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Gaede still a 'scammer'

Even behind the steel bars of prison, smooth-talking Dennis Gaede has found ways to charm his friends. Throughout his 40 years, Gaede has made a career of devising schemes to steal other people's identities, bilk thousands of dollars from unsuspe...

Even behind the steel bars of prison, smooth-talking Dennis Gaede has found ways to charm his friends.

Throughout his 40 years, Gaede has made a career of devising schemes to steal other people's identities, bilk thousands of dollars from unsuspecting friends and dodge the law.

Inside the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck, where Gaede is serving time for stealing the identity of a man found dismembered two years ago, he recently persuaded one inmate's family to file a petition to adopt him.

He asked another inmate to invest his inheritance so Gaede could publish a book.

Both incidents have prison officials closely monitoring Gaede's every move, ready to take away his job as one of the prison's four law library clerks.


"Actually, he was as quiet as a church mouse for a while, but the last two months, this stuff started coming up," said Pat Branson, the prison's deputy warden of operations.

"If he does cross any line anywhere, I'm just going to file a report and get him out of" the law library, Branson said.

Gaede's recent prison behavior draws similarities to his life before authorities arrested him in 2002 for outstanding Cass County warrants. At the time, law enforcement also wanted him for questioning in the disappearance of musician Timothy Wicks, 48, of Hales Corner, Wis.

Gaede was convicted of using Wicks' identity in 2001 to obtain a driver's license, embezzle more than $9,000 from his Fargo employer and buy a house in Gardner.

"He's a scammer," said Tim Schuetzle, warden for the Bismarck prison. "He's like a lot of inmates here."

"He's not a model inmate, but he's far from the worst," Schuetzle said.

Gaede, who met with a Forum reporter three times in October 2002, declined a request last week for an interview.

Previously, he called Wicks a friend who helped him and denied a role in the death, while also reciting his life as a motorcycle gang member and a police informant. Gaede has assumed at least four fake identities, including Wicks' and that of a 7-year-old Canadian boy who died in 1981.


Death in Gardner

Diane Fruge was Gaede's wife at the time the two lived with her young son in an aging farmhouse on the edge of rural Gardner. Gaede appeared to be an upstanding business owner when she met him, Fruge told Milwaukee's WISN-TV last week.

He later convinced her to take the blame for Wicks' murder, she told the TV station.

"My husband, or my ex-husband, was very good at what he does," Fruge said. "He could talk the paint off of this wall."

She's also heard Gaede pinned Wicks' murder on her, but claims it was Gaede who shot and killed Wicks in their Gardner home.

He later dumped Wicks' torso and head in a river along the Wisconsin-Michigan border, she said.

In her defense, Fruge said, Gaede appeared charming when they married in 2001. She remained quiet about Wicks' death, Fruge said, because she believed authorities would eventually link Gaede to the death through DNA evidence.

Late last year, forensic tests were inconclusive, and North Dakota investigators who scoured the Gardner home never found enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime.


Now, Fruge said, she must come forward to tell the truth, even if it means facing charges of her own. She wants to strike a deal with prosecutors for immunity in exchange for testifying against Gaede, although she said she helped him dispose of the body.

"He asked me to help roll him (Wicks) onto a tarp and took him out to the barn," she said. "That's where Tim froze."

'Lived in fear'

Fruge, 38, lives in New Berlin, a Milwaukee suburb, and works at a McDonald's restaurant.

Last March, she filed divorce papers in Waukesha County Court, citing "irreconcilable differences." A judge approved the divorce Feb. 5 and granted her the couple's two cars.

Fruge, who doesn't own a phone, didn't respond to interview requests left with those who know her.

However, in TV reports last week, Fruge said the couple and Fruge's child moved from the Milwaukee area to North Dakota so Gaede could assume Wicks' identity.

Both faced legal problems at the time: She was wanted on a felony child custody violation involving her 3-year-old son from another relationship, while Gaede faced several charges, including bail jumping, escape and forgery.


As Wicks' accountant and friend, Gaede had prepared Wicks' tax returns and had his personal information, Fruge said. She said Gaede later found a job in Fargo, applied for credit cards and bought the Gardner home using Wicks' name.

When Wicks found out someone had used his identity to apply for a credit card, Gaede devised a plan to pick Wicks up in Milwaukee and promised him a drum-playing gig in Canada, she said.

Wicks was last seen leaving his Hales Corner home on Dec. 26, 2001, carrying drums to Gaede's car, according to the FBI.

