A Minnesota Murder Mystery

The facts of Minnesota’s most notorious serial killer—who may or may not have been guilty

Illustrator: Will Hanson

As a Wisconsin native, I know very well that my state sadly boasts some of the most well-known American killers. However, as a Minnesota resident for the past few years, who also happens to be a writer, working for a magazine at Halloween time, with an interest in true crime, cold cases, wrongful convictions and the like? Well that seems like the perfect recipe for a Minnesota serial killer profile article.

According to multiple sites, the most notorious MN-based serial killer is a man named Billy Glaze, who, I should note, died in prison two years ago while 25 years into a sentence eligible for parole after 52 years. And while people like Ted Bundy have dense Wikipedia pages and scores of online articles seeming to detail their every childhood defining moment and each failed police apprehension, “notorious killer” Billy Glaze has a surprisingly small internet presence. Sure, he has a Wikipedia page, but its informational scope is limited, and it leaves almost more questions than it answers.

Glaze was convicted of three murders that took place in 1986-87, murders of Native American women in the Minneapolis area. Glaze, who also apparently went by Jesse Sitting Crow and was called Butcher Knife Billy, may have also been of Native American descent, though the different sources I’ve seen claim different things—some said he lied about this fact, some said he was part of a Native American community. Glaze has been suspected of murdering up to 50 women, though he went to trial and eventually prison for just three murders. He apparently often bragged to police about killing 20 women or more, giving them strong reason to suspect his guilt, along with the physical evidence; however, in other interviews he claimed total innocence.

Glaze has been suspected of murdering up to 50 women, though he went to trial and eventually prison for just three murders.

Glaze was arrested in 1987 after information from a girlfriend led police to apprehend him. At the time he was violating his parole by leaving the state where he had been convicted of rape in 1974. At the time of his arrest, police found a bloody shirt, crowbar, and nightstick in his car. Hair samples from the crowbar were one of the main pieces of evidence used to convict him, along with the admissions of guilt to police, and his locations at the times of the murders. A newspaper article from 1989 in the Orlando Sentinel provided more information than other current sources. The short article states that he was given the life sentence for “murdering and sexually mutilating three Indian women.” The article, unlike Wikipedia, also lists the victims’ names and ages (19, 26, and 21) and ends saying that Glaze told the judge, “I’m not the serial killer.”

And here’s the kicker: several years ago, a few years before his death, the Innocence Project took on his case, having found evidence in more than one of the murders he was convicted of that indicated his innocence. It says it found 39 pieces of evidence from the murder scenes implicating another man, and none with Glaze’s DNA. These included a cigarette butt at one scene, and a vaginal swab from another of the victims. The man implicated by this new DNA evidence, a convicted rapist, denied any knowledge of the crimes or the women. However, before the new evidence discovered by the Innocence Project could be brought to court, Glaze died in prison of lung cancer.

There are still doubts by some that he was guilty, while others firmly believe that he was rightly convicted. Though there are no recent reports, some sources said that investigations into the matter would continue after his death. The evidence is still mixed, and without the detailed information available on the internet about other convicted killers, it’s hard for me to make a call or even guess whether Glaze was innocent or guilty. While I like to believe the best in people, someone also had to commit the crimes. Either way, the story of Billy Glaze and the 1980s Minneapolis murders is a spooky story, and a divisive one.