Investigator warned Minneapolis police a missing woman likely died in her home. They still left the house boarded up for months.
It took only four days for Breanna Dibble to be convinced that a missing woman was dead inside her home in Minneapolis.
Dibble was working as an investigator with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office in 2021 when a mail carrier called, worried about a woman on his route.
The mail had been piling up at Kathleen Norton’s home on Barnes Place, and he wanted to know if the 76-year-old woman, who neighbors called Katie, had died.
The medical examiner did not have a body or death record for Katie, so Dibble started searching for her. After calling hospitals and nursing homes, and searching public and private databases, she learned Katie had no known family. The woman didn’t own any other property or even a car.
“Everything pointed to she’s in that house,” Dibble now recalls.
Dibble said she tried to warn Minneapolis police. Her case notes and internal emails, obtained through a public data request, reveal new details about the department’s failure to follow up on repeated concerns over Katie’s wellbeing.
As 5 INVESTIGATES previously reported, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) had Katie’s house boarded up in the spring of 2021 after officers initially searched the house and encountered extreme hoarding conditions.
Dispatch records later revealed police failed to follow up on repeated concerns from neighbors and friends who feared Katie was still inside.
Those records confirmed Dibble also urged police to search the house months before Katie’s body was finally found.
Dibble said she told police in June 2021 that Katie was “most likely dead in her home.” According to Dibble’s notes, an MPD sergeant assured her during a phone conversation that the department would coordinate resources to clear the house and find Katie “in the next few days.”
But hours after that call, Sergeant Alice White told her supervisors she did not want to send officers back to the home.
“I couldn’t responsibly allow officers to respond to this again,” White wrote in an email obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
City records confirm no one from Minneapolis police or any other city department searched the house for another two months.
“[MPD] didn’t do their job,” Dibble said in an interview last week. “They really didn’t.”
A spokesperson for Minneapolis police said they are still reviewing the details in this case and cannot provide a statement at this time.
“If there is a body in the home…”
Initially, Dibble said she was relieved that someone was finally going to take action.
“The sergeant called me and was like, ‘Hey, I was looking through all these notes. It looks like we did go in the house. There were dead cats. It’s a hoarding hazard. Because of the biohazard nature of this, we can’t do anything tonight, but we’ll look into it,'” Dibble recalled.
According to notes Dibble sent to colleagues at the medical examiner’s office, Sgt. White also acknowledged “the hoard probably collapsed onto Kathleen which is why she was not initially found” during the first search.
Dibble’s hope faded in the weeks that followed when she said she didn’t hear from MPD again.
She was unaware that Sgt. White expressed reservations about searching the home again for a possible body “given months have passed” and the temperature was near 90 degrees, according to one internal email obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
“If there is a body in the home, this is a biohazard situation that would require equipment MPD does not possess,” White wrote to her supervisors hours after Dibble called in the tip.
“There’s so many signs that she’s dead in there,” Dibble said. “But again, they don’t do anything.”
Dibble wasn’t the only one to raise red flags about Katie. Neighbors kept calling 911 after they hadn’t seen her around the neighborhood or frequenting the local church food shelf.
But 5 INVESTIGATES found Katie’s house remained boarded up all summer, despite half a dozen “check welfare” calls to Minneapolis police.
According to a city spokesperson, MPD did not contact the housing department to search Katie’s house until August — nearly two months after Dibble warned police that she was likely dead inside.
“It needs to be brought to people’s attention that they failed,” Dibble said.
After the city condemned the home, crews cleaning out the house found Katie’s body in September 2021.
Dibble, who no longer works in Minnesota, remembers that day at the ME’s office with sharp clarity. She walked into the large cooler, scanning the body bags until her eyes found the one labeled NORTON.
“She’s finally here,” she thought to herself.
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