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Cell-Block Suicide


A prisoner being held in Minot on charges of bank robbery died on this day in 1907. The man, M. H. Duffy, had been held for his participation in a highly-publicized robbery of a Sawyer bank since October 2. At fifty-two, he was the eldest member of the five-man gang, and was considered the brains behind the bunch since he was believed to have been responsible for blowing the Sawyer bank safe open using explosives.

During his stay at the county jail in Minot, prison guards found Duffy extremely ‘jovial’ and personable. Although he faced additional charges in connection with a box car robbery in Iowa and six indictments, the prisoner had the best attitude of the bunch and appeared to be in a good mood throughout the majority of his stay. After guards found the man’s lifeless body in his cell, the other four members of the gang claimed that he had suffered some kind of heart trouble. They reported that Duffy had suffered from such a malady before, and that moments before his death, he had turned to the others and said, “Boys, I have another spell coming”. Initially, this report was taken as truth, but when additional investigators were called to the scene, signs were found indicating that the man had in fact committed suicide. With his charges carrying a sentence of over thirty years of incarceration and his court date looming, it seemed extremely plausible that the older man had in fact taken his own life. Suspicious of a suicide attempt, authorities sent the man’s stomach to Grand Forks for an autopsy, where all signs pointed to suicide.

Prison staff feared similar attempts by the other four men, or an escape attempt, as another member of the gang, Conroy, was overheard plotting an escape scheme days earlier. Conroy had plead not guilty to eight indictments, and it was common knowledge that the man was eager to free himself of the prison. As a precaution, Judge Goss placed four extra guards near the gang’s cell in order to prevent further trouble in the Minot jail.


The Fargo Forum and Weekly Republican. February 1, 1907: p. 1.

--Jayme L. Job