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A man and a woman have been charged with the theft of a large bell from a rural Minnesota church.

The theft was first reported on Thursday, with a 911 caller saying he had noticed a bell in a ditch near his home, which he recognized as the bell from the cemetery at the old Swan Lake Catholic Church in Nicollet.

Police arriving at the scene noticed footprints in the snow leading away from where the bell is displayed to a neighboring lot, where they found an abandoned Arctic Cat snowmobile that had never been registered in Minnesota and was displaying a fraudulent registration sticker.

The bell itself was found almost 2 miles away, sitting in a snowy ditch with a number of straps and ropes still tied to it, and covered by a "large plastic makeshift sled." Charges state there were signs indicating it had been pulled along by a snowmobile.

Figuring the thieves would return for the bell, a deputy waited near the scene in an unmarked squad car, with a vehicle carrying an empty trailer arriving a short time later.

Tonia Marsh and Travis Carlson

Tonia Marsh and Travis Carlson

The vehicle was registered to Tonia Marsh, 41, of St. Peter, and the deputy eventually activated the emergency lights to stop the vehicle. A male passenger — later identified as Travis Carlson, 38, of St. Peter — exited the vehicle and "immediately became uncooperative" as the deputy asked him questions.

The deputy noted there was "several pieces of rope, tow straps, and oversized tools that could be used to assist with stealing a large church bell" in the trailer.

When initially questioned, Marsh and Carlson said they were there to go for a walk through the woods. 

Another deputy arrived, and after confirming the tow ropes in the trailer were similar to that found on the bell, Carlson was arrested. While searching him, keys to the abandoned Arctic Cat snowmobile were found. 

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A later search of the trailer turned up a broken piece of metal which matched that of a piece broken off the bell, which is valued at $3,200 and which had sustained major damage as a result of being dragged.

Carlson chose not to talk when questioned. Marsh denied stealing the bell, but did question if it had been found.

It later emerged that they had both allegedly burglarized a garage in the same area from which the bell was stolen.

They have been charged with two counts of theft and one of burglary. They made their first court appearance Friday.

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