Arson often caused a shivering chill of fear to many early Sherburne County residents. A simple fire could devastate a family. A fire intentionally set generated fear in an entire community.
Big Lake, in 1925, experienced such a fear. In September and October at least nine fires burned eleven homes around Big Lake and Lake Mitchell. Police and community members “staked out” neighborhoods around the two lakes. On October 8, 1925, after a chase from Big Lake into Wright County and the Silver Creek community police captured a suspect. During the chase police shot at the fleeing vehicle. The suspect suffered bullet wounds in the shoulder, this wound caused him to lose control of his automobile. Police found the wrecked vehicle and the wounded suspect. After his arraignment in Elk River court, the suspect was transferred to the St. Cloud hospital. The newspapers identified a local veterinarian being in police custody and charged with arson. However, reporters compounded the confusion about the identity of the arsonist when they later noted the suspect as a local telephone technician.
At the trial, the Sherburne County Star News noted a tremendous amount of local interest. The trial “attracted a large number of people, especially from Big Lake and vicinity, the court room being crowded to the limit,” the paper reported. The news also acknowledge the lack of solid evidence against the suspect. “Most of the evidence,” the paper reported, “is based on circumstantial evidence.”
Interestingly, the newspaper never reports the outcome of the trial. The arson cases, however, stopped in Big Lake. Yet, the fear of arson and fire continued to concern numbers of Sherburne County residents. Fire prevention and organizing community fire fighters became significant concerns in many communities in Sherburne County in the 1920s. Flames from a traveling locomotive, or from a poorly extinguished cigarette, or from arson all caused more than a little apprehension in Sherburne County. The fear generated by an arsonist in Big Lake in 1925 was not an event any community wanted to experience.