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Fargo man says he may have figured out who stole his sentimental spruce tree before Christmas

Paul Vogel, of north Fargo, pictured with pieces of the spruce tree that used to stand at the end of his driveway before it was stolen. He and authorities have been investigating the incident, and charges are expected to be filed soon. Submitted photo1 / 2
Rings from the stump and evidence compared in a lab at North Dakota State University is not solid proof, but Paul Vogel said they could very well be from the same tree that was stolen from his north Fargo family farmstead Nov. 30, 2017. Submitted photo2 / 2

FARGO — Months after a sentimental spruce tree was stolen from his driveway, Paul Vogel said authorities are getting ready to pursue charges stemming to the Christmas theft.

"Every time I go in there it breaks my heart all over again," Vogel said. "When I planted it, it was just a tiny little stick was all it was... It turned into a beautiful tree."

Cass County Sgt. Tim Briggeman said Monday, Feb. 26, that detectives are nearly finished with the investigation and will soon be submitting recommendations to the state's attorney's office.

Probable charges could include felony or misdemeanor levels of trespassing, theft and criminal mischief, he added. Detectives have been in communication with Vogel and those who they believe are responsible, but Briggeman could not confirm if the party has confessed to the crime.

Vogel, 65, lives in north Fargo on his family farmstead that was established in the 1880s.

He filed a complaint after the nearly 20-foot-tall tree he planted more than 20 years ago with his late father was chopped down and taken on Nov. 30. He discovered the 3-foot stump that was left behind.

"It was definitely planned, and it was blatant. They got it on a windy night when nobody could hear their saw running," Vogel said. "The whole month of December I did nothing but investigate, drive around where I thought it may be."

He had a hunch. Vogel said a similar incident happened many years ago around Christmas near his house when someone cut the top off a tall evergreen.

After the most recent theft, he followed leads on Facebook and said he recovered pieces of the tree at a dumping site in north Fargo where the stolen tree had markings from a stand.

That evidence Vogel tracked down was brought over to North Dakota State University for a lab comparison to a tree ring from the stump.

"They were very careful not to say it was proof, but it very well could be," he said.

His big break came New Year's Day when he said he found those responsible and called the sheriff.

The case is still considered an active investigation, so Briggeman said he's limited on what he can disclose at this time.

Vogel plans to seek restitution or take the case to small claims court — not for the money, he said, but to teach a lesson to those who think they can get away with this type of crime.

Though it was hard to believe he could uncover the Grinch-like culprits, Vogel believes his dad helped him in the hunt for justice.

"I kept pursuing it because I felt I had to," he said. "I never thought I would be successful. It's one of the strangest things that ever happened to me."

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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