Welcome to Pine County

Some people think crack and furniture-stripping fumes made Chuck Strobel crazy. But it was the rural peace and quiet that drove him over the edge.

Rosati ordered Strobel to halt. In the dim dawn light the officers could see that Strobel had an electric cord with multiple plugs and a surge protector tied around his waist. He had a file in one hand and a knife in the other. When Pitzen told him to raise his hands, Rosati spotted a pistol tucked under the cord.

"We told you not to have any weapons," said Pitzen. "I'm going to pat you down now to make sure you don't have anything else." He found four shotgun shells and a bag of what looked like crack cocaine in Strobel's shirt pocket. "That's when we arrested him," he says. "We asked if the cocaine was his, and he just said, 'Yeah, it's mine.'"

The officers were about to drive a handcuffed Strobel off to Pine City when he asked if they would please put his dog in the house. "In other words," says Pitzen, "he invited us in." Barely inside, the officers spotted a bag of marijuana, a cooking spoon, and a homemade crack pipe. They secured the dog and headed for Pine City to process Strobel and get a search warrant.

Craig Bares

Strobel seemed calm on the way. He volunteered that he'd had a bunch of buddies over the previous night to test his cocaine. It was a damning admission if true, but the deputies had their doubts due to the lack of tracks or footprints. When Diane Roy was later questioned she was asked whether Strobel might have had friends in to snort cocaine.

"What friends?" she replied. "He doesn't have any friends."

When the officers returned to the house with a search warrant, they discovered what Strobel had been telling them about in his own strange way for two years. His place was a veritable treasure trove of familiar controlled substances, scattered amid the less familiar paraphernalia of chemically induced paranoia. The search proceeded cautiously. "We were worried about all those spring guns and booby traps he'd been telling us about," says Pitzen.

The smell of weed permeated the house so thoroughly that a drug-sniffing dog had to be pulled away from the heat ducts and guided into more promising venues.

There were two locked safes. One contained a small bag of powder cocaine and reams of video-surveillance tape. The other held $4,200 in cash and 80 pounds of marijuana. Between that and a stash in the bedroom the cops found a total of 218 pounds of pot.

Shotgun holes were blasted through the walls and the door of a closet. The officers seized more than 20 guns, ranging in size from a .22-caliber two-shot derringer to a .375-caliber Magnum rifle suitable for hunting elephants. They also found a Safe House Wireless Security Scanner, three surveillance cameras and various viewing devices.

Investigators were able to determine that Strobel hadn't slept for more than 72 hours when he was arrested. Dozens of pills including codeine and various uppers were seized during the search. So were the untagged pelts of several animals.

Keys, door locks, and tumblers were piled on a table, and there were signs that the locks had been changed many times. "Maybe he wanted to get caught," Pitzen says. "Either that or he just lost track of who he was talking to."

Strobel was charged with nine counts of controlled-substance violations and four counts based on his possession of wild-animal pelts. In return for his plea of guilty to one count of possession of marijuana with intent to sell, all the other charges were dropped. On October 31, 1996, he received a 38-month sentence with a recommendation that he be considered for a program that would put him on the street in less than two years.

One theory that was kicked around the squad room for a while concerned the possibility that Strobel was indeed connected to the Hell's Angels, and was holding up the orderly flow of marijuana from Point A to Point B in that organization's distribution chain. Thus, it was theorized, he had come to think of prison as his best option, a kind of safe house away from the safe house.

"I don't think he was connected to anybody," says Johnson. "The Pluffs were different. They were part of a large organization. Strobel was more representative. He was a loner. That's the type we often see up here.

"Was he dangerous? Well, better than half the weapons he had were loaded, and there was some pretty high-test weaponry there. There was a high-quality night scope mounted on a 44 Desert Eagle, for example, and a pistol with a scope on it--that thing was so big and heavy, I don't see how a person could aim it unless you set it on something. He could have definitely shot through our vests.

"When we first locked him up, he told the jailer that he'd had our officers in his sights as they drove up his driveway. But he decided not to shoot for whatever reason. I guess he just drifted off into some other hallucination."

Johnson expects to see more cases like Strobel in the future. "We have individuals we're suspicious of right now," he says. "What's happening is they're getting hassled in the seven-county metro area, so they're moving up here where there's more space and less law enforcement. They buy a place like Strobel had where they can do their own counter-surveillance. They have better equipment than we do. We've gone to places where they have video cameras set up in the driveway 200 or 300 yards from the home. By the time we get to the yard they're out and running. You wonder what valuables someone who lives in a mobile home or a broken-down farmstead has to protect."

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