On this date in 1915 North Dakotans learned that a familiar face was once again in trouble with the law. The Ward County Independent informed readers that J.J. King was back in custody after a short taste of freedom. He had recently been released from the penitentiary after doing time for stealing a wagon and team in Donnybrook and taking it to Canada.
After the latest arrest, the newspaper declared that “only a miracle” could save King from spending more time behind bars. King and two young men had been arrested for a bold burglary. They were charged with stealing $800 worth of goods from a store in Coteau as well as a team of horses and a brand-new wagon.
Sheriff Heath of Burke County and Deputy Ed Drinkwater were quickly on the case. They tracked the thieves for several days and found them in Minot. They saw the younger boy riding one of the horses and leading the other. As soon as he was arrested the boy told the sheriff where the other two burglars were. They had rented a barn on the edge of town where they kept the horses and wagon.
When he was arrested, King made a full confession. He said he had sold all the stolen merchandise to W.N. Johnson, who ran a small restaurant. The police chief and an officer went to the restaurant and recovered the goods. Johnson said he thought King was a merchant from the western part of the state. A search of the property turned up stolen items that had been hidden away. Johnson was arrested for buying stolen property. King entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. The older accomplice was sentenced to a year in prison, and the younger boy was sent to the reform school.
But that wasn’t the end of King’s story. He escaped from prison in June the following year. He was tracked down and recaptured, then escaped again in July. This time a reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. He was recaptured near Oakes and served the rest of his sentence for the burglary. He was sentenced to an additional four years for each of his jailbreaks.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Bismarck Tribune. “Get Escaped Prisoner Working Near Oakes.” Bismarck ND. 19 August 1916. Page 1,
Ward County Independent. “Bold Burglars Tracked to Minot.” Minot ND. 14 October 1915. Page 1.
Grand Forks Daily Herald. “Two Escape From Prison.” Grand Forks ND. 13 June 1916. Page 1.
Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Eight Men Escape From Penitentiary.” Bismarck ND. 23 July 1916. Page 1.