In December 1910, a woman in New York City posted an advertisement in a newspaper looking for a job. In response, she received an obscene letter from an unknown writer. The woman reported the letter to the police and Anthony Comstock, the head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, became involved.
Comstock accompanied the woman to the meeting spot that the writer had proposed in his obscene letter. 32-year-old plasterer Oscar Krueger, who was a married father of a young child, passed by the meeting spot and Comstock became overzealously convinced that Krueger had been the writer of the letter. Comstock did not have an expert analyze or compare Krueger’s handwriting and that in the letter, but instead relied on his own opinion that the two sets of writing were a clear match.
Comstock pushed to have Krueger prosecuted. After a speedy trial, Krueger was convicted on a federal charge of using the U.S. mail for improper purposes in February 1911, and he was sent to a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was sentenced to spend eighteen months. “I was dazed,” Krueger recalled of his conviction. “I knew I was innocent and I could not understand why that court and the jury did not think so, too.”
Believing in Krueger’s innocence, his wife and sister began pursuing all avenues of vindication. An investigation into Krueger’s case was soon ordered by the Department of Justice. Several handwriting experts examined the obscene letter and handwriting samples from Krueger and determined that Krueger had not written the letter, though they could see that his handwriting would appear similar to that in the letter in the eyes of a layperson.
On January 19, 1912, President William H. Taft granted a full and unconditional pardon to Krueger on the basis of innocence. Newspapers reported that after a year in prison, Krueger had suffered a nervous collapse from the disgrace and stress of his wrongful conviction and was in ill health following his release.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.