offered him a cigarette. Simons told a waitress that he man was going to give her a lift home. She was found dead the following morning by a newspaper carrier walking along the Mississippi River near 29th St. She had been stabbed to death. Once again, the killer called police and said: “Please don’t talk, just listen… I’m sorry I killed that girl. I stabbed her 40 times. Kimberly Compton was the first one over in St. Paul.”
The first person police wanted to speak to in relation to the murder was the man that Simons had met at the bar, the man who had supposedly given her a lift home. Maybe he knew something about her murder; maybe he was the murderer. Witnesses were able to provide police with a description. He was described as being around 40-year-old, 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. The witnesses said he had a dark complexion and receding black hair.
As police were attempting to track this man down, he attacked his final victim. 19-year-old Denise Williams from Minneapolis was working the streets when she was approached by the still-unidentified man who asked for her services. The duo arranged a price and Williams hopped into his car.
After the man turned onto a dead-end road, Williams knew that something was going wrong and she was in extreme danger. Before she even had a chance to react, he lunged at her with a screwdriver, stabbing her a total of 15 times. Williams successfully reached for a glass bottle that was sitting in the footwell and smashed her attacker over the face before fleeing from his car. This undoubtedly saved her life.
When the man returned home to his apartment, he noticed that the wound on his face was quite severe and decided to seek out medical treatment. When he called the St. Paul Fire Department asking for assistance, the department noticed the caller has “aural similarities” to the so-called “Weepy-Voiced Killer” phone calls.
The man was identified as 37-year-old Paul Michael Stephani. He grew up in Austin, Minnesota, and moved to St. Paul in the 60s where he worked as a hospital janitor and a shipping clerk; he unloaded trucks at a steel mill and a tool company. He later said that he kept losing jobs and blamed the epilepsy he had suffered on his old job. Angry, he returned to the area around the factory. This was where he saw Karen Potak. “When I picked her up, she had no jacket and I thought I’d take her for a cup of coffee,” Stephani confessed. “I just wanted to warm her up and my mind snapped or something.”2
Stephani was soon apprehended and was charged with attempted second-degree assault. He was found guilty of the murder of Barbara Simons but due to lack of evidence, he couldn’t be tied to the other murders. “We never had quite enough evidence to get him charged,” said Lt. Joe Corcoran of the St. Paul Police Department.3
In 1997, however, Stephani confessed to the murder of Kim Compton after finding out that he had cancer and had less than a year to live. “I’d rather go to the grave knowing this is all taken care of and off my chest,” Stephani said. “To this day, I can’t believe it. I wake up in the morning thinking and hoping I’m dreaming all this. But then I say: ‘No, Paul, you’re still in jail.’ I don’t know what to do except say I wish I could turn back the clock.”4 He said she had just stepped off a bus in St. Paul and walked to Mickey’s Diner, where Stephani was having coffee. “We started talking and I told her I’d show her around town,” Stephani said. “I thought I’d drive by the river and maybe we’d see the Delta Queen or have a picnic. But in 15 minutes, she was dead.”
He also confessed to the murders of Barbara Simons and Kathy Greening. While he was found guilty of the murder of Simons, he never actually confessed. He had never even been considered a suspect in the death of Greening; he never made a phone call to police following this murder. Investigators announced that during his confession, he was able to provide details about Greening and her house that only the killer would have known. Moreover, investigators also found the name “Paul S” in Greening’s address book which contained his phone number.
The year after confessing, Stephani died at the Oak Parks Heights maximum security prison.
- The Sheboygan Press, 23 September, 1981 – “Telephone Confession Made Public”
- Leader-Telegram, 21 December, 1997 – “Chilling Tale”
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 20 December, 1997 – “Weepy-voiced Killer Confesses to 1981 Death of Pepin Woman”
- Star Tribune, 20 December, 1997 – “Victim’s Aunt Wants to Tell Stephani of Her Pain”