Jan. 13, 2006 — -- Student reporters at a Minnesota high school exposed a prospective transfer who said he was a member of the British royal family as a fraud, a 22-year-old adult, and a registered sex offender.
When a prospective transfer student claimed he was Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV, fifth Duke of Cleveland, and a member of the British royal family, he sparked the interest of the Stillwater Area High School newspaper staff. But when student reporters began investigating, they discovered the "student's" picture on a list for registered sex offenders.
Caspian's real name was Joshua Gardner, and he had been convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota's Winona County in 2003.
Gardner was arrested, accused of violating his parole and having unsupervised contact with minors.
"I was convinced at first but something did not add up," said Matt Murphy, 17, co-editor in chief of The Pony Express. "I did some research, and there is no Duke of Cleveland. He said he lived in the castle Falkland, which does not exist and which he spelled wrong."
Fellow co-editors and high school seniors Karlee Weinmann, Chantal Leonhard and Marisa Riley were also in on the investigation.
The four reporters said that during a two-hour interview, Gardner spoke with a convincing accent and at great length about his British lineage. Gardner also claimed that he knew Prince Harry, Prince William and Queen Elizabeth, and that Princess Diana used to baby-sit him, according to the student reporters.
The reporters uncovered their first clue when they read the entry for the Duke of Cleveland on Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that takes submissions from readers. The entry was written by Joshua Gardner, a name that also turned up on the National Sex Offender Public Registry.
"We took what we found to the administration, which was also looking into him, and he was arrested 18 hours later," Murphy said.
The students discovered Gardner's identity on Monday; Gardner was arrested Tuesday morning.
"At first I thought it was a cry for attention, but it turned out to be so much bigger," Weinmann said. "I was shocked. This was the last thing we suspected."
Gardner was released from jail Thursday night.
"It's kind of a disappointment," Murphy said. "Our entire motivation behind this was to make sure guys like this aren't on the streets."
Murphy said he was confident the justice system would prevail.