Man dies defending farm at gunpoint

Farmer grabbed gun after second theft


June 07, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Albert William Wessel discovered a family car and then a tractor missing on the same day, so he grabbed a rifle when he suspected the thieves were back for more that afternoon.

When a Howard County patrol officer arrived at the scene Monday afternoon, he found the 80-year-old Scaggsville resident holding two suspects at bay with a .22-caliber rifle. Police called it a by-the-book protection of property.

Then Wessel's triumph abruptly turned tragic.

When police took over, the elderly man collapsed. He died en route to Howard County General Hospital, possibly from a heart attack.

Sgt. John Superson, a Howard County police spokesman, can't think of another case like it.

"Who could predict something like this happening?" he said.

"He was protecting his property, and the suspects weren't injured by him," Superson said. "He did everything by the book."

Wessel noticed Monday morning that someone had stolen a 1960 Chevrolet Impala from his family farm, and he told police that it must have been taken during the weekend.

The car, which belonged to Wessel's brother, had been parked far from where the farm meets Scaggsville Road - and the property is marked with a "No Trespassing" sign.

"You [couldn't] even see this vehicle from the road," Superson said.

Wessel called police again at 2 p.m.: His John Deere tractor, parked near the spot where the car used to sit, had just been whisked off the farm by someone driving a flatbed tow truck.

Later in the afternoon, police said, the Scaggsville man found two men in his field, apparently attempting to steal other items.

He held them at gunpoint until Cpl. David Asharrived. The officer told Wessel to put down the rifle, which he did - and then fell to the ground.

Ash performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Wessel and "brought him back twice," Superson said. But Wessel died before reaching the hospital, the police spokesman said.

"It's just a tragedy," he said.

The state medical examiner's office was investigating the cause of death yesterday but had not made a ruling.

Police arrested two suspects, but released one man without charges because they do not believe he participated in the thefts, Superson said.

The other suspect, Michael T. Spears, 32, of Odenton, was charged with two counts of auto theft, two counts of felony theft and three counts of trespassing.

Police said they found the stolen Chevrolet in the 8400 block of Brock Bridge Road in Jessup and recovered the tractor near Spears' residence in the 1400 block of Annapolis Road.

Spears was released on $10,000 bail yesterday.

Wessel's nephew and godson, Jerry Wessel, said the Scaggsville man was a longtime farmer and carpenter who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

"He was highly decorated," said Jerry Wessel, an Ellicott City resident. "He really didn't like to talk about the war," but he would show his honors if requested - one of which was a combat infantry badge, his nephew remembered.

Before he left to fight in Europe, Albert Wessel helped build the stone church that replaced the old wooden building used by St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Fulton. He was an active member of the church. He farmed the family's 93-acre property with relatives, raising dairy cows and growing hay and wheat, Jerry Wessel said.

"He was a very kind and good man," he said. "He always tried to treat people as he would like to be treated."

Of the suspects, he said: "I hope they're prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law. It seems like they cost him his life - and I hope [police] charge them with that as well."

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