Man allegedly exposes himself at downtown North St. Paul bookstore

North St. Paul police were provided this photo of the suspect in a lewd-conduct case as he fled by foot along Margaret Street Aug. 25, pursued by bookstore owner Kathryn Harris and a customer. (submitted photo)
North St. Paul police were provided this photo of the suspect in a lewd-conduct case as he fled by foot along Margaret Street Aug. 25, pursued by bookstore owner Kathryn Harris and a customer. (submitted photo)
Inside Paperbacks Plus Book Store, the suspect allegedly positioned himself on the opposite side of a short bookcase while a woman was looking at books on the far-left wall. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Inside Paperbacks Plus Book Store, the suspect allegedly positioned himself on the opposite side of a short bookcase while a woman was looking at books on the far-left wall. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Kathryn Harris, owner of Paperbacks Plus Book Store on Seventh Avenue, wasn't going to stand for indecency in her store, and chased the suspect even though she was wearing wedge sandals and a long black skirt. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Kathryn Harris, owner of Paperbacks Plus Book Store on Seventh Avenue, wasn't going to stand for indecency in her store, and chased the suspect even though she was wearing wedge sandals and a long black skirt. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

Police investigation underway

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, a man bolted out of the Paperbacks Plus bookstore, 2539 E. Seventh Ave., North St. Paul, with two women on his heels.

The man had allegedly exposed himself to a customer inside the store. She reported the incident to the owner, who, accompanied by another customer, took off after him in an attempt to keep tabs on him until police were contacted.

Police have identified the suspect, North St. Paul Police Captain Dustin Nikituk says, but the investigation is still underway.

They located his vehicle in Stillwater, but have yet to make contact.

Before the week is up, Nikituk anticipates they will press gross misdemeanor charges for lewd conduct.

The incident

Carol Cude, a former teacher who retired after 45 years with the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district, says she had been browsing a floor-to-ceiling bookcase looking for a new selection of summer reads when she heard an odd sound coming from a man standing nearby.

"I could hear this sound — clunk, clunk, clunk — like a ceiling fan that's not balanced right," Cude says.

From where the man was standing — behind a shorter bookcase one row over — the two could make eye-contact.

Already suspicious of his behavior, Cude decided to walk over to investigate after he told her "you sure are cute," she says.

She discovered he was masturbating, so she walked right up to the front desk and told the owner, Kathryn Harris, what was happening.

Having spent year working with kids with emotional and behavioral needs, Cude wasn't all that rattled by the encounter. In fact, she says she was a bit relieved his victim hadn't been a little kid instead.

A self-professed fan of mystery novels, she says she appreciated how quickly the other women in the store sprang into action, to try to hold the man accountable.

"I think it says something about women working together," she says. "I think that's important."

The chase

Harris, the bookstore owner, says she noticed the man come in the front door, but didn't recognize him as one of her regular book lovers.

At one point, she says she noticed him "fidgeting" and asked if he needed any help. But he brushed her off.

"I caught him trying to sneak up on her, but I didn't know it," she says, recounting the incident with Cude.

When Cude reported his behavior, Harris recalls she reacted immediately and instinctively, chasing him out the front door onto the sidewalk and down Margaret Street, toward the police station.

"When he ran, I ran," she says, laughing over the fact that she was able to keep up in wedge sandals and a long skirt.

He slowed down to light a cigarette near the bus station, she says, and seemed alarmed to find he wasn't alone.

"He was a little surprised, I think, because I was still with him, like a shadow," she says.

The two exchanged few words. But Harris does remember telling him "I'm not used to people masturbating in my store," when he asked why she was following him.

The suspect then darted across the street — into oncoming traffic — and ducked into the back door of Polar Lounge while Harris made her way to City Hall to report the incident.

But he wasn't free yet. Another customer at the bookstore had followed Harris down the street to make sure she was OK.

The 48-year-old witness says she had come to talk with Harris about World War II books when she suddenly found herself running out of the store hot on the proprietor's heels.

Having tended bar "up north," she says, her own instinct is to never confront a customer.

"It's not worth your life," she says, noting she followed Harris because she feared the feisty bookstore owner might get hurt.

Stops for pizza

With Harris and the suspect within view, she called 911 and tailed the man when he darted into Polar Lounge.

Bartender Steve Minke says he saw the two cut through the bar, exiting on East Seventh Avenue.

"He's been in here a couple times," Minke says, adding he thought the man was having a tough time dealing with some family health issues.

The woman in pursuit says she watched the suspect go into one more storefront before heading to Village Pizza for takeout.

Although he had the time to stop for takeout, the man seemed rather shaken up.

"It seemed like he was drinking a little," Village Pizza owner Laruen Joslin says. "He seemed very confused."

Joslin says she took his order for a large pizza, which he paid for, then left.

The female witness saw him get into a green Dodge Ram truck and jotted down his license plate number for the police.

After all three women had given their eyewitness accounts to officer Joe Friedrichs, they went back to their interrupted afternoon of book browsing.

Ready to check out, Cude, a long-time customer, lifted her brown box full of books — including plenty of non-North St. Paul mysteries with perhaps some foot chases — onto the counter.

Harris began gushing over how proud she was of Cude for speaking up — something she says she didn't have the courage to do back when she witnessed a similar behavior on a public bus as a teenager.

Still high on adrenaline, she rang up the bill, throwing in a $10 discount for Cude to celebrate, and sending the retired teacher out the door with one last accolade.

"You're our hero!"

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.5 (27 votes)
Comment Here