By Karen Flaten, Correspondent
It was a little after 4 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, June 29, when there was a disturbance on Hazel Avenue East in Kimball. Lee and Cathy Doering were outside on their back deck.
“I heard a dragging noise,” said Cathy Doering, who was just about to get ready to go to work. It sounded to the Doerings like something had come off a trailer or maybe there had been a crash. They were worried that something had hit their neighbor’s car. “Actually, I thought somebody got hurt,” said Cathy, who is a nurse. 8
“A few minutes earlier, I heard something a few blocks over,” said Lee Doering, “but I didn’t think about it at the time.”
“Then I heard some more commotion over here,” said Cathy Doering, referring to the road in front of their house. The Doerings went out to the road to check it out and saw a truck and trailer pulled over a few doors down. Even in the pre-dawn darkness, they could tell there was something in the road.
“We heard the F-bomb a couple times,” said Cathy. It generated from the truck pulled over up the road. “I yelled, ‘Are you okay?’” asked Lee. The answer came back, “Yeah. We just live a little ways away … going to go home and get my other trailer and come back.”
“I should have gone up there to check it out,” said Lee. “I should have gotten a plate number or something!” But – well, he was in his pajamas and Cathy needed to get ready and leave for work. And – the guys in the truck had said they were okay.
The Doerings did think that something had struck their neighbors’ car, so they knocked on Mike and Jenny Beehler’s door, but couldn’t wake them. They went home and called them, letting Mike know his car had been hit.
By 4:30 a.m., Mike Beehler was outside looking at his car and the items in the road.
“It was still dark,” said Mike, “and I couldn’t see too well with my flashlight and my cellphone, but there was definitely stuff in the road.”
In fact, there was a bell in the road. A large, bronze bell, as well as a tarp and a strap. And, in another neighbor’s yard, they found a large aluminum wheel, which might have come off of a semi.
Jenny Beehler remembered seeing a bell for sale at the Wright County Swappers Meet a couple weeks earlier. The neighbors wondered if someone was taking items to the Swappers Meet to sell – before they fell off the trailer. Jenny and Mike headed over to the Swappers Meet to see if they could find out. They looked at the trailers in the lot to see if any were damaged, and talked with sellers. But nobody they spoke to knew of someone on their way to the Swappers Meet who had lost a bell and an aluminum wheel. At that point, Mike decided to call the Stearns County Sheriff Department to report the damage to his car, as well as the found items.
At some point, Lee Doering and Mike Beehler, with help from Jenny Beehler, loaded the bell onto a dolly and brought it up into Mike and Jenny’s driveway, along with the tarp and strap found in the road, and the semi wheel found in the Konz’s front yard.
Although Jenny and Mike both had to be gone for a while that day, when they got home they found out that neighbors and curiosity seekers had stopped by to take a look at the strange item that had fallen off a trailer that early morning. Dan Konz, the neighbor in whose yard the semi wheel had been found, stopped by to let her know where the bell had come from.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, at St. Anne’s Church, Father Stanz got up at about 6:30 a.m. He saw Dan Konz, who cleans the church, across the way and called to him. “I wanted to have him do something for me,” said Father Stanz. “Then Dan called to me: ‘Father,’ he said, ‘somebody stole the bell!’”
The bell, believed to have been cast in 1881 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., was originally purchased for the first St. Anne’s Church, located between Kimball and Watkins. The bell has travelled a few miles since then, first brought to the “basement church” in Kimball, but then sold at auction to a private buyer in 1964. After spending many years on a private farm, the bell was donated to the
Kimball Area Historical Society a few years ago. The historical society then gave the bell to St. Anne’s Church. In 2011, a granite pedestal and iron risers were constructed for the bell near the entrance to the church. The bell has been displayed there proudly for the past eight years.
But, on the morning of June 29, “We did our impersonation of Columbo,” said Father Stanz, referencing the eccentric television detective. Both he and Dan Konz looked around and took photos. “They took a couple of the nuts off one end, a couple bolts off the other end,” he said. “They must have slid it off the granite top.”
“We saw some tire marks – not large enough for a vehicle – and we deduced it must have been a trailer,” said Father Stanz.
