‘I could tell stories all day long of the things I saw’
As a Kandiyohi County sheriff’s deputy for 30 years, George Couleur assisted in some of the most memorable and historic events in the county’s history.
Couleur, 93, recalled some of those events in vivid detail. Without hesitation, he rattled off the day, month and year of each high-profile case engrained in his memory for decades.
Couleur was born in Chicago in 1926 and graduated from Calvin Cook High School in 1944. During his high school days, he spent time working as a meat cutter for Jewel Tea, a large supermarket chain now called Jewel-Osco.
He then entered the U.S. Navy in 1944 and was stationed stateside. He became a 3rd class petty officer and worked in the galley as a meat cutter aboard the ship.
While stationed in Hastings, Neb., Couleur met his future wife, Merlaine Peterson, who was a native of Sunburg, Minn. Her military parents were working at a U.S. Army base there.
When Couleur was discharged in 1946, he and Merlaine were married on Nov. 1 of that year at West Norway Lake Church near Sunburg.
“When my buddies from Chicago came to our wedding, they celebrated by driving through Sunburg shooting guns,” Couleur laughed. “Everyone probably thought they were part of the Al Capone gang.”
Eventually, Couleur got a job as a part-time Kandiyohi County sheriff’s deputy in 1958. At the same time, he also worked as a meat cutter at the former state hospital east of Willmar, and he drove school bus for New London and Spicer in the afternoons for 40 years.
He retired in 1988, but recalled those days working like they were yesterday.
Couleur now resides at Grace Living Community of Glen Oaks in New London. Merlaine and Couleur’s second wife, Phyllis, both passed away from cancer.
Couleur lived on the north side of Green Lake for 46 years. On Oct. 15, 1958, he was on his way to work at the state hospital when he heard that a Cessna L-19 “Bird Dog” plane, piloted by World War II veteran Capt. Richard Carey, had crash-landed into Green Lake due to dense fog.
“(Carey) was in the National Guard and was flying from Rochester where he had been at a meeting,” said Couleur, who assisted in the search. “They used to have a National Guard radar station where the (Ridgewater) college is now, and they told him not to take off because of the fog, but he did anyway.”
It was around 11:30 at night, Couleur remembered, and Carey was having difficulty landing because he couldn’t find the Willmar Airport in the fog.
“He was communicating with the people at the radar station and took a couple of passes over Main Street in Willmar and saw the streetlights and thought he was back at the airport,” recalled Couleur. “He was going to land there until they told him where he was.”
Carey continued on, but was unaware that he was now traveling in the opposite direction of the airport and reached Green Lake in Spicer, 10 miles northeast of Willmar.
“(Carey) saw another light and radioed that he was going to land there because he was running out of fuel,” Couleuer said. “Then he reported that he had hit something. What he hit were 16 seagulls. They had all been ‘prop cut’ and found in the water and on the beach.”
Carey’s plane had crash-landed into the 5,406-acre lake on the northwest side.
“We (Kandiyohi County sheriff’s personnel) and others searched by boat for Carey and the plane for many days,” Couleur said. “They finally found his body two weeks later, but it had no marks on it at all, so we figured he had survived the crash and had tried to swim to shore. But he likely got hypothermia and drowned because the water temperature of the lake was only 58 degrees that night.”
Because Carey’s body was located on the southwest corner of the lake, efforts to locate the plane were concentrated in that area over the years. Because of the lake’s uneven bottom, divers, a Navy sonar plane, Army amphibious crafts and rescue workers using grappling hooks failed to locate the plane.
For 46 years, the plane’s location remained a mystery until 25-year-old Cory Fladeboe came across the plane on July 4, 2004, when he spotted it with an underwater camera he was using to locate walleyes.
“We were having church service on Saulsbury Beach (on the south side of Green Lake),” Couleur remembered, “and people came over and told us the plane had been found.”
Couleur was on hand when the plane was finally removed from the lake a few years later. The plane was still in relatively good shape, except for a bent propeller and broken windows.
“When they took the plane out of the water, I found (Carey’s) captain’s bars in the bottom of the fuselage. I cleaned them up and eventually gave them to his family.
The Kandiyohi County Historical Museum now has the plane’s propeller in its possession.
