Column: Solving the case of Freeborn County’s real ‘mystery man’

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 23, 2002

For several days in August 1931 a a strange-acting individual was disturbing the tranquility of rural life in Riceland Township northeast of Albert Lea.

This half-clad man was roaming through the corn fields in this area. What quickly became known as the &uot;mystery man&uot; appeared near several farm homes. However, if the wild person saw someone, or was aware of being detected, he would run away and quickly be out of sight between the cornrows.

One report said the mystery man, or whatever, was nude. This added a touch of spice to the developing tale about the strange-acting person. After all, this could be the elusive Bigfoot, Sasquatch or even a Yeti. There was some real potential with these sightings to create a mystery for the future.

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The sightings of the mystery man were made by several people on different farms, so this alone confirmed that something was out there. Thus, the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Department was given the challenge to figure out what was actually taking place in Riceland Township.

On Aug. 21, 1931, Freeborn County Sheriff Helmer Myre went to several farms where the mystery man had been seen. It didn’t take the sheriff long to find the foot prints of the mystery man. These were authentic footprints, by the way, which confirmed an earlier report which said the elusive person out between the cornrows was barefooted. The sheriff was able to follow the trail for about three-quarters of a mile. Those footprints, incidentally, were average in size which proved that the mystery man was no naked giant.

Sheriff Myre asked the people in this part of the county to call his office if the mystery man was sighted again. It’s likely the sheriff was hoping no one would shoot the elusive stranger. His only crime so far was unintentional trespassing.

On the morning of Aug. 22, 1931, the sheriff’s office was notified that the mystery man was sleeping in a cornfield on a farm in Moscow Township, about three miles from his last appearance.

The mystery man was just waking up when the sheriff and several deputies arrived. He offered no resistance..

At this point I’m going to quote from the news report in the Aug. 23, 1931, issue of the Tribune:

&uot;Upon questioning he said that he was ‘Julius Caesar II.’ And as his erratic conversation went on he said that he ‘had an income of thirty billion dollars.’ Later he also stated that he was a ground hog before he was Julius Caesar and that no one ever saw his shadow. The officers realized at once that the poor fellow was not in his right mind. When found his clothes were torn and worn to tatters. All that was left of his trousers was the belt and seams and cuffs at the ankles, a mere shell, which managed to ‘keep the seams down the side straight.’

He also had a badly worn shirt. He was bareheaded and barefooted.&uot;

The local authorities soon found out who the 23-year-old former mystery man really was. They were also informed that he had left the Hastings State Hospital on Aug. 6, 1931.

Somehow, during the intervening time, the former mystery man had traveled from Hastings to Freeborn County. While on this journey, most likely done by walking, he drank water from streams and relied on apples and raw field corn for food. The Tribune’s news report said the man was &uot;in excellent condition.&uot;

Sheriff Myre soon found out that the man had been a patient at the state hospitals in Rochester, Fergus Falls, and Hastings.

Within a few days the former mystery man, alias &uot;Julius Caesar&uot; and a self-proclaimed ground hog, was returned to the Hastings State Hospital.

Here’s a

footnote to the article about the Sondergard neighborhood which was in the August 4, 2002, issue.

I have now been contacted by two nieces of Carl and Ethel Sondergard who say the couple did live for a period of time in a farm home on his property southeast of the city between the time they lived on West William and East Fifth Streets. I also very vaguely remember a place in that part of town being referred to as the Sondergard barn.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.