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A Case of Mistaken Identity


There was nothing like an interesting trial to pass the time on hot summer days. After a lengthy trial, a jury acquitted Joe Miller of obtaining money under false pretenses. The event had been the talk of the town. Prosecutors alleged that he used his position as accountant to swindle his employer. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about his guilt or innocence.

Miller had worked for Swan Lagerberg. Lagerberg was understandably disappointed with the verdict. He was out a considerable amount of money. But the matter was not quite that simple. On this date in 1898, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican announced that prosecutors had tried the wrong man. John R. Gill had contacted the sheriff and the prosecutor. Gill said he worked at a logging camp in Minnesota. When he read about the trial, he realized there was a serious mistake. Gill said the real Joe Miller was an accountant at the logging camp. He didn’t know who the acquitted man was, but he knew who he wasn’t. He wasn’t Joe Miller.

Prosecutors were stunned by the news. The accused had spent two years in jail. He never said a word about being the wrong man. Why would an innocent man spend two years in jail? The suspicious sheriff questioned Gill closely. Gill signed an affidavit saying that he personally knew the real Joe Miller. He swore that the man who had been tried and acquitted was definitely not Joe Miller.

The sheriff then questioned the acquitted man. The truth came to light. The man was Allen J. Wine. He was Joe Miller’s brother. He had spent two years in jail as the trial progressed, yet he had never said a word that would put his brother at risk.

The District Attorney’s office announced that the real Joe Miller would not be tried. The office had gone to considerable expense to investigate the crime. The accused had been kept in jail for two years, and there was the expense of a trial. The District Attorney announced that enough money had been spent. He would not reopen the case, and considered the matter closed.

Dakota Datebook written by Carol Butcher

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican 14 July, 1898