The Mystery Woman Who Tried to Outdo Dillinger

Behind bars in the same jail as the ‘Public Enemy No. 1,’ the Jane Doe had succeeded at erasing her fingerprints where Dillinger had failed. But cops still unraveled her baffling story.

Allen County Sheriff’s Office

The cops in Ohio did not know it when they struggled to fingerprint her, but their prisoner would prove to be a mystery woman who would seem to outdo Dillinger.

After what one cop called “a heck of a fuss,” they finally managed to print her. They were stunned by the result.

“There’s nothing there,” a cop announced.

The prisoner had somehow managed to obliterate every identifying swirl on the tips of her fingers and every line on her palms, something none of the cops had ever seen before.

Back in 1933, the infamous “Public Enemy No. 1,” John Dillinger, had tried to burn off his fingerprints with acid prior to being held in the Allen County jail, the same lock-up in the same small town, Lima, where the mystery woman was now behind bars. But he had not succeeded in erasing all the ridges. There had been no question about his identity when his gang staged a jailbreak, killing the Allen County sheriff in the process.

This new Allen County prisoner was no desperado and was charged only with using a false birth certificate to obtain an Ohio identification card.

But somehow she had succeeded in erasing her fingerprints where Dillinger and many other criminals had failed.

And her DNA proved not to be in any available database.

She suggested in court on Friday that the cops might would not have learned her real name if she had done something to alter her appearance.

“If I had not been identifiable when the photo of me went out across the nation, if I had gotten a shorter haircut or gone blond, which I haven’t been in more than 20 years,” she told the judge as she entered a guilty plea.

As it was, police got a call from somebody in Florida who had recognized a photo that had been taken after her arrest. The caller correctly identified her as Ann Marie Miller, a 40-year-old former Virginia bankruptcy lawyer who had been disbarred for failing to perform legal work for which she had been paid.

From what the police could determine, Miller had been a young lawyer of considerable promise when her life took a bad turn. She has been reported to have suffered a mental unraveling over a romance with her law partner that had begun when they were classmates at Appalachian Law School. She denies this, telling a reporter in Lima that she felt well rid of the man.

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In court papers, Miller says the relationship with Jeffrey Kessler had continued after they opened an office together in Vinton, Virginia, and that she had become pregnant by him. Kessler says they had stopped dating before their graduation in 2007 and that he had played no part in her pregnancy. He also denies that he pressured her to have an abortion, as she would contend.

Whatever the truth, Miller hardly seems to have shrugged it off when the partner married a paralegal who worked in their office. Miller was arrested for entering the couple’s home and assaulting her law partner’s new wife, Jennifer Kelley.

The couple obtained an order of protection. Miller nonetheless appears to have sent them a Facebook message reading: “I hope for nothing more than for you two to learn the meaning of grief by losing everything you both have.”

As subsequently recounted by federal Judge Edward Moss, Miller “engaged in a continuous campaign to harass and intimidate” the couple. The loss of her law license in 2009 did not prevent Miller from filing six civil actions against Kessler and four against his wife. Miller also filed a suit against his father, Donald Kessler, and another against his mother, Constance Kessler.

One suit charged Jeffrey Kessler with coercing Miller into having an abortion.

“As part of his campaign to pressure the Plaintiff into an abortion, he ‘married’ Jennifer Ann Kelley,’” Miller says in court papers.

In another suit, filed in distant Alaska against Kessler and his parents, Miller charged him with losing a pet bobcat that she supposedly kept in Anchorage, though she had never lived there.

“I let the defendant walk my bobcat, Sammy, and he didn’t keep him on his leash and he got away,” Miller says in the complaint. “I want $90,000 for my cat and $600,000 in damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. A total of $690,000. Donald and Constance Kessler were with him and had a duty to make sure he didn’t get away because I let all three of them walk Sammy.”

Miller also filed three dissolution of marriage actions against Jeffrey Kessler in three counties of Colorado.

“Despite, as courts have repeatedly determined, that she was never married to him,” Judge Moss noted.

One of the suits against Kelley charged her with defamation for calling Miller an “intimacy stalker” in her LiveJournal page. Miller took particular exception to a post in which Kelley had worried she might fall victim to foul play.

“Setting the record straight—if anything happens, it was Ann Marie Miller,” Kelley had written.

In 2010, Miller obtained a provisional license as a medical marijuana caregiver in Colorado. She was arrested for possessing more pot plants than she was legally allowed, but the charge was dropped after she insisted she was also a patient.

