(Mankato, MN) – The SMN news staff convened in early December to review web stats and discuss the region’s biggest stories of 2018.

We found that there is a vast difference between what we felt were the most important stories of the year vs. the most viewed stories of the year. Our readers had good reason to click, click, click on the stories they did, however.   Some were heartwarming, some were tragic, and some were just outright bizarre.

Click below to see the stories that southern Minnesota rushed to read.

10.  Waseca Bar owner accused of stealing from youth hockey organization

Rachelle Schoknecht

Waseca residents were astounded when a local bar owner was accused of stealing gambling funds from a youth hockey organization.  Rachelle Lynn Schoknect, age 47, was charged with felony theft by swindle after a Waseca Hockey Association member contacted police with suspicions that Schoknect had dipped into funds from the pull-tab box the organization kept at her bar, the Nashville Saloon. Schoknect denied the allegations and allegedly blamed ex-employees for the missing funds and tried to arrange reimbursement.

The story took a bizarre turn when the Nashville Saloon caught fire just the day after reports of accusations against Schoknect were reported by local media.  In an email to SMN, Schoknect said:

“Wondering if the vandals writing “out” on everything, trashing bar and setting fire in the middle of it has anything to do with story u wrote. ???”

Schoknect’s court case is still pending.

9.  Bear sightings

Southern Minnesota went ape over bears in the spring of 2018.  The Minnesota DNR created an interactive bear sighting map, which created a storm whenever a sighting was documented.  There were a few readers that were quite skeptical of the frequent sightings but found themselves convinced after SMN obtained exclusive video of a bear galavanting between Courtland and Nicollet.  The video, though short, was passed around Facebook like wildfire, giving the locals proof that these “mythical” sightings were indeed real.

8.  Icehouse sex photo lands Tracy pair in hot water

Taking naked photos of people and posting them on the internet is illegal.  Just ask a pair of Tracy residents who took a picture of their ice fishing companions having sex.  The two showed the picture to the girlfriend of the guy having sex…and it somehow ended up on the internet.  The 24-year-old man and 19-year-old woman were charged with felony nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images – four counts each, in fact.  Shortly after the two were charged, SMN received an email from the man in the photo, who asked us to take the story down.  He said people had forgotten about the incident.  But after the story about the charges was published, he said, the photo started to get passed around on social media again.  Of which we at SMN wonder…didn’t anyone learn anything by reading about the charges?

7.  Horses pull semi uphill

Our readers really love animals.  Really.  Love.  Animals.  So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the incredible story about the Belgian horses pulling a semi uphill in southern Minnesota went viral.  The story and video were sent to us by the owner of the horses, Lizzie Hershberger, who said her husband’s Amish roots contribute to his love of Belgians.  The hard work of the Belgians captivated our readers and was spread all over social media, from southern Minnesota and beyond.

6.  Fantasy Maids

One of our most consistently popular stories of the year (there is always someone reading this article, even months later), the Fantasy Maids lowdown received so much attention, we have to assume their business is booming with potential clients who are eager for a peek while their house gets clean.  The Eagle Lake woman who started this slightly naughty cleaning business gets $60 – $90 an hour to clean in various forms of undress.  This makes us wonder if we should start a Fantasy News Service as a side gig.

5.  Trumpeter swans killed

Did we mention our readers really love animals?  We could feel your rage when we broke this story about a hunter who illegally shot and mortally wounded two protected trumpeter swans.   A 47-year-old hunter on Duck Lake in Nicollet County was reported by other hunters who saw the birds fall from the sky on the waterfowl hunting opener.  Later charged in Nicollet County Court was Charles Anthony Frentz.  Frentz was convicted of hunting protected birds, a petty misdemeanor.  He was ordered to pay $1,235.00 in fines, $1,000 of which was wildlife restitution.

4.  Dead body discovered in downtown Truman

Truman is generally a sleepy little burg, so when tragedy strikes, it causes a buzz.  The community was shocked and saddened when a young woman was discovered dead at a downtown antique store.  The 24-year-old deceased woman was later identified as Mariah Lynn Miller.  Two men were later charged in Martin County with 3rd degree murder related to Miller’s death.

3.  Children at Butterfield garbage house test positive for meth

Everyone was horrified by the descriptions of an alleged Butterfield garbage house, where four children under the age of four were living in squalid conditions.  Their 27-year-old father, apparently their sole caregiver, was charged with felony causing or permitting a child to be exposed to meth, and gross misdemeanor child neglect.  The children were removed from the home, which was described as being in “significant disarray,” with garbage, food, and dirty clothes in every room of the house.  What truly hurt the hearts of everyone who read the story was that after being removed from the home, two of the children tested positive for meth, and all tested positive for E. coli.  SMN received messages from readers who wanted to find out how they could help the children

2.  Deadly farm accidents

Harvest took a tragic turn in southern Minnesota with several farm accidents within several weeks.  But perhaps the saddest day was when two separate accidentsstruck west of New Ulm. A 19-year-old Sleepy Eye teen was found critically injured on an October morning.  Kaleb Fischer later died of his injuries.  A lifelong friend of Fischer’s told SMN that the teen loved farming.  A Go Fund Me page to help with expenses was later established.  Later that same day, a 53-year-old New Ulm man was discovered deceased by family after becoming pinned between a combine and a corn head.  The New Ulm Journal later reported that friends of John Hoffmann joined together to bring in his last harvest.

1.  Mankato attorney busted for alleged meth sales

Our top-clicked story of the year was about that of a former top attorney whose life apparently took a wrong turn somehow, somewhere.  Mankato was shocked to discover that Ryan Magnus, previously a partner of Jones & Magnus Law Firm, was charged with two felony counts of 1st degree drug sales and possession.   A 35-year-old man living at Magnus’ home told police he and Magnus had been partners since 2010.  Charges against Magnus are still pending.

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