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Murder charges filed against husband, wife in New Brighton shooting
Knollwood Drive neighbors had feud over deer feeding
"[Neal] Zumberge was a time bomb, just waiting for a fuse. He's sick."
-- Bob Comer, assistant block captain
Benefit fund established
A fund has been set up to help Cleven pay for her medical bills. Donations to the Jennifer D. Cleven Benefit Fund can be made at any TCF Bank.
A dispute between New Brighton homeowners turned deadly the evening of May 5 after a man reportedly shot two of his neighbors, killing one.
Around 8:30 p.m., police were called to the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive near Silver Lake Road and County Road H on reports that two people had been shot by a neighbor. Upon arrival, officers discovered a man and a woman had been shot.
According to the criminal complaint, the man was found “down on the front steps,” having suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body. He was pronounced dead at the scene. A report from the Ramsey County medical examiner says the cause of death was “exsanguination,” or bleeding out, as well as cerebral lacerations from shotgun wounds.
The complaint states that the woman, who was inside the house, had suffered two gunshot wounds to her abdomen. Authorities said she was was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
The woman identified the shooter as Neal Curtis Zumberge, 57, and police called him out of his house across the street, the complaint states.
Authorities have identified the male victim as Todd Gordon Stevens, 46, and the woman is Jennifer Damerow Cleven, 48. The two had reportedly been dating for 18 years.
Cleven had an active restraining order against Zumberge, authorities said. Records show that Neal Zumberge was arrested in 2013 for breaking that order.
On Wednesday, May 7, the Ramsey County attorney’s office charged Neal Zumberge with one count of second-degree murder, which has a maximum sentence of 40 years, and one count of second-degree attempted murder, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years. His wife, Paula Anne Zumberge, 50, was charged the next day with aiding and abetting those crimes, and faces the same sentencing guidelines.
In a statement, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi called the shooting “senseless and tragic,” adding that the investigation is currently ongoing.
Both Neal and Paula Zumberge are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail with bail set at $1.5 million.
Flashpoint: feeding deer
Neal Zumberge and the victims were reportedly involved in an ongoing dispute over the feeding of deer.
An article in the Dec. 19, 2012, edition of the Bulletin sheds some light on the situation, when at the time Neal Zumberge admitted to writing and distributing an anti-deer letter calling an anonymous neighbor “Mr. Corn” and describing the types of diseases deer can carry.
That neighbor was Stevens, who told the Bulletin that he bought corn to feed to the deer and enjoyed watching wildlife. He said at the time that a feeder in his yard had been torn down and destroyed. He claimed dead birds and squirrels had been killed by a pellet gun and left in his yard, and a pair of deer legs had been found by his back door.
The situation appeared to have escalated the morning of Nov. 28, 2012, when people in the neighborhood woke up to the sight of a dead doe and fawn in the Stevens’ yard. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources investigated the matter, but was unable to determine the cause of the animals’ deaths, telling the Bulletin that they would not investigate further because the victims were animals, not people.
At that time, Neal Zumberge said he wasn’t to blame. He told the Bulletin, “I don’t even own a gun,” and said that his dog, Rowdy, sometimes pulled dead animals, or parts of dead animals, out of the nearby woods.
He told the Bulletin that he had taken measures to attempt to keep the herd of deer from running through his yard on their way to Stevens’ feeder by blocking their paths, but these measures had been unsuccessful.
For their part, Stevens and his girlfriend expressed alarm about the discovery of dead animals in their yard and were concerned about gunfire.
Son’s arrest leads to showdown
According to the criminal complaints, an exchange leading to Zumberge’s son’s arrest is what sparked the shooting.
Cleven told police she saw Jacob Zumberge, 23, at the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant on Silver Lake Road in New Brighton May 5 before the shooting occurred, and the two got into a heated discussion.
She said Jacob Zumberge, who was wanted by the Spring Lake Park Police Department for a previous run-in with the couple at the Kraus-Hartig VFW Post 6587, accused her and Stevens of causing his father to contract Lyme disease because they feed deer, which can carry the disease, and the animals pass through their yard. He also allegedly threatened to burn down their house.
Cleven called police, and Jacob was arrested at about 6 p.m. that day. He has been charged in Anoka County with two counts of making terroristic threats and one count of fifth-degree assault.
