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C. Elizabeth Lester

In 1935, several storeowners in New Brunswick and Plainfield, New Jersey, reported to police that they had been paid with fraudulent checks.
 
Not long after these incidences occurred, a woman named C. Elizabeth “Betty” Lester bounced a check she wrote out to a Plainfield bakery because her account was a few cents short. The baker insisted on taking her to court. Her friend and tenant, Clifford T. Shephard, accompanied her to court, at which time a witness to one of the fraudulent transactions identified him as the culprit in that crime. Other witnesses agreed that Shephard was the culprit and identified Lester as his accomplice. Lester and Shephard were arrested in November 1935 and quickly convicted after many of the eyewitnesses agreed that they were the culprits. They were each sentenced to serve nine months in prison for the forgery.
 
Upon their release from prison on the first forgery charges, Lester and Shephard were immediately arrested on another forgery charge. Once again, they were quickly convicted and sent back to prison. Lester was sentenced to another nine-month term, while Shephard was sentenced to two nine-month terms to be served concurrently.
 
Once released the second time, Shephard was again arrested on a forgery charge. However, Shephard had been in prison at the time this forgery in question occurred, so he was not indicted.
 
At this point, Shephard hired private detective H. A. Crowe to help him track down the true forgers. Crowe identified similarities between the crimes attributed to Lester and Shephard and the forgeries of Edward Eugene Sullivan, known as the “Phantom Forger,” and his wife. Sullivan and Shephard shared the same type of pronounced jaw. The Sullivans had been convicted on forgery charges in October 1938. Shephard visited Sullivan in prison, in the company of the Reverend Harvey G. Chaurvette, and Sullivan confessed that he had committed the crimes for which Shephard and Lester had been incarcerated.
 
Shephard twice presented this information to the pardon board and was denied until a newspaper reporter became interested in the story. Governor Alfred E. Driscoll eventually pardoned Shephard on June 14, 1950 and Lester on May 15, 1951. By the time her pardon was granted, Lester had married and changed her name to C. Elizabeth Wean.
 
After being pardoned, Shephard sought compensation from the New Jersey Legislature. In 1951, a bill was passed awarding $15,000 to Shephard.
 
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:NJ
County:Somerset
Most Serious Crime:Forgery or Counterfeiting
Reported Crime Date:1935
Convicted:1935
Exonerated:1951
Sentence:0.75 years/0.75 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:46
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID