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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.

This 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 passer by.

“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 me up with a sheet.”  

Tilly always stopped by to inquire of Bill on the well-being of the local citizenry.  By the time Tilly toddled in, Bill had busied himself among the furniture.  Her ankle length, black dress billowed from her hips and swished the furniture as she edged her way through the aisles toward him. . 

“Good morning, Mr. Heitner.”  Tilly’s  voice scraped across her vocal chords like an overworked reed on a clarinet.  “Did anyone take a walk with the Lord last night?” she asked.  Bill folded his hands, lowered his head and spoke in his somber undertakers voice.

“Poor old Doc Nehring passed away,” he said.  Tilly plucked a black hankie from the pocket of her dress.

“Oh that’s so sad,” she said remorsefully, dabbing at her eyes with the hankie.  “Could I have a last look at him?” she asked.

“I guess that would be alright,” Bill said,  “He’s out back.”  He ushered Tilly to the slab in the embalming room and reverently removed the sheet from Doc’s face.  Tilly, looked at the doctor, clutched her umbrella in folded hands and stood in silent prayer for a moment.

“I expect in many ways, he may have been a good man,” she creaked. ” But I knew that drinking and carousing throughout the night would bring him to an early grave.” 

Doc’s belly, suppressing  laughter, began to shake.  Just in time, he raised his arms to ward off the blows to his head from Tilly’s umbrella.  Bill was laughing so hard he was no help at all.


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The Fraser Boys

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 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 the price without flinching.

I first met Kent and  Lyle Fraser when they were ten and eleven years old, respectfully.  They  regularly  spied on old Pop Henderson who was ‘batching it’ in a rather ramshackle, two story, house on a small acreage a half mile from the their home.  Shortly after dark one evening Kent, with his brother Lyle on look out, watched through a basement window as Pop deposited rolls of twenty dollar bills into a mason jar and hid it behind jars of rhubarb sauce on the canned goods shelf.  Being years behind on support payments to his ex-wife he refrained from depositing money in any bank out of fear she would somehow attach it..


A few short days later, Pop called my office and reported that someone had entered his house while he was gone and stolen twelve hundred dollars.  He showed me down the stairs to his damp cellar.  Being nearly a head taller than Pop my forehead forged a new path through the cob webs, hanging from the ceiling joist, as we made our way across a well trodden path in the dirt floor to the rickety wood shelving along the west wall where he stored his canning.  Blue-green mold grew on the lids of the peach jars and a thumb sized, black-green lizard’s tail protruded from beneath the moist, rot of an oak board in the corner.  Pop showed me where he had hidden the money.      

“Whenever I got as much as five, twenty dollar bills, I’d roll them up and put a rubber band around them.  Then I’d put’em in a quart jar and hide’em down here,” Pop said.  He brought a handful of rolled up twenties each bound with a rubber band from his pocket.  “I had two jars, with twelve hundred dollars each in’em   Half the money from each jar is gone.  Could be my ex- wife’s doing.  She always said she was going to get half of everything”.  Pop looked up at me with questioning eyes, set in a spider web of worry lines. 

I was puzzled as to who might only take half  the money, but convinced an ex-wife with back support payments due wouldn’t let a guilty conscious halt her theft in mid stream.  I considered the possibility of it being  some of Pop’s drinking buddies who’d be considerate enough to spare him some cash.  But Pop said he’d more or less quit drinking and none of his old friends had been by in months. It must have been very young children, I thought, inexperienced at thievery at this level. 

If the culprits were kids, I knew, given time, they’d make some foolish mistakes.  There was no sign of forced entry, however the door locks were old; any skeleton key could unlock them. 

  “I’ve got some ideas, Pop,” I said.  “In the meantime you better find a safe place for your money.  Ever thought of a bank?” I chided.  He put the rolls of twenties in his front pockets and led the way upstairs, his trousers hitched above the paunch of his stomach and his grey socks showing above his high-top shoes.

“I know what to do with the money,” he said when he reached the top of the stairs.
“Let’s just keep quiet about this for a couple of days while I do some checking around,” I said.  Pop nodded agreement.

 The next day, without raising suspicion, I networked my contacts to determine what children between ten and sixteen years old lived in the locality.  Most rural areas were so comfortably small everyone was a neighbor or friend and information of the type I sought was easily obtained.  Proprietors of county stores were a wealth of information so I made it a practice of stopping by the stores in the county on a regular basis.  Jake, the proprietor of the nearest store, an earthy guy with an earthy vocabulary wasn’t at all surprised by my visit.  We first talked about the weather, fishing and the lady who’d recently painted her white house in red and blue polka dots. 

“Any kids unusually flush with  money lately, Jake?” I asked.