Then she drove home and as she walked up to her home on Knollwood Drive, Zumberge’s wife, Paula, confronted her, saying, “You f-ing bitch, you put my son in jail,” according to the complaint.
Stevens heard the confrontation and came outside. Then, Zumberge allegedly appeared with a shotgun and began shooting “several rounds” at them.
Stevens fell to the ground, and Cleven was able to enter the house and call the police as shots continued to come into the house.
The woman told investigators she could hear Zumberge’s wife yelling, “Shoot, shoot, keep shooting,” as he was dispatching rounds into the home.
When police arrived, Cleven allegedly told officers, “He shot us, I knew he was going to do this!”
After officers called him out of his house, Neal Zumberge told agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that he and Stevens had a “tumultuous” relationship that dated back 15 years, according to the complaint.
He also admitted that he had left his basement through an egress window and had shot Stevens with a 12-gauge shotgun, which was loaded with buckshot. He allegedly claimed that he did not mean to shoot Cleven.
Agents executed a search warrant at the Zumberge home and found a semi-automatic shotgun matching Neal Zumberge’s description of the gun he used to shoot Stevens.
Shooter was a ‘time bomb’
Bob Comer, the assistant block captain of the Knollwood Drive and Valley View Lane neighborhood and a retired private detective, described Neal Zumberge as “a time bomb, just waiting for a fuse.”
“He’s sick,” he added during an interview on May 6, and mentioned that Zumberge “hated” the surveillance cameras that Stevens, a life-long resident of the neighborhood, had installed in November 2012, just after Zumberge distributed the letter.
The cameras “were always pointed at [Zumberge],” Comer said.
Stevens, Comer added, “was a hunter; liked guns; was outspoken. He wasn’t shy about his opinions, but was extremely friendly.
“Todd didn’t want trouble.”
A neighbor who was friends with Zumberge paints a different picture.
“Neal and I walked our dogs together everyday. We were friends,” Pat Harvey said. “What happened was a terrible thing for both families.”
Harvey recalled a recent incident in which a deer had gotten stuck on the fence on the Zumberge property near Rice Creek Trail and was “seriously injured.”
“Neal cut it down and called police who arrived and dispatched the animal. Calling the police is what you are supposed to do,” she said.
The New Brighton Department of Public Safety has made a statement saying they will not release any information regarding the dispute between the neighbors.
As for what the police department could have done to prevent the shooting, Comer said he wasn’t sure, but that they “could have done more than they did.”
“There’s been trouble brewing for the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s been very heated. [Neal Zumberge] broke the restraining order, but the police did nothing. And it’s too late now, Todd’s dead.”
The Bulletin could not reach Police Chief Bob Jacobson for comment.
Paula Zumberge is scheduled to appear in court May 15; Neal Zumberge is due in court June 4.
The Dec. 19, 2012, Bulletin article, “A mystery on Knollwood Drive” can be found at http://bit.ly/1qnfvBK.
See below images of a copy of the letter Neal Zumberge distributed to Knollwood Drive residents in November 2012.
(Click image to open in new window)
40 years ago, Zumberge’s brother killed Roseville officer
The Zumberge family has had previous run-ins with law enforcement, guns and murder, according to court records.
In 1972, Howard Zumberge, Neal Zumberge’s older brother, reportedly robbed a bank at Rosedale Center. He ran from the scene, armed with a gun.
Roseville police and squad cars responded, and officer Howard Johnson, 48, took off after him on foot.
Moments later, shots were fired and Howard Zumberge was spotted, running. Officers were able to catch him, and as he was being arrested, he said, “I think I just shot one of your guys back there.”
Johnson was found in the front yard of a home on Sextant Avenue. He had been shot in the chest. Johnson was the first Roseville officer killed in the line of duty. A city park on Woodhill Drive is named in his honor.
Howard Zumberge, who was 21 at the time, was reportedly convicted of the robbery and Johnson’s murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
While imprisoned in a federal penitentiary in Illinois, Howard Zumberge and another prisoner escaped, and a shootout occurred before they were re-captured.
Howard Zumberge was released on parole in 1989 after serving 16 years in prison.
He has spent additional time in jail following drinking and driving charges in the 1990s, and was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2007 in Anoka County.