Kimberly Compton was 18 when Michael Paul Stephani stabbed her to death.
It was St. Paul, 1981. That act alone would have lived in infamy, but it’s not what made Stephani’s name as a serial killer. That was what happened afterward -- when he called the police and told them everything.
"God damn, will you find me?” he asked. “I just stabbed somebody with an ice pick. I can't stop myself. I keep killing somebody.”
Stephani didn’t turn himself in, or even tell the officers his name. Instead, they gave him a nickname based on the strange, wheedling tone of the voice they heard over the phone, almost like a crying child’s. They called him the "Weepy-Voiced Killer."
Before police got ahold of Stephani, he killed three women in the Twin Cities area and brutally beat another in Wisconsin. He called the police after killing three of them, saying he was sorry, or that the newspaper reports about the latest murder were inaccurate.
“He’s such a creep,” Kenyon Laing says. She, Lucy Fitzgerald, and Amanda Jacobson co-host Wine and Crime, a true crime comedy podcast.
Stephani’s case is especially close to the co-hosts because they’re Minnesotan – either born and raised, or longtime residents. To get the full effect, they recommend listening to a recording of one of his calls. Without the context of the podcast, it's chilling, but on the show, the women ease the horror with their boozy jokes and their egregious Minnesotan accents. They intersperse clips of Stephani's voice that make listeners cringe at his maudlin affectation.
“If my mother knew how many times I made jack-off hands tonight, she’d be so proud,” Jacobson says.
The "Weepy Voiced Killer" is just one of several Minnesota crimes to make the podcast.
There was also the case of Brian Short, who was thought to be a normal, wealthy, Lake Minnetonka dad. He had a wife and three kids, and a job as the head of AllNurses.com, a social media site for nurses.
Then, in September, 2015, Short didn’t come to work, and his kids didn’t arrive at school. South Minnetonka police officers went from room to room of the family of five’s mansion and found one body after another. Short’s wife, Karen, was in the bedroom, next to a cordless phone. The children -- ages 17, 15, and 14 -- were found dead in their beds. Then, in the garage, was the body of Short himself, and a shotgun.
Police ruled it a triple-murder-suicide. In the aftermath, baffled neighbors tried to wrap their heads around how a man they thought they knew could have annihilated his wife and children.
Fitzgerald is from Chanhassen, Laing from Excelsior. For them, this murder strikes against a darkness they hadn’t known was there when they were growing up, in a house “within spitting distance” of their summer camp and their alma mater, Minnetonka High School. For nearly an hour, they puzzle through why no one fled from the first shotgun blast, why Short had killed himself, and his family with him. They settle in a void.
“We don’t have answers. We’ll never have answers. Sometimes, that’s the best we can do,” Fitzgerald says.
One crime even featured the Great Minnesota Get-Together. In 2014, Antonio Washington and an accomplice were charged with running off with $100,000 from a craft beer exhibit after holding a gun to the vendor’s head. Officers arrested Washington a few weeks later, and he confessed to using the stolen cash to buy jewelry and new duds from the Mall of America.
The crew covered the crime at a recent live show featuring various State Fair misdeeds, including the double murder of two funnel cake vendors at the Iowa State Fair, with ample trash talking about both St. Paul and the entire state of Wisconsin.
It may seem like an oddly flippant tone to take about threats of violence and double homicide, but Wine and Crime is part of a broader, emerging spectrum of true crime podcasts hosted by smart, funny women – often with a feminist edge. So often, women in true crime stories are depicted as helpless victims, and are raised with a certain set of anxieties about becoming targets for robbers, rapists, and murderers. That many-faced monster is much easier to live with, Jacobson says, if you’re able to laugh at it once in a while.
When the hosts find discuss a recent or particularly disturbing event, they forego jokes altogether and focus on sifting and processing details, both logically and emotionally. The death of Philando Castile, the 32-year-old employee of the St. Paul Public School District killed by a cop in 2016, was one of those.
This story stands out to the hosts because of how difficult it was to tell. Halfway through the recording, they had to pause and collect themselves.
“It was," Jacobson says, "the hardest case I’ve ever done."