At one point, she entered into a contract with a couple named Tamra and Tom Bennett to purchase eight rental properties. She made a $35,000 deposit, but the sale did not go through when she was unable to get insurance because the properties supposedly had mold. The mold report seems to have come from Miller herself. She is said in court papers to have begun collecting rent from the properties as she pursued a suit against the Bennetts seeking the return of her $35,000 deposit as well as $400,000 for breach of contract. The case was not going her way when she emailed Bennett’s attorney:

“I will not give up. If Mr. and Mrs. Bennett die of natural causes before I win, I’ll go after their son. I simply will not give up. I will stop when I actually get my $35,000 back. That’s when it’s over. I don’t care how many times I lose. If I lose in America, I’ll go to Canada and Argentina simultaneously.”

Miller sued Tamra Bennett for supposedly killing her house cat in Alaska.

“The defendant ran her car over the plaintiff’s cat on purpose and caused grief and suffering in the amount of $500,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and $90,000 for the cat itself,” Miller wrote in the complaint. “My cat was unique and there is no other cat just like him.”

In the meantime, Miller was busted on 14 counts of theft, fraud, and forgery in an alleged attempt to fraudulently obtain the title to two unattended buildings. She allegedly sought to sell one she did not own for $300,000. She has denied all the allegations.

Miller failed to make a court date and an arrest warrant was issued. Police say she fled to Florida and became a caretaker of an elderly man. She allegedly determined that Maine was the easiest state in which to obtain a birth certificate and brought him along as she headed north by bus.

On the way, the man fell ill, and Miller checked him into a Boston hospital. She continued on to Maine and secured a birth certificate in the name of Julia Wadsworth.

After their return to Florida, the elderly man died. A family there asked if Miller if was interested in caring for an elderly woman in Lima, Ohio. She took the job.

Miller was able to use the Maine birth certificate to secure an Ohio identity card as Julia Wadsworth. She then tried to use the ID to secure a Social Security number, telling the local office that she had never received one. Her ultimate goal may have been to get a passport and leave the country.

But the Social Security people required an FBI fingerprint check. She was summoned for one and she reportedly showed up with her hand covered with salve, saying she had contracted “fungal dermatitis.” An agent insisted they proceed anyway and she asked to go to the bathroom, apparently to wipe the stuff off her hands. She is said to have just kept walking.

On July 9, there came a knock at the door of the house where Miller was caring for the elderly woman. Miller opened it to see an Allen County deputy. She turned and tried to bolt out the back, only to encounter a sheriff’s detective.

When they subsequently managed to fingerprint her, she seemed to have outdone Dillinger. The only thing the cops could establish about her was that she was not Julia Wadsworth. She was listed as Jane Doe when she appeared in court.

One detective theorized that she had soaked her hand in something akin to cuticle softener and then used a file, repeating the process over a period of months.

She was not saying.

She also continued to refuse to identify herself when she was brought into the office of Sheriff Samuel Crish, whose position happens to have once been held by the lawman murdered by Dillinger’s gang.

“I said, ‘You will never leave here until we find out who you are,’” Crish later told The Daily Beast. “She was OK with that. She just said she wanted to take the Fifth. She told me, ‘I think you’re doing a good job as sheriff.’”

She said she was particularly impressed with the efforts he had made on behalf of the county’s elderly.

“The conversation with her was just bizarre,” Crish recalled.

But she was pleasant, soft-spoken, almost timid. And she was clearly more intelligent than your average crook.

“She was no dummy by any means,” Crish noted. “Just different.”

After the local paper posted her picture online and the cops got the call from Florida, she is said to have initially denied that she was Miller. She then seemed to accept there was no use fighting it.

On Friday, she appeared in court as Ann Marie Miller, again proving herself to be no dummy and decidedly different. She entered a guilty plea on the Ohio charges and recited a Dr. Seuss kind of riff, listing “things I really liked about the Allen County jail.”

“My pants match my shirt. My shoes match my spork. The eggs haven’t been green. Nobody’s been too mean. There’s no alligators. And it’s not haunted,” she said.

“Excuse me, no alligators and not haunted?” Judge David Cheney asked.

“Exactly,” Miller said. “I promise. That’s 100 percent correct. Not a single alligator.”

She had been far more content than Dillinger had been to be a prisoner there.

“My stay at the Allen County jail has been really awesome, with a lot of friendly correctional officers and wonderful inmates,” she said.

The judge imposed a sentence of 18 months, after which she will be turned over to Colorado, where she faces as many as 40 years in prison. The judge felt compelled to pose a question.

“I got to ask, Ms. Miller, in today’s society with communications being what they are, surveillance being what it is, means of identification being what they are, and generally the movement of information at speeds that blow one away…How did you think this scam would ever get played out, being as smart as you must be? How did you ever think that would work?”

She replied that she might well have succeeded if she had done more to change her appearance.

“If I would have done that, that would have worked,” she said.

Later, she told a local reporter that she had used a chemical to erase her fingerprints. The reporter noted that they have now grown back—so perhaps she had not managed to outdo Dillinger, after all.