Paroled killer accused of kidnapping, raping woman north of Duluth

Dennis Hannuksela, who was convicted of fatally shooting a 65-year-old Twin Cities man and stealing his car, is charged with the new crimes less than five years after his release from prison.

Dennis John Hannuksela (2021 handout)
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A Duluth man on parole for a 1987 Iron Range murder is back in jail on charges of kidnapping and raping a woman Saturday in rural St. Louis County.

Dennis John Hannuksela, 62, allegedly used zip ties to restrain the victim, who was known to him, before forcibly performing a number of sexual acts along a logging road in the Independence area, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Hannuksela is under lifetime supervision after being convicted of the first-degree murder of 65-year-old Arthur Nelson, a Twin Cities retiree whose body was located in rural Gilbert two months after he went missing.

After nearly three decades in prison, Hannuksela was granted work release in February 2017 and paroled to intensive supervised release as of August 2017, Minnesota Department of Corrections spokesman Aaron Swanum confirmed to the News Tribune.

Hannuksela was arraigned Tuesday in State District Court on two new counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of kidnapping. Bail was set at $250,000, though his supervised release status will likely keep him in custody.


Charges: Hannuksela tackled victim, ignored pleas to stop

According to the complaint, the sexual assault occurred some time after 1:30 a.m. on a logging road just north of U.S. Highway 53 and Swan Lake Road. The victim first reported it at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet, prompting a response from St. Louis County Sheriff's Office investigators.

The victim reported she had agreed to meet Hannuksela, whom she had known for several years, after she was done with work Friday. The complaint states that he picked her up that afternoon and said he needed to dump a couch before they would drive to Superior to meet up with her friends.

The victim reported they shared marijuana and that Hannuksela had margaritas in his truck, but she chose not to drink. According to the complaint, she said they drove up Highway 53, went a distance down a side road to discard the couch and then stopped to again use marijuana.

Hannuksela "got a strange look and then lunged at her," according to the complaint. The victim stated she attempted to flee and call 911, but the defendant was able to grab her phone. The woman left the truck and started running down the road toward Highway 53, but Hannuksela tackled her and secured her arm behind her back.

The complaint states that the victim started screaming, prompting Hannuksela to let go of her arm and cover her mouth with both hands while sitting on her.

"The victim said at this point she could not breathe and believed she was going to die," the document alleges.

Hannuksela, according to the victim, then pulled out zip ties and secured her wrists behind her back. Ignoring her pleas to stop, he allegedly stated, "You are going to do what I say," and removed her underwear.

The complaint alleges he then brought the woman back to the truck and forcibly performed a number of sexual acts, including penetration.


With the victim still restrained in the truck, Hannuksela allegedly started driving back toward Highway 53.

"The victim said at this point she was pleading with the defendant to take off the zip ties, but the defendant told her he could not trust her and said it shouldn't have happened that way," the complaint states. "The defendant then told the victim he would buy her a car, get her nails fixed and would put her on his life insurance."

The victim told investigators she was missing her underwear and watch and that Hannuksela turned around to look for the items but was unable to locate them. According to the complaint, they drove around for some time before he stopped to cut off the zip ties and drove her home.

The woman said she was dropped off around 3:30 a.m., changing clothes and taking photographs of her injuries before deciding to report the assault at the hospital.

Deputies went to the logging road and found a discarded couch, along with a bag of trash that contained receipts in the victim's name.

Hannuksela was located and taken to the Public Safety Building for an interview, during which he acknowledged knowing the victim and occasionally using marijuana with her. He allegedly inferred the victim "uses him for money" and suggested she had "hit on him by removing her sweatpants and underwear" in his truck on May 13.

Authorities said Hannuksela denied ever kissing the victim or having any type of sexual contact with her and claimed he had not been in the area of the assault on May 14-15.

While executing a search warrant, deputies allegedly found zip ties and a pair of women's underwear in his truck.


If convicted, Hannuksela faces up to 40 years in prison for kidnapping and 30 years for each of the sexual assault charges.

Hannuksela conviction.png
Dennis Hannuksela was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the 1987 shooting death of Arthur Nelson, whose body was located outside Gilbert. (News Tribune archives)

1987 shooting victim was robbed of car, bank card

Hannuksela was found guilty at a March 1989 trial for the fatal shooting of Nelson. The victim had disappeared Sept. 5, 1987, and his remains were found beside a railroad track outside Gilbert by two trappers on Nov. 1.

Nelson, a longtime parks maintenance worker in the Twin Cities, had apparently met Hannuksela on the job in June 1987. The night before his disappearance, he had told a housemate that he was going north to have his truck painted.

Hannuksela was found on Sept. 15 with the victim's truck and some of his belongings, claiming to police that Nelson had given him the 1978 Dodge pickup on Sept. 4 as payment for body work he had completed on the vehicle, according to trial testimony covered by the News Tribune at the time.

The defendant's ex-wife told jurors that she had seen Hannuksela place a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition into the sleeve of a jacket before Nelson picked him up at their Prescott, Wisconsin, home on Sept. 5. A shotgun pellet was found in the victim's skull, and a sawed-off firearm was located near his remains.

A handwriting expert also testified that Hannuksela appeared to have forged Nelson's name on the truck's title card, and the victim's debit card had been used at an ATM near the Hastings, Minnesota, fast food restaurant where the defendant worked.

Despite testimony that he was seen driving Nelson's truck in Gilbert on the day of the victim's disappearance, Hannuksela claimed he had not been in the city, never used the cash card and didn't shoot him.

The guilty verdict, on counts of premeditated murder and causing death while committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery, was announced on Hannuksela's 30th birthday. Under Minnesota law at the time, he was automatically sentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole after 17½ years in custody.

While awaiting trial, Hannuksela successfully escaped custody during a routine medical visit to a Duluth clinic, tossing aside crutches and eluding authorities for some 35 hours before he was recaptured. He later pleaded guilty to an escape charge, which was essentially rendered moot by the life term.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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