Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, June 17, 2016

A One Man Crime Spree in Sherburne County

It is tough to keep a good man down—even a thief.  Sherburne County learned this difficult lesson at the hands of W. S. McDonald, a “sneak thief” and robber of local post offices. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported in July of 1906 at least two men removed window panes, gaining access to the Elk River Post Office.  A year earlier the safe in the post office had been blown open and never replaced.  Due to the earlier robbery, few valuables were kept in the office.  The 1906 robbery thieves made away with about $10 and books of stamps.  The police arrested McDonald in St. Cloud.  He had stamp books in his possession at the time.  These books connected him directly to the robbery.  The police had captured this nefarious criminal.

Unfortunately, for the police, McDonald somehow managed to escape from their custody.  Trying to immediately recapture McDonald, bloodhounds from the reformatory were brought in to track his scent.  These efforts failed.  It appeared he had successfully eluded the police.  Almost two months later, police recaptured McDonald in Anoka County.  He was sent back to St. Cloud and held for a grand jury hearing scheduled for November.

The Star News suggested the court immediately turn McDonald over to federal authorities based on the charges of robbing the post office, a federal offense.  “If a grand jury has to be called on account of this man, the cost of keeping and conviction will certainly be somewhere between $400 and $500,” the paper noted.  “All of which will be borne by Sherburne County.”

The newspaper went on to note McDonald had a unique talent for evading the criminal justice system.  The headlines reported McDonald robbed the Big Lake Depot in 1903.  Although there isn’t much detail, the paper reported, “McDonald is the man given a jail sentence a few years ago for breaking into the depot at Big Lake.”  No explanation is offered how or why McDonald was out of jail after his earlier escapades.

About the only details surmised from the reports about the post office robbery and the apparent thief.  W. S. McDonald seemed to favor Sherburne County as he carried out his one man crime spree.  In the end he was convicted and sent to federal prison for his recent crime wave in Sherburne County.  Citizens of Sherburne County could sleep easier knows their streets were now safe from the likes of W. S. McDonald. 

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