In the 1950s and 1960s, Neil Haugerud served as sheriff of Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. He lived with his wife and their four small children in the same building that housed the county jail. In Jailhouse Stories, Haugerud describes what it was like to live next to a prison, where jailbirds and jailbreaks were part of family life. These are the reminiscences of a real-life Andy Griffith character, a man dedicated to maintaining order in rural America during both peaceful and turbulent days.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. i-v)
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. vi-viii)
PrefacePreface (pp. ix-x)
Off to a Flying StartOff to a Flying Start (pp. 1-10)
I had hardly flown all summer, that summer of 1958, and now it had passed, and there I was on the grass strip airfield at the Hammervold Farm and Flying Club, ready to get back in the air. I pulled our club plane, a vintage red-and-white two-seat Aeronca tail dragger, out of the hangar, checked the oil, and cleaned the beginning of a bird’s nest from the engine cowling. With everything else ready to go, I chocked the wheels and gave the prop a spin. The engine sputtered, started at a gentle idle, and purred patiently while I removed the...
TransitionTransition (pp. 11-14)
During the next weeks we put our house up for sale and made plans to move into the jailhouse. Traditionally, the sheriff and his family live in the jailhouse at Preston, the county seat. It’s also traditional for the sheriff’s wife to cook for and feed the prisoners, and we intended to carry on the tradition. Our family was big on tradition. After the election we enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving dinner, at noon, with my parents at their farmhouse near Harmony. Six of my nine brothers and sisters came, along with my aunt and uncle on my father’s side. Ours was...
A Rough BeginningA Rough Beginning (pp. 15-20)
Reflecting on past experiences, I knew that the greatest danger for me in being county sheriff was to become complacent and careless. Four years earlier, in 1954, the year Helen and I were married, I’d also run for sheriff and was narrowly defeated in the primary election.
Just prior to the general election that year, the county’s only deputy sheriff was shot and killed while arresting a man for disturbing the peace, a man he’d known for years, who had never been in any serious trouble. Sheriff Link, who won the election, called and asked if I would be interested...
Initiation to Jailhouse LivingInitiation to Jailhouse Living (pp. 21-28)
It was after six that night by the time I’d written out the confessions of Orlin and Everett and after seven by the time I’d driven the sixty miles to the hospital to visit Helen; I’d called and talked to her several times during the day. She’d fixed her hair, applied a small amount of makeup, as she usually did, and was propped up in bed. She wanted to talk about the baby; emotionally it was a great loss for her, something I didn’t fully understand at the time.
“She’s got to have a name,” Helen said. “We talked about...
Irvin—My FriendIrvin—My Friend (pp. 29-30)
The jail register, a bulky, seventeen-inch-square, leather-bound book turning maroon with age, was kept on the counter in the sheriff’s office. On the first page, dated December 20, 1948, was the name Irvin Johnson. He’d served eighteen days for being drunk and again on January 28 was jailed for the same offense. His name appeared frequently in the register every year thereafter.
I first booked Irvin on December 20, 1954. Offense: drunk. He was fifty-two, a smooth-featured six-foot-tall man, who, even when he was drinking, was mild-mannered and spoke with a decidedly Norwegian accent. During the next thirteen years I...
The GablesThe Gables (pp. 31-36)
In the early sixties, heavy drinking, fighting, brawling, and the Green Gables, a so-called night club at Fountain, were nearly synonymous terms. Especially during the “festive season,” a season that began after harvest in November and continued until its culmination on New Year’s Eve. One festive season I was called to quell a brawl at the Gables. I had six combatants in my station wagon and my deputy standing guard over three more. On this occasion a group of cattlemen (we weren’t far enough out west for them to be called cowboys) had wound up their day of pregnancy testing...
Rescue EightRescue Eight (pp. 37-40)
We drove hurriedly, Doc Nehring and I. I turned the heater up for warmth on that eighteen-degree mid-December night.
“I hope we get some snow before Christmas,” Doc said. I’d picked him up at his house a few minutes earlier. Our headlights searched across the brown grassy ditches and directed us around the sharp curves of the narrow gravel road. The heater fan droned and Doc closed his eyes. He looked weary and was unusually quiet. He hadn’t even said, “What do you think of me, Neil? Am I a pretty good guy?” as he often did when he got...
