Dakota Datebook

Convict Confesses to Murder

Thursday, June 10, 2004

About this time in 1949, North Dakotans were learning that a man doing time for forgery in a Michigan prison had confessed to killing two people in North Dakota four years earlier. One of his victims was shot in a beauty salon in Jamestown, and the other was a previously unreported murder of a man named James Woods.

In his confession, 29 year-old Denver native, John Crockard, said that he and his partner, Jimmie Woods, used to run drugs into North Dakota from Canada. On September 19th, 1945, they were traveling through Jamestown when Crockard learned that Woods had gotten friendly with a hairdresser named Margaret Roeszler.

Crockard said, “Jimmie had told her everything about the bank robbery and the narcotics and how hot we were in this business. Her idea was to straighten us both up…”

Crockard said the whole thing put him “on the edge” and that he went into a lavatory and shot up while deciding what to do. He then went to the beauty parlor where she worked, saying he planned to take her along with them – but then he became “all jumbled and mixed up.” Instead, he shot and killed her.

Crockard said he was too “hopped up” to remember her name or whether he used his own .32 or Jimmie’s .38. When asked how many shots he fired, he answered, “I don’t know. I was excited – it could have been sixty or could have been one.”

He said found his way back to the car and left town. He had given Jimmie some drops that had knocked him out, and he thought it was maybe near dark when he stopped outside Jamestown city limits and stabbed Woods to death. He then headed east toward Valley City. When he came upon some road construction along the way, he stopped, but he couldn’t say where, between Jamestown and Fargo, that was. He said that dirt and gravel had been built up and was ready to be paved. He found a shallow depression in the roadbed and buried Woods, the guns, and knife.

Crockard headed for Fargo after that and checked into a hotel, but he couldn’t remember what it was called or where it was located. While he was there, he overheard some railroad men discussing the Jamestown event and learned that Margaret had died. At some point, he sold the car. Then he chose a name out of the phone book and started forging checks for everything from clothes to a house! He said he next traveled to Bismarck, where he tried to get caught. And he was. He served a year there, and then was sentenced to 18 months in Fargo for the checks he bounced there; a year later, he was handed over to Michigan authorities.

Crockard confessed to all this in 1949 – he said he had found the Lord and needed to get it all off his chest. Stutsman County officials interviewed him on June 7th and details were published in the Fargo Forum on the 28th. Five days later, the Forum reported that Crockard was suspected of making it all up. Almost nothing checked out. Crockard couldn’t remember Margaret Roeszler’s name, what brand of gun he had owned, or what kind of car he and Jimmie drove. Nor could he account for where or when he sold the car – not to mention what happened to Jimmie’s blood. When asked what Jimmie looked like, he said, “I think he had dark hair and thin long arms.”

The detectives on the case were fans of pulp fiction, and in a surprising twist, they discovered a recent Dick Tracy story that possibly inspired Crockard’s story: the bad guys had to get rid of a dead body, and a character named Rod told Gravel Gertie, “The roadbed is all prepared for the cement. They will pour first thing in the morning.” And they buried the body in the roadbed.

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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