Bible John’s penmanship kept his family well-supplied

They called him Bible John. He was a quiet, dignified gentleman, easy to approach, excellent conversationalist — in short, a man almost anyone would like to know. His was a typical family — a wife, two daughters and a son — good neighbors to all the other people in the Kandiyohi County city in which they lived.

He ran the “Faith, Hope and Charity Prison Mission Society of Decorah, Iowa,” but found the place where they really wanted to live right here in Kandiyohi County.

John’s mission work took him away from home for most of every week, so he drove the family car when he was working, leaving his family without transportation. That didn’t bother them in the least; the community was of a size that made all necessities easily available.

The trio of kids in the family were all good singers and he used them often in his work. He’d go to the school and ask to have them excused to participate in prison visits. The kids didn’t mind, but they had a lot of make-up to do to keep up with their classes.

Bible John was known far and wide in church circles for his work.

It brought no income to him or his family, other than the contributions of individuals who felt his work was deserving of their support. This was back in the late 30s and early 40s when there really wasn’t a lot of entertainment available. John would go into a town, look over the churches and approach the minister of the most prosperous-looking one. He’d explain what he was trying to do in the prisons to the pastor of that church and then offer to do a program, complete with music, in that church on a Sunday evening. He asked for no remuneration other than that which the members of the audience would want to give him when the plate was passed around.

The day after each such program he’d go back to the pastor and tell him he really couldn’t run his mission on the little money that had been contributed the night before.

He wondered if the pastor wouldn’t give him the names of his more affluent members whom he could approach privately and ask for a small, personal contribution.

Most ministers would give him the names he’d requested.

John would approach these people and ask for a contribution — just $5. Most of them would agree, and when they reached for their wallets he’d stop them, and ask for a check so the money wouldn’t get mixed up with his personal cash, and also act as a receipt at tax time. That always sounded good and they thought he was being very considerate. He’d thank them and be on his way.

Those were the days when banks kept deposit slips, blank checks and other bank paraphernalia out on those writing desks they had in their lobbies. John would take a supply of the checks and write a few checks payable to himself from each of the people who had contributed. He could copy their signatures perfectly, so it was only a matter of cashing those checks in a nearby town and scoot.

His penmanship kept the family well supplied, and he’d victimized only people a long way from home, but he was on the “Wanted” lists of several police departments.

Someone smelled a rat when he approached several ministers in the Roseau area, so he was arrested for theft by forgery before he could leave town.

A Roseau restaurant had the contract for feeding all the prisoners in the jail every meal every day. The jailer who worked the night shift brought John’s supper when he went to work. Everything seemed normal until the day shift went to work in the morning. The night man wasn’t there. They found him in the jail, locked in a cell, with his keys lying on a desk — too far away for them to be reached.

Some years later a man from Kandiyohi County met John walking down a Minneapolis street. When he greeted him by name John disappeared into a nearby alley and has not been seen around here since.

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