The pedestal still had part of the iron riser left, but there were marks in the grass from whatever the thieves used to remove the bell from its perch.
It was Father Stanz who called the police and reported the theft. The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office promised to investigate.
A little while later, Father Stanz got a call from Dan Konz. “Father, we found the bell!”
“They also found the wheel of a semi, a tarp, and a tie-down strap,” said Father Stanz.
Father Stanz arrived in the neighborhood where the bell was found after about 1 p.m., taking his own photos of the marks on the road, the bell on the borrowed dolly, and the other items found in the road.
“The Deputy said they would keep investigating until they find the person (or persons) who did this,” said Father Stanz. The bell, he stated, is “a sentimental thing because it came from the original church.”
“It was actually a garage sale patron of Karla Davis who had seen that it was missing,” said Tammy Konz. Apparently, Karla Davis sent Tammy a message in the early morning, asking if the bell was still working at the church. Tammy was confused about what she meant. Karla told her that the lady who had attended her garage sale “was out walking and had seen that the bell was missing, and that there were some marks in the parking lot. I told Karla it had been there on Friday night,” said Tammy.
Tammy and Dan Konz both clean at St. Anne’s Church. Tammy’s husband Dan had already gone over to the church to start cleaning that morning. Tammy was going to follow him a little later. When she arrived, she told Dan what she had heard from Karla Davis. They checked it out, and then Dan went over to tell Father Stanz the bell was missing.
Later on, it was Karla Davis who texted Tammy to tell her that the bell was now in her neighbor’s yard – where it had been pulled by Lee Doering and Mike Beehler to get it out of the street.
“They must have taken the corner too fast,” said Tammy, wondering out loud how the bell could have wound up in the road.
At about 4 p.m. at the Beehlers’ home on Hazel Avenue, Stearns County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Wells arrived to investigate. He took numerous photos, talked with neighbors, and collected evidence, using gloves to place the tarp and strap in paper bags, and loading the semi wheel into the back of his vehicle.
“We may be able to get DNA from these items,” stated Deputy Wells.
The Doerings stopped by, talking with the deputy, and chatting with the Beehlers. “It was scrappers,” said Lee Doering, referring to the thieves. “I know from what they had on that trailer – an aluminum wheel and a cast bell – they would take the aluminum to one scale, and the casting to another. That’s the way that works. And castings pay pretty good money.” Lee is a trucker specializing in taking loads of scrap to recycling companies.
Beth from R&R Auto & Metal Salvage in Litchfield said that most bells are made of brass. She quoted a price of $1.20 per pound if it is considered “clean” and actually was brass. If there were other metals, it might be only 25 cents per pound. But Tess of Northern Metals in St. Cloud said a bronze or brass bell would probably be worth $1.50 per pound. But, she said, “If you don’t know what it’s made of, we have a gun that scans it.” The scanning tool can tell what types of metal the item is made of. Tess also thought that a bell might be more of a novelty item that someone would sell as an antique or maybe just wanted to have at their home.
According to the website http://www.classicbells.comClassic Bells.com, “bell bronze is an alloy used for large open-mouth bells, because it has unusual acoustic properties. It is a blend of 20-25% tin and 75-80% copper with small amounts of lead and other metals. The alloy composition of older bells varies, however, from bell to bell and even within a particular bell.”
Hazel Avenue neighbors weren’t worried about the metal composition of the bell. They were just disgusted.
“I can’t believe they would steal it from a church!” said Mike Beehler.
“It’s such a shame,” said Cathy Doering, “taking it from a church. I hope they get caught!” she said.
A little while later, Daryl Henneman, a St. Anne’s parishioner, arrived with a trailer to bring the bell back to the church. With help from Dan Konz, Daryl loaded the bell on the borrowed dolly onto a trailer, tied it down, and drove it back to St. Anne’s.
The bell looked ready for its next journey.
Asked what they will do with the bell now that it has been found, Father Stanz said, “We’re going to weld it up and put it back on the pedestal and try to make it so they can’t get it off.”
St. Anne’s Church in Kimball is expecting to celebrate its 100th Anniversary next year. The original bell will be an important part of the 100th Anniversary celebration.
If anyone has information on the identity or location of these thieves, please call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3702.