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A Talkative Criminal

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On this date in 1907 a puzzling crime investigation by the Devils Lake police department came to a satisfying ending. The crime was first considered unsolvable, but the police nabbed the culprit after some clever sleuthing.

W.C. Strayer was a salesman for a wholesale hardware company in St. Paul. A few days before the crime, Strayer went to the Great Northern depot to catch a train to Minot. Realizing he was quite early for the train, he set his suitcase down in the waiting room and left the station. He returned about ten minutes later to discover his suitcase gone. The suitcase contained his samples, including knives and spoons that would prove very important in solving the case.

Knowing it was pointless to go to Minot without his samples, Strayer stayed in Devils Lake and reported the theft to the police. There were no witnesses, and at first the police thought the crime would be impossible to solve.

In the meantime, when Charles P. Welsh, a special detective for the Great Northern Railroad, arrived in Devils Lake, he met Police Chief Hurst, who told him about the theft. Shortly afterwards, Welsh crossed paths with Thomas Quigley. Quigley was apparently under the influence of alcohol and was quite talkative. Quigley showed Welsh a brand-new knife. When Welsh said he liked it, Quigley gave it to him. He told Welsh he had many similar items if Welsh was interested.

Welsh took the knife to the police who showed it to a hardware store clerk. The clerk identified it as one from a salesman’s sample case. It happened to bear the mark of Strayer’s company. The police wasted no time in arresting Quigley, who was found to be wearing underwear and socks belonging to Strayer!

A police search of Quigley’s room at the Commercial Hotel didn’t turn up more contraband, but the behavior of the hotel proprietor seemed suspicious. In a search of the proprietor’s room the police found items belonging to Strayer. The suitcase was later found behind the hotel, and the proprietor, a Mr. McElroy, was also arrested.

McElroy served as his own attorney, asking during trial what the newspaper described as “amusing and irrelevant” questions. The newspaper was confident both men would be found guilty.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Police Make Catch.” Devils Lake ND. 6/21/1907. Page 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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