KeysKeys (pp. 41-46)
Three mature walnut trees stood by the jail, two out front and one on the south side. A genuine old hoot owl lived in one of the trees, I’m not sure which. As days went, my day as sheriff had been relatively uneventful. We boarded nine prisoners: three drunks, a check forger, a mental patient awaiting hearing, and four small-time burglars, two of whom had previously broken jail. The burglars were locked in the upstairs bull pen. We had two bull pens, one on each floor. They were very secure lockups, with heavy steel bars located six feet from any...
First ImpressionFirst Impression (pp. 47-50)
I parked in the garage back of the jail. I was late for lunch, having responded to a call about a trout fisherman who had drowned in Duchee Creek. I stopped momentarily on my way to the jailhouse and played in the sandbox with Susan. Helen, checking on her whereabouts, came to the back steps.
“Oh, there you are. I didn’t notice you drive in,” she said.
“Susan and I are going to dig to China,” I said.
“I hate to interrupt your fun,” Helen replied, “but there’s a nice old lady waiting for you in the office. She looks...
Crazy Cookin’Crazy Cookin’ (pp. 51-54)
Early December, 10:30 A.M., Deputy Turner and I, on our way back to the office from a burglary investigation, received a call from Helen on the two-way radio.
“A rather distraught lady called and wants you to stop and see her,” she said. The location was nearby, a farm in an area we called the “Holy Land”—a conservative district dominated by the influence of the Dutch Reform Church, where even youth softball was prohibited on Sunday.
When we arrived at the farm, a heavy, pear-shaped man, five-foot-three and wearing two pair of overalls, a heavy mackinaw, and a fur...
D.T.’s and AlcoholicsD.T.’s and Alcoholics (pp. 55-62)
Although I don’t believe that there was necessarily a cause-and-effect connection, alcohol consumption was the predecessor of a good share of the dealings we had with people, whether it was burglary, theft, domestic abuse, or other law violations. Alcohol abuse caused endless problems, including delirium tremens on withdrawal. The onset of the D.T.’s was unpredictable, and the severity of the episodes varied widely. Some scared the drinker straight, some included humorous events, and others were fatal.
During one episode of note, Eli Enger, a fifty-five-year-old high school math teacher and former semipro baseball player, well educated and articulate, had been...
The County FairThe County Fair (pp. 63-70)
Annual county fairs are a long tradition in Fillmore County, beginning as far back as 1859. For decades, 4-H projects and exhibits have been the core and mainstay of the fair. My first 4-H exhibit, in 1939, was Barred Rock chickens; next it was a Poland China hog, and, finally, a Black Angus heifer. Once I even got to stay overnight upstairs in the 4-H building. Our thrill of the evening was spying on the girls as they were getting ready for bed, squinting through a small hole in the partition between the boy’s and girl’s dorms that one of...
The Grass EaterThe Grass Eater (pp. 71-72)
John, “the grass eater,” stood leaning against the windowsill, staring at the lawn outside, absorbing nutrients through his eyes from the grass. It was Monday morning; I’d come up to the jail to bring him to court for a mental hearing. John weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and hadn’t eaten anything the entire weekend while awaiting his hearing.
He’d given the deputies quite a struggle when they brought him in on Friday night. During the tussle, with his legs wrapped around the yard pole, John also fastened a firm grip on one of the deputies’ private parts, inflicting...
CantonCanton (pp. 73-80)
We were often called to quell disturbances in Canton, a rowdy town of fewer than three hundred inhabitants, located in open farming country two miles north of the Iowa border. I was born and raised on a farm two miles west, and my mother was born in Canton in 1899. Her father, Mike Armstrong, an Irish tyrant of sorts, believed in laying the horsewhip to his children when they misbehaved—horsewhippings administered severely enough to lacerate the skin. I’m not sure what it accomplished, but three of his four sons turned out to be alcoholics. My mother toned down the...
It’s a BoyIt’s a Boy (pp. 81-86)
Irvin Johnson, raking leaves and picking up walnuts in the back yard, leaned the rake against the side of the garage as Helen and I walked down the back steps and approached our car. He walked over and opened the car door for Helen.
“I hope everything goes good for you, Helen,” he said. “I’ll be serving another two weeks so I’ll get to see the baby. I don’t think I’ll be back here again, though. I’ve learned my lesson for good this time.”
Our son was born at 9:15 that night, October 13, 1962, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in...
