For years, Dennis Gaede has lived a double life.

As a member of a motorcycle gang, he was a police informant.

He's used at least four fake identities, including that of Timothy Wicks, found murdered Jan. 2 along the Wisconsin and northern Michigan border.

The 39-year-old former Fargo bookkeeper says he's innocent of Wicks' murder.

But Gaede enjoys the attention from investigators and inmates at the Cass County Jail.

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"When people walk into the jail, almost everyone knows who I am," Gaede said during one of three jail interviews last week. "They base popularity on your criminal act."

Tuesday, the FBI and other local investigators questioned Gaede about the murder.

No formal murder charges have been filed against Gaede, but court papers name him as the primary suspect. Investigators have scoured the Gardner, N.D., home where he briefly lived, looking for evidence linking him to Wicks' death.

Last week, a judge sentenced Gaede to four years in prison for theft, theft by deception and insurance fraud.

Those charges, in part, showed Gaede used the identity of Wicks, a 48-year-old Milwaukee-area man.

Gaede asked to talk to investigators before his impending transfer to the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.

"I had them at the edge of their seats," he said. "I bet very shortly they are going to announce they were pointing the finger at the wrong person. I told them I was going to help them anyway I can."

Asked by The Forum to take a polygraph test, Gaede said he would take one for the FBI.

Undercover life

Growing up in Milwaukee, Gaede said he lived a normal childhood and when his father died in 1986, Gaede inherited a small vacation spot in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The youngest of five siblings, and the only son, Gaede worked as a paper carrier at 11 and a mechanic at 16.

He was interested in science, music, the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts.

"I was never in trouble," Gaede said. "I was a very quiet kid.

"We weren't a criminal-type family. It was a very normal, middle-class family."

At 19, Gaede said he married and opened a towing company, where he was first exposed to police work and drug dealing.

Later, Gaede said he worked for a Harley Davidson dealer and discovered motorcycles were being smuggled and sold in Europe.

Gaede began working as a confidential informant in the Milwaukee and Monroe County areas. He aspired to work as a police officer.

"It's more of an analytical thing," he said. "Some things are so obvious they're not. A lot of reasons people are criminals are because they are stupid. It's their way of life. I'm not one of those people."

As a motorcycle gang member, Gaede worked as an informant and gave a tip which led to the arrest of other club members, said Dave Parks, a former undercover officer in Monroe County.

Gaede said his life took a turn for the worse once he established ties with the police.

"Ever since I was in law enforcement, it's been chaotic," Gaede said. "I didn't have a criminal record until I got involved with law enforcement."

Breaking the law

Gaede's problems with the law started in 1987 when he was convicted for concealing stolen property and a judge sentenced him to one year of probation.

Despite the conviction, the Marshfield (Wis.) Police Department hired him in 1991 as an officer.

Joseph Stoik, an officer there at the time, is now the department's police chief.

"He came highly recommended from the Milwaukee area," Stoik said. "He was a very smooth talker."

Gaede was fired less than three months into the job and convicted for possessing cocaine and obstructing an officer.

He also was convicted in 1994 for issuing worthless checks and in 1995 for being a party to escape and aiding a felon.

Gaede fled to Winnipeg before his 1995 sentencing hearing. In Canada, Gaede said he played in bands for two years until members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club gave him a false identity.

The FBI said Gaede used names such as Luke Gagnon, Grant Lindblom and Grant Gareau. The real Gagnon was a 7-ear-old boy who died in 1981, FBI officials said.

In early 2000, Gaede was kicked out of Canada and returned to Wisconsin.

Currently, he faces three Wisconsin felony charges accusing him of forging checks last January.

Another false identity

On his way back to Wisconsin, Gaede said he stopped in Fargo, where his mother wired him money.

"I was here in the middle of the night and it looked like a very peaceful town," Gaede said.

When he returned to Wisconsin, Gaede said he opened up a tax office. He also met Wicks and Diana Fruge, whom he married in May 2001.

Gaede said she was looking for a fresh start and he had been receiving death threats.

"I had a lot of friends that were aware of what was going to happen," he said. "I was telling her how nice a place Fargo was. I told her that we have to do something really quick."

In August 2001, the couple moved to Fargo and he began using the identity of Wicks, a client of Gaede's tax business.

"Some people offered to help us disappear," Gaede said.

He nodded when asked if Wicks was one of those people. "He wasn't the only one," Gaede said.

When pressed, though, Gaede wouldn't give names of others who helped. "I don't want anyone else mixed into this," he said.

Gaede used the identity to obtain a North Dakota driver's license, embezzle more than $9,000 from his employer and purchase the home in Gardner.

The day after Christmas, Gaede and Wicks were seen loading a set of drums into a car outside Wicks' apartment complex.

A self-employed painter, Wicks played drums and told friends he planned to travel to Canada with a man who had done his taxes last year.

The first report of Wicks missing came last year between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Kent Schoonover, a police detective in Wicks' hometown of Hales Corner, Wis., has investigated the death for 10 months.

"Tim was a very personable guy," Schoonover said. "I haven't found any enemies or anybody who didn't like him.

"He could be best described as a nice, laid-back and trusting guy."

Authorities waiting

As detectives in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan try to determine where Wicks was murdered, Schoonover believes they'll get the break they need.

"It bothers me this case isn't closed yet," he said. "I'm also very patient. I'm just waiting."

Police said Gaede's wife was seen at Wicks' apartment a week later. She also may have returned Wicks' car keys to a dealership.

Gaede was seen at a Moorhead music shop between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30.

In January, Wicks' torso and head were discovered in separate areas along the Menominee River. Investigators have looked for Wicks' severed hands, but with no success.

A Minnesota couple who camped next to Gaede in Tennessee tipped off authorities after seeing information about him, leading to Gaede's arrest March 4 at a Nebraska campsite.

During interviews, Gaede wouldn't say why he assumed the identity of Wicks.

"I didn't really choose" Wicks' identity, he said. "There was a big problem back there (Wisconsin) and a lot of people stepped up to the plate to help. Friends help friends."

By using Wicks' identity, Gaede knows circumstances point to him as a suspect.

"I'm not worried about it at all," he said. "I'm not the one who killed him."

The FBI and Cass County authorities will not comment on the ongoing investigation.

But those familiar with Gaede and Wicks' death are convinced they've singled out the right guy.

"He's living in his own world," Schoonover said. "This stuff about corrupt cops and being killed in prison is a bunch of crap. He's a very good con man."

And elaborate stories aren't anything new for Gaede, Parks said.

Now, Parks works for the Madison Police Department. He downplayed Gaede's stories of exposing corrupt police officers and big drug deals.

"He used to call me and tell me they were going to kill him," Parks said. "I think he's a big story teller."

Parks also won't venture a guess about why Gaede used Wicks' identity.

"I have no idea what that guy could do," he said. "He's always been a mystery to me."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542