“Not that I can think of,” Jake replied.  “Flush with money! Shit, ain’t nuthin but Paupers and Free Methodists around here.  Paupers don’t have any money and Free Methodist don’t spend any money.  The way things are going I’ll be closing the God damn doors in a month or two.”      I selected two loaves of whole wheat bread to take home with me, and placed them on the counter. Most rural folk don’t especially appreciate or respond to direct questions immediately. 

“Anything else?” Jake asked.

“That’ll be it,’ I said.  I paid for the bread and was walking out the door when Jake spoke up.

“Say,” he said.  “Lyle and Kent Fraser were in and bought a bunch of candy, not unusual I guess, but normally they have to scrape up all the change in their pockets to pay for it.  Yesterday they paid with a twenty dollar bill and got change back.”

“Let’s keep this information between ourselves for a few days, Jake,” I said.

“You damn right, doubt if there will be anybody in to talk to anyway.”

Kent and Lyle were already near the top of a suspect list I’d gotten from a contact and the report on their mother was none too good either.  It would be best if I could  intercept them away from home.  Luckily while cruising the townsite I found the two boys about four blocks from home and invited them into my car.  After a few questions and a few denials they told the whole story.  Kent was a round-faced, round-bodied, little bandy legged boy, smug and confident for his eleven years.  Lyle was slim featured, pleasant mannered, with darting blue eyes that looked Kent’s way for direction before he spoke.  I felt embarrassed and reluctant to talk to these little boys without their parents present. But, I figured I would be doing them nothing but a big favor by thwarting their outlaw careers at the beginning of their errant ways.    

They admitted to watching Pop when he hid the money and the next day, after seeing him drive away, they let themselves in his house with the use of a skeleton key and took his money. 

“Where’s the money now?” I asked.  Kent wiped his fingers across his brow then produced a twenty and some change from his pants pocket.  Lyle tugged at the sleeves of his faded plaid shirt.

“We hid the rest in a coffee can near a culvert by Hank Ernik’s place,” Lyle said.  They were friendly now and wanted to be helpful.  I drove with the boys to the hiding place where we retrieved the coffee can with the money, but there were only some over six hundred and fifty dollars inside.

“Where in the world did you boys spend over five hundred dollars already?” I asked.  They stared at each other momentarily.  I could tell they shared a secret neither wanted to reveal. 

“Don’t tell,” Kent admonished his younger brother.  I’d begun to appreciate these boys and exercised patience with them and soon they told the story.  They’d put the rolls of twenties in their pockets and walked home.  When Kent took his hand from his pocket to open the front door, two of the rolls had fallen to the front steps without his noticing.  Later their mother found the twenties on the steps and confronted the boys.  They confessed they’d taken the money from Pop’s house but hedged on the amount, telling her they’d taken only seven hundred dollars.  Mother demanded five hundred of the loot from the boys and later that day bought a new television set from the money she’d taken from them. 

I hoped the case could be handled informally through social services, but an order from the juvenile court judge would be needed before they could intervene and the county attorney declined to take a case against the mother. 

Kent and Lyle, charged with delinquency, appeared before juvenile judge ‘Itch’ Stanley, aptly nick-named for his  habit of continually scratching his genitals in public. Itch was a pretentious lawyer judge, learned in the law as they say.  After a short hearing, and well aware of the complaisant involvement of  the boys mother, who sat in court with them, he released the boys with a mild verbal reprimand and  placed them on probation……..to their mother!!  Provided  Pop Henderson would be reimbursed for his full loss. 

It was as if the court had just issued the boys a license to steal and during the next eight years Kent and Lyle were regular customers of mine for thievery and burglary and did time in two of Minnesota’s state correctional facilities 

My idyllic view of the legal system, born both of innocence and ignorance, begun its non-stop slide, to where in my mind, high court justice, administered by black robed intelligence, fell to a much lower level than the occasional, harmless uncultured fumblings of the justice of the peace courts.

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Mistaken Identity

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 one-act play.  The moon, mostly obscured by dark clouds offered little light and the street lights seemed awfully dim to Molly. She hurried on 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 after midnight.  Molly poured herself a glass of milk and watched some of Johnny Carson on TV before going to bed.  She quickly fell asleep, leaving the front door unlocked for her mother. 

When she awoke during the night she assumed the figure sitting on her bed was her mother.  By the time her eyes became adjusted to the dim light offered by the street light outside her window, the figure had pulled back the covers and was getting into bed with her.  Suddenly she realized the person was a man and she let out a terrifying scream. The startled man jumped up grabbed his clothes and ran from the house.  Molly called her mother at work, who in-turn called the sheriff’s office.  When I arrived at their home, Molly was near hysterics and her mother was both frightened and angry.  They showed me a pair of brown wing-tips, size 12, the intruder in his haste had left behind. 


Sometimes, in small towns, a person can know way too much about people.  Often for a sheriff, though, it can come in handy.

