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Crime News Snapped

Minnesota Man Murders Neighbor During Escalating Feud Over Feeding Wildlife and Lyme Disease

Neal Zumberge and Todd Stevens fought over a deer feeder Stevens set up in his yard. In the nine years before Stevens was ultimately shot and killed, law enforcement responded to calls from both houses 44 times.

By Caitlin Schunn

It seemed innocent enough when Todd Stevens set up a deer feeder in the yard of his Minnesota home. But his neighbor Neal Zumberge became convinced the extra deer in the neighborhood led to his diagnosis of Lyme Disease.

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And when Stevens refused to remove the deer feeder, causing a years-long rift between the neighbors, Zumberge eventually decided to take action — claiming he was protecting his wife’s life as he shot and killed Stevens and injured Stevens' longtime partner, Jennifer Cleven.

“Think about the trauma to the neighbors,” Elizabeth Mohr, former reporter, said on Snapped, airing on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. “They had to endure this. That someone was shot and killed in broad daylight, on his doorstep. Can you imagine trying to explain something like this to your kids?”

How was Todd Stevens killed in the front yard of his home?

Jennifer Cleven called 911 dispatchers in the St. Paul, Minnesota suburb of New Brighton on May 5, 2014, screaming that her neighbor had shot her and her long-time partner, 46-year-old Todd Stevens.

Todd Stevens featured in Snapped Season 33 Episode 7.

But unlike many homicide cases, Cleven immediately identified the shooter as the man who lived across the street: Neal Zumberge.

“[Zumberge]’s got a shotgun, and he’s shooting,” she told dispatchers. “Shot five times at my house. I’ve called you guys a hundred times, and you’ve never done nothing to him. Oh my god, I told you guys he was gonna kill us.”

Police found Stevens laying dead in his front yard. They also found more than 30 shotgun bullet holes along the outside of Stevens and Cleven’s home.

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Zumberge eventually agreed to turn himself into police after a standoff.

Cleven was hospitalized for a gunshot injury to her abdomen.

Why did Todd Stevens and Neal Zumberge have a years-long feud?

Law enforcement was no stranger to the feud between the neighbors.

“Every New Brighton police officer probably knew both these families, based upon the last decade or so of what I would describe as a tumultuous relationship,” Christopher Olson, former Minnesota special agent, said on Snapped. “Sort of Hatfield and McCoys if you will.”

In 1997, Neal and Paula Zumberge moved across the street from Todd Stevens and Jennifer Cleven with their three kids. At first, Cleven’s son Ryan was friends with the Zumberge children. But in 2002, Neal forbade his son Jacob from being friends with Ryan, and Ryan moved back to Texas to live with his biological father.

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“It sorta began to fray over a time period, over years,” Paul Blume, reporter, said on Snapped. “The Zumberges were concerned over what was happening inside Jennifer and Todd’s house. Specifically, Todd’s drinking. Behavior. That’s probably where things kind of deteriorated.”

Cleven pointed police to another sticking point in the feud when they interviewed her in the hospital.

“You know what this is over?” she said. “’Cause we feed deer, and he didn’t like it.”

Zumberge believed that deer would bring things like ticks and diseases to the neighborhood.

“Neal was very upset,” Anna Christie, prosecutor, said on Snapped. “He claimed that because Todd and Jennifer fed the deer, there was an increased presence of deer in the neighborhood. He felt that was a threat to the safety and welfare of the neighborhood.”

Neal Zumberge featured in Snapped Season 33 Episode 7.

By 2012, Zumberge began complaining about the deer feeder to local officials, but since no ordinances or laws were broken, nothing was done. Zumberge then alleged that he and his dog were sick with Lyme Disease from the deer.

“Lyme Disease is passed on by ticks, typically carried by deer,” Frank Weber, forensic psychologist, said on Snapped. “But Jennifer and Todd both felt it was their right to feed deer. They were not going to back away from it.”

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Zumberge also alleged to officials that he first had to reduce his hours at work because of the Lyme disease, before eventually losing his job.

“It seemed like Neal had become very fixated on Todd and Jennifer,” Christie said. “And he blamed them for his inability to find a job. He blamed them for getting Lyme disease. He blamed them for a lot of the problems in his life.”

By March 2012, things were getting worse between the neighbors. Stevens and Cleven began finding dead animal parts and bodies in their yard and driveway.

“It was upsetting to Todd and Jennifer as well as the neighbors,” Christie said. “Todd and Jennifer made a report. They suspected that Neal was the one who killed those animals and put them there either as a sign or as a threat.”

In October 2012, Zumberge also circulated a letter around the neighborhood outlining to his neighbors why he felt the deer feeder was dangerous.

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“From Neal’s perspective, he saw this as possibly generating support for his beliefs,” Weber said. “The truth is from the neighbors' perspective it simply made it look like he was getting closer to snapping.”

Jennifer Cleven eventually got a restraining order from a judge against Zumberge for harassing conduct.

Why did the fight between Neal Zumberge and Todd Stevens escalate to violence?

A week before Stevens’ death marked a turning point in the neighbor feud. Cleven told police she and Stevens had been at a local bar, when Jacob Zumberge confronted them and said his father had Lyme Disease because of the couple.

“Before Jake left, he came over and he shoved Todd back and he said, ‘I’m gonna kill y’all,’” Cleven said in an interview with police.

Cleven reported the assault to police, and an arrest warrant was issued for Jacob Zumberge. He was on the run until May 5, 2014, when Cleven saw him at a restaurant and turned him in to police.

When she returned home at 8:30 that evening, she told officers Paula Zumberge was waiting for her.

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“Todd heard her telling me off, so when he came out, I said, ‘Todd, go back in,’” Cleven told police during an interview. “He didn’t. And all of a sudden, Neal came around the front and started shooting. And Paula kept telling him, ‘Neal, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot!’ So, I think they had it planned out.”

When Neal Zumberge was interviewed by police, he indicated the shooting was self-defense as he was protecthing his wife’s life while she was arguing with Cleven.

“I got the shotgun out because I thought they were gonna do something with her,” he said in a police interview.

Zumberge told police he believed Stevens had a gun on his waistband. Police found Stevens did have a holster on—but it was for a cell phone. He did not have a gun on him when he died.

“It appears to be a premeditated, planned execution of Todd Stevens,” Olson said.

On August 11, 2014, Paula Zumberge went on trial before a judge for aiding and abetting her husband during the shooting, but she was acquitted.

On August 12, 2015, Neal Zumberge went on trial for murder and attempted murder. A jury took fewer than three hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“This was a really tragic case all the way around,” Christie said. “Todd paid the ultimate price for this feud. Jennifer suffered the loss of her partner. She was shot herself. She had to relocate. Everything in her life changed.”

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