Herbert T. Andrews

Seventeen eyewitness identifications — all of them wrong

On November 1, 1913, Herbert T. Andrews was arrested, photographed, and charged with uttering (passing a fraudulent financial instrument) after a $30 check he had written to a Boston merchant was returned marked "no account." The charge was dismissed before the case came to court because the account on which the check was drawn had been active and in good standing when Andrews wrote the check. Had the check been deposited promptly, it would have cleared, but the merchant had held the check for several weeks and, in the interim, Andrews closed the account.

By the time that misunderstanding was resolved, police had shown Andrews's photograph to other Boston merchants and their employees who had recently accepted fraudulent checks. Seventeen witnesses identified him. Based on the identifications, a Suffolk County grand jury returned an indictment charging Andrews with forging and uttering forty-three checks.

Andrews was released on $1,200 bond pending trial. When he appeared for trial on February 10, 1914, however, two charges were added, necessitating a delay. Although Andrews had no criminal record, his bond was raised to $4,000, which was beyond his means. He was held in jail until trial, which began on February 23. After three days of testimony, the jury found Andrews guilty of all counts in which a witness identified him but acquitted him of all the other counts. He was sentenced to fourteen months in jail.

Fortunately for Andrews, bad checks similar to those for which he had been convicted continued to be passed in the Boston area. Police found the perpetrator, Earle Barnes, who confessed to forging and passing many of the checks for which Andrews had been convicted. When police informed the prosecutor of this, he moved to vacate the conviction and dismiss the indictment. Andrews was released on June 11, 1914. Six days later, Barnes pled guilty to three counts of forgery and was sentenced to eighteen months.

The prosecutor said, "Andrews and Barnes were as dissimilar in appearance as could be. There was several inches difference in height and there wasn't a similarity about them. I can't understand the positiveness of those witnesses." Photographs of the two men's faces, published in the newspaper, confirmed this dissimilarity.

— Rob Warden