Sarah Papenheim was supposed to be coming home for Christmas.
The 21-year-old drummer, a precocious up-and-comer on the radar of some of the Twin Cities' most respected musicians, had a show to put on. Next week, she was scheduled to be onstage at Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, playing the blues with a friend and fellow musician. She was supposed to be flying in from the Netherlands, where she was attending Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
But on Wednesday, a phone call from Dutch authorities replaced anticipation with grief: In Papenheim’s own apartment Wednesday, police said, her roommate stabbed her to death.
“I’ve cried so much my ducts are dry,” her mother, Donee Odegard, told Fox 9 in Minneapolis.
Police arrested Papenheim’s roommate, a 23-year-old man and cello player, Wednesday afternoon on suspicion of murder and expect he will be charged in her death soon, a Rotterdam Police Department spokesman told The Washington Post. The suspect, whom police have declined to identify, fled the apartment building in Rotterdam on a train and was captured at a station 65 miles away, carrying a suitcase and a cello, police said.
Police aren’t sure about his motive in the killing at this time, the spokesman said. Her mother told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that her daughter started living with him about a year ago after bonding over music, but that he had recently become unstable. Odegard said her daughter planned to leave the apartment to stay with her boyfriend, but returned to grab clothes for school, which is when Odegard believes the stabbing happened.
In a statement to The Post, Odegard said her daughter was always “the brightest person in the room.” Papenheim is the second child Odegard has lost. Her son, Papenheim’s brother, committed suicide almost three years ago, she said.
That was why her daughter had decided to study psychology at Erasmus University, Odegard said. She wanted to understand it.
“She lived for drumming, but she also wanted a steady career and was extremely interested in psychology [with an emphasis in studying] suicide, for which she lost her brother,” Odegard said in the statement.
Papenheim loved the blues, Odegard said. While she spent some of her childhood in the Twin Cities, she attended high school in Redding, Calif., where she played drums in the jazz band and marching band. Her band teacher told the Redding Record Searchlight she “felt strongly about being a female drummer,” an instrument traditionally dominated by men. Returning to Minneapolis after school, she was thundering away behind a drum set at Shaw’s Bar in Minneapolis every Monday night before she was even old enough to have a beer, blending in with musicians twice her age.
Garry “Jellybean” Johnson, the funk virtuoso from Morris Day and The Time and who has played drums for Prince, was among those who took note. Eventually, he would become her mentor.
"I liked her because she hit the drums just as hard as guys did,” Johnson told CBS Minnesota. “So I nicknamed her ‘Thumper.’ ”
When he learned from Odegard about what had happened to her, Johnson said, he couldn’t wrap his mind around it, especially because she was studying to make sense of her brother’s suicide.
“I’m still numb from it,” Johnson told CBS. “I still can’t believe that something this bad happened to her."
Living in the Netherlands didn’t keep Papenheim away from her music, or even the Minneapolis music community. On her birthday last year, she jammed with the Minneapolis-based Bernard Allison Group at a rock venue in Germany while the band was on tour. Perched behind the drum set, she whipped her high ponytail back and forth with the beat, rumbling through a cover of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Every now and then, she closed her eyes, scrunching her face with the gusto of the Blues Brothers' John Belushi.
“How about it, ladies and gentlemen?!” yelled singer and guitarist Bernard Allison.
On Wednesday, he posted the clip with a message addressed to Papenheim, saying, “We will never forget you.”
Odegard said that for now, she is trying to figure out how to bring her daughter back home, which she expects will cost thousands of dollars. Musicians in Minneapolis organized a benefit concert to celebrate her. As of early Friday, hundreds have donated more than $19,000 to a GoFundMe campaign to aid Odegard in bringing her home. Dozens have offered tributes on Facebook.
“We have lost a great young musician and heaven has gained one,” the Minnesota Blues Society, sharing a photo of Papenheim behind a drum set, wrote on Facebook.