On Feb. 19, 1965, Couleur was involved in another significant event in the county – assisting in a manhunt following the murder of two women near Eagle Lake.
Allen Wade Haugsted, 34, was involved in a domestic dispute, and his wife, Evelyn, 29, had decided to move in with her parents. She had recently filed for divorce from her husband, which he expected, but was still upset about.
Couleur recalled Haugsted telling him at work at the state hospital about his marital troubles and that if his wife filed for divorce, he “would kill her and himself.”
On the night of the double homicide, Haugsted had gone out to the Ole Dalen (his in-laws) home five miles northeast of Willmar near Eagle Lake to visit with his wife and her family.
Around 11 p.m., Haugsted decided to leave, but his car became stuck in the snow. He returned to the home and asked his brother-in-law, Ingolf Dalen, 36, to assist him.
While Ingolf was shoveling snow, Haugsted fired a shot at him from behind and grazed his skull, rendering him momentarily unconscious. Ingolf would survive his injury.
Haugsted then went inside the home and shot and killed his wife and mother-in-law, Anna, 55, in the kitchen. He also shot his 7-year-old daughter Patricia in her neck in a hallway, but she also survived her injury. Ole Dalen, Haugsted’s father-in-law, was at the bowling alley in Willmar at the time.
Haugsted told his 8-year-old son, David, to run or he would shoot him, too. Another child, Debra, 6, was in her bedroom and was unharmed.
Once Haugsted was out of the house, he got in his wife’s 1965 Oldsmobile car and sped away.
David Haugsted then got on the phone and called neighbor Harm Hull, who was also a Willmar police officer, telling him what had just happened.
Couleur, Sheriff Harvey Spaulding and other law enforcement personnel arrived shortly after.
“It was a terrible scene,” said Couleur. “There was blood everywhere in the kitchen. You could see that (Anna) was trying to call someone on the phone because of the trail of blood from the phone to where she was lying. (Evelyn) was lying on the kitchen floor next to her.”
Haugsted eventually fled to Houston, Texas, where he gained employment as a baker at a supermarket.
In June, four months after the murders, Haugsted was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. In December 1965, he was finally captured.
“His picture was in the post office in Houston, and someone there recognized him and turned him in,” Couleur told. “The FBI went and arrested him and then called us to come and get him.”
Couleur, Spaulding, and another deputy drove to Houston together to retrieve the prisoner.
“When we got there, Allen yelled ‘George!’ when he saw me, like he was happy to see me,” Couleur remembered. “I sat in the back seat with him on the way back to Willmar, but he was pretty quiet.”
Haugsted was sentenced to 40 years in prison but was paroled after serving only nine years. He has since passed away.
Couleur was dispatched to another murder scene five miles northeast of Sunburg on Nov. 15, 1970.
On the morning of Nov. 14, Neil Pladson, 23, a Sunburg native who was living in St. Cloud, had gone to the James Fremburg dairy farm, which was the home he grew up in.
James Fremburg was inside the barn milking his 40 dairy cows when Pladson shot and killed him.
Pladson then went inside the two-story farmhouse and found James’ wife, Gloria, in the dining room and also shot and killed her. He then proceeded upstairs and killed all three Fremburg children, Patricia, 8; David, 7; and Douglas, 4.
“It was a horrible scene with blood everywhere,” said Couleur, who was at the scene the next day with other local and county law enforcement personnel.
Following a tip from a witness who had seen Pladson hunting in the area, law enforcement traveled to St. Cloud where Pladson lived.
“Pladson was home, and when they looked in his closet, they found a bloody pair of overalls and a bloody shotgun,” said Couleur. “He was handcuffed and placed under arrest right then and there.”
Pladson was eventually indicted on five counts of 1st degree murder, but after undergoing psychiatric evaluation and being declared “unable to control his conduct” by three examiners, Pladson pled guilty to 3rd degree murder. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Pladson was paroled in 1986 but was strangled to death by a roommate in his St. Paul apartment in 1988.
Couleuer had seen and heard just about everything in his career as a deputy but was fortunate that he never had to pull the trigger.
“I never had to shoot at anyone, and no one ever took a shot at me,” he remarked. “I liked the job a lot. I could tell stories all day long of things I saw.”
And each story would likely include vivid and accurate details.