There once was a time when this story was fresh in the minds of all Forest Lake residents, young and old. It was a harrowing event, one so foreign to such a town as this. Certainly, it was not out of the question for it to occur — it just wasn’t expected. A homicide never is, really.
It was April 12, 1932. The sun was just setting as the black, 1929 Ford pulled into the Standard Oil station on south Lake Street. It looked almost new. Inside the station, co-owners Idor Pederson and Oscar Olson, Ted Houle, Sigurd Sire (a salesman) and Nels Berglin were talking. Station attendant Morris Olson was in the washroom, removing grease from his hands. The three young men inside the car peered out at Pederson as he approached. The window rolled down.
“How much do you need?” Pederson asked.
“Five gallons” the driver responded.
They handed him a bill and he went back into the station to make change. Two of the men jumped out with guns and followed. Unknown to Pederson, the car had been stolen hours earlier. He felt a thrust to the back as he entered the station.
“This is a stickup! Lay down on the floor – we mean business!”
No one moved. Sigurd Sire would later tell authorities, “We were too stunned to move…convinced it was some sort of a prank.” After a final warning, they fell to the floor – Ted Houle receiving a right hook to the jaw for not moving quicker. One of the men sitting on a stool could feel his heart racing. It was Nels Berglin, night marshal for Forest Lake, just 12 days on the job. He knew a decision had to be made – comply, or draw his gun.
Meanwhile, Morris Olson had just come out of the washroom. That was the moment Berglin took action. It was the wrong decision. The gloves on his hands prevented him from using his gun and the split-second it took to remove them was enough time for the robbers to fire several shots at Berglin, killing him almost instantly. In the melee, the marshal was able to fire two rounds – one shattering the front window.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
The two youths ran back to the car and sped off with their accomplice down what was then Highway 1 towards St. Paul. Back inside the station, Idor Pederson quickly opened the marshal’s police coat and found him bleeding profusely from the chest. The town doctor, J. A. Poirier, was summoned. Berglin was dead. “His decision to shoot was surprising.” Sigurd Sire would later say. “The gunmen had the drop on him from the very start.” Looking back years later, station attendant Morris Olson always thought Berglin felt it was his duty to stop the robbery, despite the odds.
The following month, all three of the robbers were involved in holding up the First National Bank in Hermansville, Michigan. Brothers Rudolph and Edward Kunasiewicz, ages 17 and 19 respectively, were charged, along with Frank Jacobinski – age 20. However, neither one was charged for Marshal Berglin’s death, despite being identified by witnesses at the station. Michigan authorities gained custody of the men for the bank robbery, leaving Berglin without justice. Another accomplice, John Jacobinski, brother to Frank, was also fingered as the possible murder suspect, but ended up serving a life sentence for an entirely different murder.
The Kunasiewicz brothers and Jacobinski were released for good behavior several years later. All three denied any connection to the killing of Marshal Berglin.
Article by Justin Brink, 2021.