(KMSP) - In 2014, police surrounded a cabin in Canada, notified the U.S. embassy in Belize and searched an Anoka County airport three times. During part of the search, the man they were looking for was hiding in plain sight: at Target, the Mall of America and the Mystic Lake casino.
Ty Hoffman, wanted for killing his ex-partner and robbing a bank, was eventually found standing in a drive-thru in Shakopee, Minnesota. Following an open records request, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office provided Fox 9 with the massive case file that details the search, reveals unanswered questions and shows the video of Hoffman sometimes hiding out in public places.
Ty Hoffman shot and killed Kelly Phillips on Aug. 11, 2014, at a gas station in Arden Hills. Hoffman escaped in Kelly’s BMW. Multiple witnesses provided police a description that resembled Hoffman. At first, police believed they were possibly looking for Kelly’s fiance, but soon realized Hoffman was their suspect.
The pair had had a falling out due to business and personal reasons.
“The blatantness of what he did, in front of God and everyone in the public, he committed an execution at the gas station with witnesses all around,” Deputy Dan Eggers, the lead investigator in the case, told Fox 9.
The first three weeks of the search yielded a few clues, but no confirmed sightings of Hoffman. Early into the search, police found Kelly’s BMW in the woods of Blaine, which provided them a focus for their search, including the nearby airport where Hoffman had connections.
The first major breakthrough came on Aug. 31 when Hoffman robbed more than $12,000 from a TCF Bank branch in Blaine. The robbery showed police Hoffman was still in the area, provided images of his current appearance, and revealed he was potentially very dangerous.
“On the video, it shows him taking a deep breath and then pulling out that firearm and pointing it at the teller and demanding money. You could just see that, and take a deep breath and pull it out,” Eggers said.
On Sept. 1, the day after the bank robbery, Hoffman spent almost his entire day in the public eye. His day started at 9:50 a.m. when he walked into the Target in Richfield where he bought a change in clothes, a razor, and a cell phone—one police say he never used.
At 12:14 p.m., Hoffman got onto a Metro Transit bus at 66th and Cedar Avenue and rode it to the Mall of America.
At 12:21 p.m., Hoffman arrived at the Mall of America. He walked around several floors, and bought a ticket to the movie, The Giver. Police say they do not know whether Hoffman had his gun in his backpack while at the mall. Hoffman left the mall a few hours after arriving, and took a cab to the Mystic Lake casino.
At 3:45 p.m., Hoffman arrived at the casino. Investigators say video shows a guard challenging Hoffman on his backpack. The guard does not check it. Hoffman leaves and comes back about fifteen minutes later when the guard does search the bag.
Hoffman spends a couple hours playing slots at Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos. Police believe he was feeding his bills, stained by a dye pack, so he could get clean bills. Around 10:50 p.m. Hoffman would once again vanish.
Despite hundreds of people encountering Hoffman that day, no one appeared to notice him. “I believe everyone’s in their own world,” Eggers said.
Investigators learned Hoffman was at the casino the next day when the casino discovered the stained bills, allowing officers to trace Hoffman’s steps back to the bus, mall and store. The casino says it notified police “immediately” when staff discovered the stained bills.
A person sees Hoffman standing in the drive-thru at an Arby’s in Shakopee and calls police. Hoffman first gives police a false name, then admits his true identity.
“I knew it was turning cold, and that was playing to our advantage. In fact, the day he was caught, I thought this is the day, this is one month exactly. And low and behold, he turns up at Shakopee Arby’s,” said Eggers.
Hoffman is now in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and robbery.
1. Where is the murder weapon?
The gun used in the murder and bank robbery is still missing. The Ramsey County Attorneys Office told Fox 9 that Hoffman offered to divulge the gun’s location in exchange for a shorter sentence; prosecutors declined. Similarly, federal prosecutors did not allow Hoffman to use the gun as leverage in the robbery sentence.
2. Did Hoffman have help?
The lead investigator told Fox 9 is it “inconclusive right now” whether Hoffman had any help while on the run, and there is “nothing I can prove.” Eggers believes Hoffman slept in the woods, and said he smelled like “campfire” when arrested.
3. Why did Hoffman have a garage door remote?
Hoffman had a garage door opener in his possession. Eggers says Hoffman “might have had access to a house. He very well could have broken into a foreclosed home and stolen a remote control for a garage door opener.”