ROCHESTER, Minn. — Fourteen years ago, April Jean Sorensen, a 27-year-old aspiring dental hygienist, wife and marathon runner had a day that began like any other. She worked her regular morning shift at UPS and then went to class at Rochester Community and Technical College.

But Sorensen’s day and life ended horrifically that afternoon shortly before police officers and firefighters found her murdered in her Rochester home.

Fourteen years later, Sorensen’s murder remains unsolved, only one of three in the city that continue to perplex local investigators to this day. Rochester police Lt. Tom Faudskar said this week that the case is still open and active and investigators continue to follow up on tips. The Rochester Police Department is expected to host a news conference later this month about Sorensen’s April 17, 2007, murder. Sorensen’s family is not expected to take part in the news conference.

April 17, 2007

Rochester police were called about 12:30 p.m. April 17, 2007, to Sorensen’s home in the 4800 block of 22nd Avenue Northwest for a report of smoke coming from the home. A cable TV technician who was scheduled for a service call arrived to see a haze through the home’s storm door and he could hear the smoke alarm going off.

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The technician called 911. Firefighters arrived and found Sorensen’s body on the bedroom floor after they extinguished the fire. Investigators believe it was set in an attempt to cover up her murder. The door to the bedroom had been closed, allowing the fire to burn hot enough to damage the contents of the room so that very little forensic evidence could be recovered.

Still, investigators collected hundreds of pieces of evidence from the home. Some of that evidence contained human DNA but there's been no match – yet.

April Sorensen (Rochester and Olmsted County Crime Stoppers)
April Sorensen (Rochester and Olmsted County Crime Stoppers)

There was no witness to the crime and neighbors reported seeing nothing unusual that morning. Even so, investigators have been able to piece together what likely happened. There are signs that Sorensen was physically assaulted with an edged weapon -- possibly a knife of some sort -- but the weapon wasn’t found.

An autopsy revealed Sorensen was strangled and stabbed to death. In 2017, Capt. John Sherwin said police had done a complete reanalysis of every piece of evidence that was taken from the crime scene. Sherwin was a patrol sergeant at the time of Sorensen’s murder and the first officer inside the house Sorensen shared with her husband.

Suspects

Shortly after Sorensen’s murder, police worked with the FBI to create a likely profile of the suspect.

Former police Capt. Brian Winters said in late 2007 that the attacker was probably a single male who could blend into residential neighborhoods easily without raising suspicion. Winters said evidence indicated the offender was comfortable being in a stranger's home uninvited, meaning he likely had broken into or stolen property from other homes.

Both the cable TV technician who called in the fire and Sorensen’s husband have been cleared of any involvement in the crime.

Neighbors and passers-by look at the scene of police cars, officers and tape surrounding a northwest Rochester home where a woman was found dead April 17, 2007. (Post Bulletin file photo by Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Neighbors and passers-by look at the scene of police cars, officers and tape surrounding a northwest Rochester home where a woman was found dead April 17, 2007. (Post Bulletin file photo by Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Over the years since the murder, there have been people of interest. In 2017, Sherwin told the Rochester Post Bulletin that some of the people police have investigated have “extensive criminal history or who may have had these types of targeted attacks in the past – which would fit the profile.”

Still, no arrests have been made.

Public efforts

In the decade following her murder, Sorensen’s family hosted an annual memorial run from Albert Lea to Hayward to raise money to fund scholarships for area students and help maintain the Blazing Star State Trail.

Sorensen loved all kinds of sports.

“April enjoyed running; she individually finished three marathons along with her dad and sister and also participated in relay marathons and numerous smaller races,” the marathon website said. “April was enthusiastic about life and would always go the extra mile to be kind to everyone. Not only do we, her family, suffer a great loss but also the communities April was a part of. She ... leaves a lasting memory with so many."

In 2015, two digital billboards went up in Rochester to help spread the word of the unsolved murder. The billboards were up for at least four weeks and the cost for them was donated by Fairway Outdoor Advertising.

A $25,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

One of three unsolved murders

Sorensen’s murder is just one of three in the city that remain unsolved.

On April 15, 2020, 41-year-old Robert Elridge Volgmann was found dead inside his apartment at 2319 28½ Ave. NW. Police were called to the residence by the building's landlord, who had stopped by to drop off food and noticed an open window. Police believe Volgmann was dead for at least 24 hours before his body was discovered.

In August 1958, Herbert C. Hanson, a retired Mayo Clinic collector who was working as a night attendant at the former Swede Larson's Shell Station on Fourth Avenue Southeast and U.S. Highway 14 was shot to death. A robber stole $104 from the cash register. A customer found Hanson's body in a storage-utility room. Hanson lived only a few houses away. The murder weapon has never been found.

Tip line

If you have information about the murder of April Jean Sorensen, contact:

Rochester Police Department investigator Anne Johnson 507-328-6921

www.rochesterolmstedcrimestoppers.org

Minnesota BCA, 877-996-6222

BCA.Coldcase@state.mn.us