A Close CallA Close Call (pp. 87-90)
The day began wonderfully. There had been no calls during the night, and Tom, four weeks old now, had slept the whole night through for the first time. I’d been downtown earlier and won my breakfast shaking dice at the community table in the Victory Café. It was unseasonably warm for early November, although there was a foot of snow on the ground. As I walked back toward the office I reflected a bit on Tuesday’s election. I’d been reelected quite handily and was glad it was over. It was Thursday, and by ten o’clock, with most of my paperwork...
MentalityMentality (pp. 91-96)
Tom turned out to be a good baby, except for having difficulty getting to sleep at night. If I laid him in his crib and patted his stomach he’d go to sleep, but I had trouble getting out of the room. There was a loose floorboard in the doorway that squeaked anytime I stepped near it. No matter how I tried to sneak out of the room, Tom would hear that board creak, wake up, and cry till I patted his stomach again. Telephones ringing, jail doors clanging—that didn’t bother him, just that damn board creaking. I tried crawling...
Keystone CopsKeystone Cops (pp. 97-102)
Friday morning before school, Renee heard the screen door on the porch slam as she came down the stairs for breakfast. Her second-grade classmate Mary Gross dashed through the back door with her book bag slung over her shoulder.
“Renee, Renee!” she said. “Irvin is sitting in a big hole in the jail wall out back. When I came by he said, ‘Don’t blame me, I didn’t do it.’”
“He is not,” Renee exclaimed.
“Yes, honest, he is,” Mary said.
Helen set breakfast on the table. “There was a jailbreak last night, Renee,” she said. “Your dad is still out.”...
May BasketsMay Baskets (pp. 103-106)
Starlight provided enough illumination for us to see a few feet ahead. A herd of beef cows thundered through the valley. The deputy and I walked with care along a steep wooded ridge, deep in the hill country, searching in the near darkness, for whatever was spooking the cattle. Already they had run through several fences and were spooked again, now by an indescribable wail echoing and bouncing across the valley between the bluffs.
Lawrence, a square-shouldered, heavy-set farmer, bow-legged with a wobble in his walk, had called us to the scene, dismayed by the eerie sound that continued to...
The Dead GuyThe Dead Guy (pp. 107-110)
At 10:00 P.M. I picked up Doc Nehring at his house. A caller had reported a car off the road at a T intersection. A man behind the wheel appeared to be dead. There were no other passengers. We would be the first and only officers on the scene. As I drove, Doc hummed his little tune and asked one of the standard questions I had grown accustomed to.
“What do you think of me, Neil? Am I a pretty good guy?”
“You’re an asshole, Doc,” I said. A standard reply.
“Ho, ho, ho. I really like you, Neil.”
Jesse James and Ernest HemingwayJesse James and Ernest Hemingway (pp. 111-114)
The faded yellow house, its weathered paint cracked and peeling, sat far back on the lot next to a small Methodist church in the town of about five hundred people and four additional churches. The wide front porch was nearly obscured by bushes grown tall with neglect and the lawn was ready for haying. I parted the greenery of the bushes, made my way up the front steps, and knocked on the door.
“Harrumph,” I heard from within, which for expediency I interpreted to mean “Come in.” I opened the door and entered a kitchen, sparsely furnished but surprisingly clean...
The Big WoodsThe Big Woods (pp. 115-120)
There’s an area in eastern Fillmore County long shrouded in mystery and intrigue, a bit reminiscent of the Ozarks or the Kentucky hills. It’s known as “The Big Woods.”
Cal Meck, the game warden, didn’t want to go poking around in the Big Woods alone. He had a report of someone shooting wood ducks out of season and asked me to go with him to investigate.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the suspects’ isolated country homestead, there were duck feathers blowing about near a trash barrel in the yard. Our arrival was announced by the baying of a Black...
Humpty DumptyHumpty Dumpty (pp. 121-124)
A golden harvest moon rested on the southeast horizon like a pumpkin on a porch rail as I sat half asleep, in my favorite reclining chair, the evening paper in my lap. My serenity was interrupted by a scream. Nothing raises the hair on the back of my neck like little girls screaming—and screaming little girls is what I heard, their feet thundering as they ran from the sheriff’s office through the kitchen.
“Eeey! Eeey! Eeey!” they screamed, racing into the living room where I sat. I hurled my paper aside.
