HUDSON -- Three people have been arrested in connection with a robbery at Willow River Saloon on Sunday, Nov. 29, according to the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office.
Bruce Michael Wheeler, 55, of Bloomington, Minnesota, was charged with armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping in the incident that occurred shortly after 5 a.m. at the Burkhardt restaurant.
Jennifer Lee Johnson, 45, and Michael Paul Nolen, 44, both of Mahtomedi, also were charged with armed robbery as party to a crime and receiving stolen property.
According to the criminal complaint:
Deputies responded to 1106 County Road for an armed robbery in progress.
The victim had been inside the establishment cleaning when a man wearing a bandana over his nose and mouth approached her with a large stick in his hand. The man demanded the victim’s cell phone before directing her into the walk-in cooler and shutting her inside. The victim used the interior button to open the door and was confronted by the suspect. She struck him with a mop handle and fled to hide in a utility closet and call 911.
The suspect reportedly told the woman “We are only going to be here for a short time,” leading her to believe that there was more than one person involved.
The room with the safe was accessed with a key hidden in the restaurant, and the safe was opened using the combination. The business owner estimated the safe contained $17,500 in cash.
A bat was found propped up below the safe as well as a roll of dimes, believed to have been left by the suspect.
While on the way to the scene, a deputy observed a silver vehicle traveling south on County Highway A and took down the license plate. Surveillance video showed a silver vehicle turn onto County Highway A and then onto Old Mill Road a few minutes before the suspect entered the establishment. The vehicle was seen leaving the scene shortly after the suspect left the business.
Deputies spoke to the vehicle’s owner, who said it was being used by a family member. The family member told police she was contacted by Wheeler to help with the burglary, along with Johnson and Nolen. She said Johnson and Nolen had masterminded the burglary and recruited Wheeler to complete the burglary.
He was provided the safe combination and information on where the key to the room was located. The woman told police she and Wheeler went to the bar until closing time, when he hid in the garage area of the saloon. Wheeler set off a motion alarm at 3:24 a.m., and left with her back to Johnson’s residence. There he received the key to the door and the alarm code in case it was set off again.
Johnson was confirmed as a former employee of the Willow River Saloon by the owner.