MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Authorities in Le Sueur County say two men are responsible for stealing a historic church bell and then trying to sell parts of it to a scrap yard.

Investigators say the bell was taken from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at German Lake last Monday night. Church officials say the bell was more than 100 years old and even survived a fire in 1972.

“It meant something to everybody. The bell rang for weddings, confirmations, baptisms and such,” Jeff Hoffmann, who is the church council president, said.

Hoffmann said the solid brass bell was a staple of the country congregation. When a fire caused by lightning destroyed the original church in 1972, the bell was saved. Its ringing days were over, but it became a part of the landscape when the new church was built.

“It weighed approximately 400 to 500 pounds now because of the fire had melted away,” Hoffmann said.

Still heavy enough that a church worker was surprised that it had gone missing last Monday.

“We had fresh snow and he noticed tracks backed up to where the bell sat. You know it had to be more than one person who took it out,” Hoffmann said.

Investigators began contacting scrap metal businesses and soon found parts of the bell at a local scrap yard. Evidence led them to 27-year-old Chad Anderson of St. Peter and 28-year-old Leo Pete of Kasota.

Police say the men cut the bell into pieces and then sold them to the scrap yard, but didn’t get much money from the sale.

“Exactly what their thought process was when they stole the bell, I’m not exactly sure,” Investigator Bruce Collins said.

Neither is Hoffmann, who was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s Church. He’s sad to know that a symbol of the church is now a part of its history.

“It’s pretty gut-wrenching. Not the dollar value but the sentimental value to the people here,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann said the church is hoping to get pieces of the bell back so they can weld them into a cross that they can hang up inside the church. Police said Anderson and Pete will likely face charges of theft and damage to property. They have not been officially charged as of yet.

John Lauritsen