News: Colby (Insurance Fraud - 1880)

Contact: Robert Lipprandt

Surnames: Sailstad, Thrun

----Source: The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, WI) 12/13/1923

Sailstad Arrest Recalls Case At Colby Years Ago

Sawmill owner successfully defrauded insurance companies until he tried to collect on own death.

Wausau, Wis. - The arrest of Edward J. Sailstad in California for “burning himself to death” recalls the Thrun case, the principal being a former resident of Colby, and incidentally shows that Sailstad did not carry out any original idea in his plan to defraud insurance companies out of $62,000.

Ferdinand J. Thrun, a successful owner of several saw mills for the sake of fire insurance payments, staged a conflagration in his home while his wife and three children were away.

Tries To Save Valuables

Neighbors, who had been summoned by Thrun to help put out the blaze testified they has seen him dash into the house to fetch articles of value; that he did not come out, and that his charred bones were later found in the ruins.

Thrun was a young merchant at Colby, Wis., in 1880. His business did not thrive. Then he met a young woman from Neenah. He married her on Nov. 12, 1882. Pretty soon, things began to prosper. Thrun went into business with a man named Smith at Colby, Wis. Shortly after, the store burned down and Thrun was said to have lost everything he had.

However, shortly after the fire he bought a sawmill, for which he paid $4,000 in cash. Scarcely had the insurance got nicely into working order on this property when another fire broke out. Of course, the Thruns collected.

Buys Second Sawmill

When the excitement created by suspicious creditors died down, Thrun burn down, netting him a nice sum of insurance money, he bought others which met the same fate, it is alleged.

By this time, things were getting hot for Thrun in the fire insurance line. But again, he bought a mill. Wonders of wonders, he did not have it insured. He had a better idea.

The Wisconsin Central railroad had its right of way close to the mill. Would it not be a good plan to have the mill burn down through a fire started by sparks from the company engines? One then could sue for damages, eh! and cleanup a lot of money.

In due time the mill caught fire, supposedly from sparks from the Wisconsin Central locomotives. Thrun started suit but a Pinkerton detective hired out as clerk for the wiley insurance company nemesis. In a short time, Thrun was willing to settle for a song and $75 worth of mileage tickets.

Nonplussed, there came the crowning achievement in Thrun’s defrauding experience. He figured that having himself “burned to death” in his home was an idea worthy of at least a trial. It was agreed with his wife that $30,000 would not be such a mean sum. But once started at figuring the sum was gradually increased until it reached the $50,000 mark.

The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance company issued a policy for $10,000 on Aug. 24, 1892. The Northwestern Mutual Relief association issued a policy for $4,000, the Aetna company, Hartford, for $15,000, the Mutual Life of New York, for $10,000, the Metropolitan of Chicago, for $3,000 and the American Mutual Accident association of Oshkosh, for $2,000.

Early on the morning of Friday, Oct. 28, 1892, Thrun’s residence burned to the ground and searchers later found charred human bones in the ruins. There was but one conclusion, poor Ferdinand Thrun had at last met his fate. His wife swore to identification of the bones and a coroner’s jury brought a verdict of “death by burning in his own home.”

Teeth Were Missing

But the insurance companies were not satisfied. Detectives were put on the case. It was discovered that not a single tooth of Thrun’s enviable set was found in the ruins. Diligently and relentlessly, the insurance sleuths worked on the case. Finally, the “remains” of Ferdinand J. Thrun, teeth and all, were located at New Orleans. On March 16, 1893, hardly a year after the fire, Thrun made a confession in which he explained that he connived with another man from Chicago to stage the fire. The human bones, he said, were furnished by his confederate.

At the time of the fire Thrun called out his neighbors to help put out the blaze. Two friends, who were staying with him in the absence of his wife and children, also gave assistance. The fire was well under way when Thrun, suddenly remembered a sum of money, dashed into the house, never to come out again.

It was explained by Thrun that after he entered the house, he fled by way of the cellar to a spot where there were no fire fighters or watchers. Here he met the Chicago confederate and after being smuggled from one place to another finally took a train out of Chicago for New Orleans.



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