Dakota Datebook

Flett and Remington

Friday, November 28, 2003

On this date in 1912, a Fargo newspaper article read: MURDERER SENTENCED FOR LIFE IS PARDONED.

North Dakotas were outraged when a Casselton native was granted parole despite having been convicted of what was considered one of the most cold-blooded killings in the state’s history. More than 20 years earlier, Joe Remington, who had grown up between Casselton and Arthur, had been sentenced to life in prison for what he’d done.

The article read: “The last and closing chapter in one of the most notorious murders ever committed in North Dakota is now closed. Joe Remington, sentenced to prison for life for the murder of James T. Flett at Arthur, this country, has become a free man as a result of the clemency of the state board of pardons.

“The murder was one of the most cold-blooded crimes in the state and is vividly recalled by the pioneers of this section. Remington was raised at Casselton between here and Arthur, and in the fall of (1890), was employed on a farm near the latter place.

“He took a load of wheat to Arthur, and in those days the elevator agents carried large sums of money, frequently paying in cash. Remington saw Flett’s roll.

“Afterwards Remington went to Minneapolis and for a short period drove a hack. He formed the acquaintance of a notorious woman there and soon spent what money he had saved. Her demands on him recalled the money he had seen Flett carry.

“Remington quietly returned to Arthur, concealed himself in the hayloft of the elevator, and in the darkness when Flett came in to feed the horses, Remington brutally beat him to death and escaped with the money.

“The murderer was arrested at La Crosse where he had gone with the woman. When he returned to Fargo he pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. The state board of pardons commuted his sentence last summer to 23 years, and now Remington has stepped from the penitentiary at Bismarck a free man.”

The 1912 article continued, “Since the recent lynching at Steele, many editors of the state have boldly asserted the mob violence was directly due to the leniency shown by the pardon board to Remington, who was guilty of one of the most brutal murders in the history of the state.”

Yet the newspaper told another side of the story, as well, when it went on to say:

“Remington has had a remarkable record in the state penitentiary and is said never to have violated a rule of the institution. He has been regarded by Warden Hellstrom as a “trusty” and for two years had charge of the penitentiary exhibit at the state industrial show at Bismarck without a guard.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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