On the way to Canada, Gaede and Wicks stopped in Gardner. One night when Fruge and her son went to bed, Gaede and Wicks stayed up late to drink. Fruge said she later saw Wicks lying on the kitchen floor, and Gaede told her that he had shot him.

"I've lived in fear since it happened," Fruge said.

The family rented a U-Haul truck, and Gaede later cut off Wicks' frozen head and hands with a handsaw in the back of the truck, she said.

Fruge also told the TV station that Gaede wanted her to tell authorities Wicks raped her and she shot him in self-defense.

Wicks' body, minus the hands and head, was found Jan. 2, 2002, under a Menominee River bridge west of Nathan, Mich. Two weeks later, his head was found 35 miles up the river near Niagara, Wis.


The family went on the run and a nationwide manhunt prompted a tip leading to his arrest at a Lincoln, Neb., campground on March 5, 2002.

Unresolved case

The lead investigator in Wisconsin, Hales Corner police detective Kent Schoonover, said the case rests with North Dakota authorities.

"The homicide didn't happen here," he said. "My part of the investigation is over. All the rest is up to North Dakota."

But Schoonover wouldn't comment on whether Fruge is a suspect in the case, or whether she may face charges relating to Wicks' death.

"She has been through a considerable amount in the past couple months," he said. "Unless you've been in the position yourself, it's hard to imagine how anyone would react.

"I think she needs to be left alone."

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said he plans to take a deliberate approach in analyzing the case. He declined to comment on any evidence the state may have collected, or whether more than one person may face charges, but talks regularly with investigators.


"If we can prove the murder here, we will charge it out," Burdick said. "We plan to solve that murder."

Lt. Rick Majerus and an FBI agent from Fargo talked to Fruge in late February, before the Milwaukee TV station aired her interview. For now, investigators aren't saying whether they are any closer to charging someone in Wicks' death.

But Majerus said officials have learned about new tips in the past few months, leading to more interviews with people authorities hadn't questioned.

"Every little piece leads you somewhere else," he said. "Nothing's going to change right now."

Authorities have time on their side. Gaede will be sent to Wisconsin to face three forgery charges once he completes his sentence in Bismarck on Aug. 12, 2005.

Both Majerus and Burdick declined to comment on whether they'd offer a deal to Fruge for her testimony.

Whether Fruge's testimony in a courtroom would mirror her comments to a Milwaukee reporter, and if it would even be allowed, also remains unknown.

It's a step Fruge told WISN she's ready to take.

"I have to get rid of this burden," she said. "I believe I'm going to have to testify. I'm ready."

Incidents in prison

As a prison law clerk, Gaede earns $1.65 per day. The state Corrections Department trains inmates for the job, a move to meet federal regulations requiring prisons to provide access to legal services.

Through the job, Gaede helps inmates research state laws and draft legal papers. It also brought Gaede back to Fargo in late January for a court hearing for inmate Jonathan Greywind.

Court papers say Gaede collected several affidavits for Greywind, who asked a judge to shorten his prison term on an attempted murder conviction.

Prison records show Gaede has violated minor prison rules like swearing in the law library and leaving the door open while talking to an inmate, resulting in short revocations of privileges.

He also hasn't had any visitors since authorities transferred him from Cass County to the prison 17 months ago.

In the prison's investigation into his attempted adoption, Gaede told officials he was upset with his own family. While on the lam, Gaede's sister, Sue Coons, said her brother had always been in trouble.

"He decided he would rather be a member of the other inmate's family," Branson said. "We looked at all the angles and what he could gain from it.

"He wanted to use their name. It's kind of a long, drawn-out, complicated way to change your name."

The prison investigation began after Ramsey County officials tipped off corrections' officials about the attempted adoption.

Clerk Faye McIntyre raised suspicions after a Devils Lake, N.D., woman petitioned to adopt Gaede and the court received a Corrections Department check from Gaede's prison account for the filing fee.

But Branson remains skeptical of Gaede's answer.

"We look at Gaede's history and it's pretty well-established that Gaede is somewhat of a con man," Branson said. "It's very bizarre. I'm not totally convinced that there isn't some other hidden intent. It's off the wall."

Branson is even less amused by Gaede's attempt to persuade an inmate to turn over inheritance money for a book.

Prison rules prohibit inmates from giving other inmates money, he said.

However, since Gaede hadn't put anything on paper, prison officials couldn't discipline him.

"It was one of those things where we caught it too early," Branson said.

"He was trying to drum up money to get it published. Personally, I think it was a scam for this inmate to turn over money."

Readers can reach Minnesota Regional Editor Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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