“Do you think the man was drinking, Molly?” I asked.  “Could you smell liquor?”

“I think so,” she replied.

“I calmed the mother and daughter down and told them not to worry.  I was pretty sure this was just a case of mistaken identity.  I told them that the lady who lived in the house previously had an occasional visitor who took a drink now and again.  I thought perhaps after imbibing he may have forgotten the lady had moved to another house. 

“I’m pretty sure I know where to take the shoes,” I said.  “And I’m positive there is nothing to worry about, but I’ll get back to you.”

I took the wing-tips with me and a couple of days later pulled up to the gas pumps outside Charlie Benson’s country store near Wykoff.  Charlie was known to take a drink or two from time to time.  There wasn’t self service in those days so Charlie came out to pump the gas. 

“Five dollars worth Charlie,” I said.  “Nice day.”

Charlie looked a little sheepish while he pumped the gas and cleaned the windshield. When he was through I looked in my billfold.

“I’m a little short of cash today Charlie,” I said.  “Could I charge it?’

“Sure,” he said.  I got out of the car and went to the trunk.

“Maybe you should have some collateral Charlie,” I said.  I opened the trunk door and brought out the wing-tips.  Charlie turned seven colors of red and shook his head.

“You sum-bitch Neil,” he muttered.

“I handed Charlie the shoes and a five dollar bill and was on my way.

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Jesse James and Ernest Hemingway

The faded yellow house, it’s 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. 

“Harumph”, 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 and orderly.


“In here,” a voice I deemed to be male said.  I proceeded to an archway leading from the corner of the kitchen to another room where I thought the voice had come from.  My mission was to apprehend the man and have him in court for a mental hearing at two that afternoon.  It was 10 a. m. now.  I hadn’t gotten many particulars on the guy other than he was kind of a nut and forty-five years old. 

I stepped through the archway.

“Far enough,” said a man standing near the far end of the room with his back to the wall.   I didn’t heed his advice and walked a few steps further.  The man, about five foot ten, wearing a long black waistcoat, a white shirt and brown tweed trousers crouched slightly, with his wrists bent back at an angle near his hips and spread his fingers wide apart.    

“I’m Jesse James,” he said.  “When I count three we draw and shoot.”  His eyes were steely and I noticed a bulge in his waistcoat near his right hip.  I stopped my advance. 

“Damn,” I said to myself, “I’ve done it again, gotten careless and got myself in big trouble.” 

“Wait a minute,” I said while mentally kicking myself for not even remembering  his first name.  “I don’t have a weapon. (Which I didn’t)  I’ll have to go get one if we’re going to have a shoot out.”  I turned toward the archway. 


“Don’t move or I draw,” the man said and began parting his waistcoat with his right hand.  I knew I couldn’t make it to the archway if he had a gun.  I was in the middle of the room with no place to go, but perhaps to my grave. I decided the closer I could get to him the better off I’d be.  I was six feet from him when he drew.   I managed to grab his wrist before he fired from the twelve-inch green candle he’d had in his pants pocket.  Jesse and I got on quite well on the way to the jailhouse, where I put him away to wait his hearing.  Helen and I were polishing off the last of the Swedish meatballs and gravy from our noon meal, when a knock on the dumb-waiter summoned me to the jail, where, by now, Jesse had transformed himself into seafarer.  He’d stopped  up the floor drain in the washroom and turned on the water faucets.  The sink was overflowing and he leaned on a mop handle swaying to the wash of imaginary waves in a stormy  sea.

“Avast ye lubbers, man the mainsail,” he commanded.  I found it necessary to place the old sailor in a private cell, without plumbing, pending his hearing. 

Later that afternoon after leaving my man who had reverted to being Jesse again, off at the Rochester State Hospital I decided I deserved a bit of stress relief.  I chose the Pinnacle Room of the Kahler Hotel which overlooked the Mayo medical complex and Rochester’s  southwestern horizon for my relaxation. 

A sheriff’s duties brings him in contact with many characters, and some of his colleagues are a match for even the most unusual of them.  One of these, Willis Fraier the sheriff of Dodge County, a snoose chewing, whiskey drinking, curmudgeon’s curmudgeon called to me as I came in through the doorway into the Pinnacle Room.

“Neil, come on over, sit down I’ll buy you a drink,” Willis intoned in a voice tarnished by drink.  He sat, slouched, in a corner booth accompanied by a white bearded companion, both appearing as if they’d been imbibing for some time.  I slid into the booth beside Willis, across from the bearded man. 

“Shake hands with my friend Ernie,” Willis said.

“Pleased to meet you Ernie, I’m Neil Haugerud,” I said extending my hand across the table to shake.  There was surprising strength in Ernie’s hand, but his voice was weak and words slurred as he repeated my name.


