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The Detectaphone


In 1923, Clara Horn of Cando was accused of killing Maybell Ried, the infant child of Ophelia Reid. Clara Horn had been caring for the child in her home. Although no motive was offered, the prosecution alleged that Clara had killed Maybell in her crib. Clara maintained her innocence, and defense stated they would prove that it was possible for an unknown person to enter the home without Mr. or Mrs. Horn being aware of it, this in spite of the fact that they were in the next room with the adjoining door open.

Clara Horn said she wheeled the crib into the kitchen where it was cooler. She could hear the child moaning, but when the moaning ceased she thought Maybell had fallen asleep. When Mrs. Horn got up at 6:45 the next morning, she found the child dead.

A doctor who testified for the prosecution, saying he found injuries on the child, and could have lived for some time after being hurt. A doctor testifying for the defense disagreed. He said the injuries would have resulted in instant death. However, after a lengthy cross-examination, the doctor relented, acknowledging that death might not have come immediately.

But there was a more startling revelation to come. On this date in 1923, the Grand Forks Herald announced that a telephone conversation heard by means of a “detectaphone” had been entered into evidence. The authorities had attached the device to the Horn’s phone. On the recorded conversations, Mrs. Horn could be heard saying, “They are not going to get anything out of me.” She also told her husband “They don’t know how it happened.” When she told him that the facts “will never come out,” he replied, “I am not so sure about that.” Although controversial, the judge ruled that the conversations were admissible, and Clara was eventually found guilty … done in by the latest thing in police technology, the detectaphone.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Grand Forks Herald. “Murder Suspects’ Talk Overheard, Coroner Claims.” 8 April, 1923.