John Ronald Zwirtz of Coon Rapids, sentenced to 36 months in prison after pleading guilty July 18 to two felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, is set for release from the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud on Aug. 30. Anoka County District Court Judge Jenny Walker Jasper stayed his sentence for 25 years.
The nickname authorities said Zwirtz adopted—"Crazy John"—has people who say they know him convinced he was the same "Crazy John" who entertained kids at a pumpkin-carving event last October at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley.
A Fridley Patch freelance reporter , organized in preparation for the Pumpkins in the Park bash, that "Crazy John ... entertained the kids with his ghoulish laugh and the pumpkin he carved.” (The post includes a photo of Crazy John with a carved pumpkin.)
After a recent link on the NE Minneapolis Crime Watch Facebook page made the connection, two people commented that they knew Zwirtz personally and could confirm that he was the person pictured at the pumpkin carving.
Siah St. Clair, Springbrook’s director, said Friday the event was open to the public and "Crazy John" was not in attendance in any official capacity. About 30 or 40 other people were at the carving and at least two paid staff members and a couple of experienced volunteers were also on site, St. Clair said.
St. Clair said he had no direct knowledge of a "Crazy John" attending the event, but if Zwirtz was there, “he simply showed up and was with someone who had kids or brought kids,” St. Clair said. “The few times when I have a volunteer who would end up being alone with kids, we’d do police background checks.”
Zwirtz's history on the Minnesota online criminal-records database shows no felonies or criminal sexual conduct offenses as of the time of the event.
That soon changed.
By December 2011, Zwirtz was in jail, charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct after police said a 9-year-old girl told her mother that Zwirtz invited her into his girlfriend’s Coon Rapids home to see a pet snake and then touched her inappropriately.
The 9-year-old girl told her mother that Zwirtz referred to himself as Crazy John, according to the police report.
After Zwirtz was released on bond last March, according to an Anoka County criminal complaint, he pried open the door to his girlfriend’s home.
When Zwirtz’s girlfriend’s 13-year-old daughter found out about that release, she told her mother that Zwirtz had sexually assaulted her five or six years earlier while they were living in Champlin, according to court documents.
Brenda Sund, the prosecuting attorney, said the stayed 36-month sentence is in line with state sentencing guidelines for second-degree criminal sexual conduct. If Zwirtz violates his parole, she said, he can be made to serve out his sentence.
"[The sentence] depends on the degree of the crime," Zwirtz's defense attorney Lee Wolfgram said. "It’s like first degree murder versus manslaughter."