“I met Ernie here at lunch,” Willis said.  I glanced at the clock behind the bar.  It was five o’clock. I had my drink and found the conversation at a level which would have made more sense perhaps if I’d been drinking with the boys since noon. Willis asked if I knew where there might be some women and Ernie seemed to be talking to himself as well as me about trout fishing.  I had a second drink and listened for another twenty minutes, during which time, in order to make conversation, I asked.  “What’s your last name Ernie?”

“Hemingway,” he said. 

“Ya, right, Ernie,” I replied.   

How fitting for my day I thought.  I bring Jesse James to the state hospital and have happy hour with Ernest Hemingway.  It gave me a chuckle as I bid my colleague and new-found friend goodby.

The following day, after dinner, in the comfort of our living room I scanned the evening paper while simultaneously watching television.  My attention became more focused on the paper when I saw an article, along with a picture which resembled Ernie, Willis’s friend.  The article went on to explain that Ernest Hemingway while being cared for by St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester and had been observed downtown occasionally when excused from care.                  

This story took place in early May of 1961.  Ernest Hemingway was admitted to Mayo and reportedly hospitalized and treated for depression at St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester on April 25th 1961.  He took his own life at Ketchum Idaho on July 2nd 1961.

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Jailhouse Stories: A Memoir

Let’s get acquainted……

Jailhouse Stories is my recollection of experiences associated with the Sheriff’s office in Fillmore County, Minnesota in the mid-fifties and early sixties. It is mostly about honorable eccentric characters who happened to be alcoholics, just plain drunks, thieves, burglars, robbers, doctors, lawyers, judges, farmers and ordinary citizens, if there is such a thing.  I tend to believe not.  I came to understand how people make a lot of mistakes, but in my view there are very few bad people.

Doctor Nehring, with whom I worked closely as County Coroner became such a rich source of unusual tales that I felt obliged to repeat them, first to my wife Helen, then after a small libation or two at social gatherings I’d share some with the group.  Thereafter, on many occasions about town I’d be requested to tell Doctor Nehring stories.  My transition, from storytelling to story writing, late in life, after serving nine years in the Minnesota legislature and a stint with the federal government (where it seems the cast of characters were strikingly similar)  has been difficult and challenging.  I first read one of my stories in public to the Minneapolis Writers Group in 1994.  They liked it and asked for more.  With this as encouragement I began to search through the old jail register.  The list of names jogged my memory of many people and incidents.  So I set about to weaving the stories into a larger story of how they related to and affected our family life.  We were one of the last sheriff families that served in an era when the family residence, the sheriff’s office and the jail were all in one building.  So in many ways we all became family.  It is out of respect for these characters that I write.  I hope you enjoy my interpretation of our experiences along this rather dusty path of life.  

 I thank the many people who gave direction for the writing of this book: Ashley Warlick author of Distance From The Heart of Things, for setting me firmly on the path of reality and guiding me until I was able to walk by myself; the Minneapolis Writers Group for their listening and editorial critiques; The Camp Creek Writers Club for their many lively discussions.  And a thank you to my wife and daughters who kept me from disposing of the manuscript in the fireplace on many occasions of self doubt.

We’ll continue with Chapter 1 later…….

Neil’s latest book Holiday Forever is now available in eBook format on both Amazon and Smashwords.

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On being duped: SUPER DUPERS

In the dictionary, Dupe is defined as to deceive, fool or trick. A person easily deceived or tricked is potentially a dupe. 

Has the U. S. become a society of professional dupes and dupers?  Lies, fraud and fabrication are the cornerstones of the professional dupers. They use clever catch phrases that are employed to detour and misdirect those seeking the truth.


I’m a conservative – this is announced as an all inspiring virtue, the quality of being exceptionally morally good and righteous. 

Partial Birth abortiona term invented by the dupers.  There is no such medical procedure.                               

Death Tax – another duper invented this term to scare people into believing things like the inheritance tax is and has been the cause of the loss of many family farms.  In reality in light of current exemptions, not one family farm has been lost because of inheritance taxes.  The inheritance tax effects only on the super rich.

Duper conservatives, in order to demean and denigrate the word liberal, preface it with a modifier.  Such as:  Tax and spend liberal.  Bleeding heart liberal.  Tree hugging liberal.  Liberal Democrats.   Left-leaning liberals.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

A Typical Duper

April 14, 2010 – 8:30am
Bill O’Reilly was caught in a massive lie about jail time when he said “Nobody on Fox ever said you are going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance.”

Research shows, on the November 9, 2009, edition of Hannity on FOX, Dick Morris said this: “One of the provisions in the bill is you actually can go to jail for not having health insurance.”

 Possibly making O’Reilly one of the biggest dupers in the history of journalism.


All Star Super Duper Line-up

Rush Limbaugh, Fox news, Sarah Palin, George Will, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee

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