“Humpty Dumpty!” Renee exclaimed.
“Ya, Neil!” Mary Gross,...
DomesticsDomestics (pp. 125-128)
Domestic abuse, violence and threats of domestic violence were always frightening calls to respond to—not only frightening, but requiring communication and decision-making skills for immediate on-the-spot action. These calls were often life-threatening—never funny, but at times so absurd as to appear comical.
A pickax, its handle pointing at a sixty-degree angle toward a single light bulb on the end of a drop cord in the ceiling, was embedded in a four-foot-high mound of rubble in the middle of the kitchen floor. The kitchen, in a house without running water, was devoid of furniture other than an overturned table...
A Safe JobA Safe Job (pp. 129-136)
I instantly awoke from the midst of a recurring nightmare in which I’m falling in space, my heart thudding in my ears between rings of the telephone. A bedside phone, although an irritant, was much better than stumbling to the hallway or downstairs at all hours of the night for who knows what odd reason. But I was jumpy, and this furious clanging within reach of my hand almost brought me to my feet.
I hadn’t yet recovered from the previous night’s call, when I’d attempted to prevent a suicide.
“Neil, this is Frank Rogers,” the caller had said.
A Naughty LadyA Naughty Lady (pp. 137-140)
My days at the jailhouse were often exceedingly hectic. At times days and nights seemed to run together without end. Often it took great resolve to keep my cool. So when the phone rang at 5:45 one foggy morning, after I’d been in bed only two hours, rather than answer the irritant I wanted to smother it with my pillow. But I answered, and within twenty minutes I was at the scene of a car accident where two people had been killed and a young girl severely injured. By ten o’clock, when I arrived back at the office, the telephone...
Justices of the PeaceJustices of the Peace (pp. 141-146)
There were fourteen towns in the county, ranging in population from 185 to about 1,800. Each town had at least one justice of the peace. They dispensed justice as good as that found in the district courts with robed judges and formal procedures, only they did it more openly, with more color and flavor. No need for sidebars in justice court.
A. H. Langum, the justice in Preston, was a crusty and opinionated retired county newspaper man about eighty years old. He held court in a musty cubicle in the basement of the post office building, which he owned and...
TillyTilly (pp. 147-148)
Tilly Overton, a spindly, wrinkled old woman, who wore black and carried a black umbrella, spied her way around the courthouse square of the town of Preston each morning, purveying and seeking tidbits of information and gossip.
One morning Doc Nehring, visiting with Bill, the undertaker, at his furniture store–funeral parlor, watched her birding her way along the street pecking seeds of gossip from each passerby.
“Bill, here comes Tilly,” Doc said. “Let’s play a trick on her. I’ll get on the slab in the embalming room. You cover me up with a sheet.”
Tilly always stopped by to...
The Worst DayThe Worst Day (pp. 149-160)
Helen often mentioned she’d like to have an older home to remodel some day, one we’d live in when I was no longer sheriff or after they built a new jail, whichever came first. When I became sheriff, we used money from the sale of our house and business to buy a farm in the hills and woodlands next to the Amherst store. The property, we thought, would keep pace with inflation until it came time for us to purchase a home again. The farm had nearly one hundred acres of woodland and a rundown house without electricity or running...
November 22, 1963November 22, 1963 (pp. 161-162)
There was only one prisoner in jail and the sheriff’s log noted only one morning call, a Rushford merchant complaining of a no-account check he’d received from Stub Peterson. Stub, an alcoholic whom I’d tried to help out a few times by giving him work and letting him stay in the house on my farm when he was down and out, had used me as a reference when he wrote the check.
It was a pleasant, sunny, and mild day for late November. Renee and Susan were at school. At lunchtime I helped Tom, now thirteen months old, into the...
The Fraser BoysThe Fraser Boys (pp. 163-168)
I genuinely liked the Fraser boys. To this day I still have a soft spot in my heart for them and don’t feel I would have led a full life without knowing them. They were basically honest little thieves, honest to their upbringing at least, and there wasn’t a mean bone in their bodies. They wore a sense of humor on their faces, had a certain air of dignity about them, and never complained of their circumstances or made excuses for their actions. The blueprint of life set before them contained a number of social flaws for which they paid...
