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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

100 years ago in Spokane: Man claiming to be World War I veteran exposed as fraud

Authorities became suspicious of “Major” J.H. Stern, who was scheduled to lecture at the Spokane YMCA and Rotary Club about his harrowing experiences in the European War, after receiving reports of his shady past dealings, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Jan. 18, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)
Authorities became suspicious of “Major” J.H. Stern, who was scheduled to lecture at the Spokane YMCA and Rotary Club about his harrowing experiences in the European War, after receiving reports of his shady past dealings, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Jan. 18, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)

“Major” J.H. Stern, was scheduled to lecture at the Spokane YMCA and Rotary Club about his harrowing experiences in the European War. He intended to describe how he received a grievous bullet wound in his back.

Instead, he found himself arrested as “the most brazen impostor who has ever attempted to inflict himself upon the Spokane public,” according to the U.S. marshal.

Authorities became suspicious after receiving reports of his shady past dealings in St. Paul, Stern’s hometown.

So the marshal decided to call Stern’s bluff, by calling Stern into his office and removing the surgical dressings from his back. Stern claimed to be suffering from multiple battle wounds, including an embedded bullet.

Although Stern emitted “piteous” groans while the dressings were removed, no bullet wound was found. Another witness, a British/Canadian army captain, reported no trace “of a wound of any description.”

Stern’s explanation? His memory had been faulty ever since his trauma in France.

The marshal’s verdict? Stern was an “understudy of Ananias,” in other words, a deceiver.

Further investigation corroborated that verdict. He claimed to be an American doctor who went to London when the war broke out and enlisted in the Queen Victoria medical unit. However, he had not graduated from a Chicago medical college, as he claimed. Not only was there no record of him serving with British forces, he apparently had failed to register for the American draft.

Also, a barber who employed him in St. Paul said Stern embezzled money from the shop and disappeared.

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