Ginny and BobbiGinny and Bobbi (pp. 169-174)
There wasn’t a specific statute or city ordinance to cover Ginny’s offense, so she was charged with being drunk and disorderly. While drinking beer with some of her town cronies in a tavern, an argument erupted over which milk tasted the best. Some insisted it was cow’s milk. Others insisted it was goat’s milk. Ginny insisted it was mare’s milk. The argument became heated.
“I’ll bet my slick ass none of you dead-pecker dirt farmers or city slickers have ever tasted mare’s milk,” Ginny said.
A man with a full beard, slobbering drunk, took a swallow of beer and licked...
The NFO and the Last ManThe NFO and the Last Man (pp. 175-180)
I left the door from the kitchen to the office open while we ate. My dad, Sherman, had stopped by about 5:30 and stayed for supper; he was drinking his third cup of coffee and smoking his umpteenth cork-tipped Kool. The kids had gone to the living room to watch TV when the office telephone interrupted the silence at the table. I’d never really talked to my dad. He’d talk to my wife, Helen, and one of his other daughters-inlaw but hardly ever carried on a conversation with any of his ten children. Sherman was about five foot six, trim...
It’s a GirlIt’s a Girl (pp. 181-186)
I sipped on a cup of coffee, emotionally drained after two hours of interrogating burglary suspects. Helen, at the opposite end of the kitchen table, slid forward on her chair, leaned back, and folded her hands in her lap, her face flushed and slightly perspiring. Son Tom, now two and a half years old, was playing beneath the table with an oddball black-and-white kitten. Susan had found it wandering in the alley. It walked sideways like a crab, but otherwise it appeared to be okay.
“This might be the day,” Helen said. I looked up at her and before I...
ViolenceViolence (pp. 187-190)
It was ten o’clock on a Saturday morning, and Tom and I were upstairs in a spare bedroom fixing the tracks for his toy train to a piece of plywood when the phone rang.
“Rod Slowcombe’s gone crazy,” the caller shouted across the line. “I think he killed his wife, get here right away. Do you know where the farm is?”
“Yes, I’ve been there before,” I said. “I need your name for the report.”
“Lawrence Munson,” he said.
With Lee Tienter along as special deputy, I drove the nearly thirty miles with a cold nervous feeling in the pit...
JudgesJudges (pp. 191-202)
When my career in law enforcement began, I held judges, lawyers, and the entire judicial system in the highest esteem. To me, judges were ultimately fairminded people of unquestionable integrity who attained their position after being recognized as top legal scholars. Lawyers, by their position as officers of the court, I also held in high regard. My respect for some judges and lawyers remains, but my lofty expectations regarding the judicial system began to change significantly as I worked within it.
It was 10:30 A.M. Court had been called for nine, but as usual Judge Turrett was late. Judges would...
Mistaken IdentityMistaken Identity (pp. 203-204)
Molly Poole, a fifteen-year-old sophomore, walked alone on her way home from play practice at the high school. Even though she had been in the new school for only three weeks, having moved to town from a farm in another district, she had been given a part in the oneact play. The moon, mostly obscured by dark clouds, offered little light, and the street lights seemed awfully dim to Molly. She hurried home and felt safer when she closed the front door behind her. She was alone in the house; her widowed mother worked late and wasn’t expected home till...
KidnappedKidnapped (pp. 205-212)
Joseph Parks, sweating profusely, fought against the ropes that trussed him to the chair. His wrists were worn raw, and the sweat running into his eyes was nearly blinding. More than a half hour had passed since the two men had taken his car, credit cards, identification, billfold, and money and tied him to the chair. It was July 22, 1959. The air was stale, hot, humid, and laced with a rank musty manure odor. Looking about, he surmised that he was in an old chicken coop; the dirt-caked windows were tightly closed and the unpainted pine door was firmly...
AfterwordAfterword (pp. 213-224)
I would like to share with the readers several things that have taken place since Helen and I left the jailhouse at the end of 1966. Regrettably, Dr. Nehring died in January 1967, after a strenuous effort to resuscitate a child who drowned. A marble monument placed outside the city hall in Preston is dedicated to Dr. Nehring. The plaque is inscribed as follows.
Doctor Nehring was one of my favorites, an expert at deflating pretension and a fine friend who loved his wife and family dearly. I should have mentioned in the body of the book that June 21,...
Back MatterBack Matter (pp. 225-225)
[Illustrations][Illustrations] (pp. 226-233)