My new book has just come out. This book, called “Notorious Jefferson County,” is quite different from my previous work, “Forgotten Heroes and Villains of Sand Creek.” Although it’s about murder, it’s somehow a lot less serious than the Sand Creek story, though of course, the victims might argue with that. Let’s just say it was much less emotionally draining than writing about Sand Creek.
You might call this book historical true crime. The stories are all murder cases that took place within Jefferson County, Colorado about a hundred years ago. Jefferson County is a big place so geographically speaking, these events happened all over the place, including the upper Platte region — Shaffer’s Crossing, Pine Grove, South Platte, Gill’s Resort (today’s Wigwam Club resort), and of course in Golden, Leyden, Edgewater. Some stories happened in places that no longer exist, like Semper (in today’s Westminster) and Midway (in today’s Lakewood). A couple of the more horrific stories happened close to each other (though a few years apart) along today’s West Colfax, which at the time was called the South Golden Road or the “Cement Road.” These would all be in today’s Lakewood.
Now for a few tempting nibbles from turn-of-the-century Jefferson County Colorado:
The Case of the Lovelorn Prodigy (1919)
Back in 1904, Dr. Charles Spivak founded the Jewish Consumptives Relief Society (JCRS). JCRS was a sprawling complex of 35 or so buildings that served as a hospital for folks suffering from consumption. One of his “permanent” patients was a young Russian musical prodigy named Isadore Victor. The temperamental artist came close to death on a fairly regular basis. During one of these crises he was nursed back to life by a lovely young nurse named Bessie Marold. Isadore became so smitten with Bessie, he asked her to marry him on a fairly regular basis. However, Bessie had other plans and she repeatedly told him no. Unfortunately, Isadore did not react well to this rejection.
Hellion in the High Country (1899 and 1915)
Shaffer’s Crossing today isn’t much to see … a pretty green field being munched over by a horse or two and a few old sheds and such. A hundred years ago, Shaffer’s Crossing was a stop on the stage route. Among other things, it offered a small store operated by Fred and Emma Wallace. Unfortunately, this pair not only had several kids, they had some serious issues with booze and had developed a friendship with a fellow named Archie Briscoe. As might be expected, Archie’s friendship with Emma was a little more developed, and this led to a very ugly showdown one Friday night.
Perhaps Fred Wallace might have been a little more leery of Archie Briscoe if he had known that, sixteen years earlier, Briscoe had killed a saloon keeper named Thomas Crowdis in Pine Grove.
How Deadman Gulch Got its Name (1872)
South of Golden lies a pretty gulch — today accessible via Eagle Ridge Drive. Many locals are unaware that this bucolic spot, with its springtime waterfall, is called Deadman Gulch. It earned this name over 125 years ago when, one year apart, two men were found dead there. Both had been murdered.
The Orchitic Strangulator (1893)
The most gruesome story in the book, this is a tale of jealousy and revenge among members of the McCurdy family of Golden — and a town’s wrath.
Love Triangle at Sherie’s Ranch (1923)
During the days of Prohibition, Colorado was no stranger to illegal stills and private drinking parties. One of those places was a ranch house on today’s West Colfax where a man named Andrew Sherie lived and died a violent death. He didn’t die alone — the wife of Denver’s assistant fire chief, Mrs. Georgia Bryan, went with him, having found out the hard way that “letting it all hang out” can be deadly. Her friend and admirer, Arthur Mitchell, came up with several creative explanations about what exactly he did to them on that fateful afternoon.
The Mystery of the Winter Camper (1921)
Mr. S.S. Yamaguchi was a wealthy businessman who had tuberculosis. He decided that camping during the winter up on Genesee Mountain might ease his suffering. He spent several months there but in January, Mr. Yamaguchi vanished. As police searched for him, rumors circulated that he had run off to California or other spots. Police soon zeroed in on the troubled local boy who was spreading the rumors, a boy named Sam Franklin who had already been arrested for burning down someone’s house. When spring came, Mrs. Yamaguchi found out what really happened to her husband and the chase after Sam Franklin began.
Murder on Table Mountain (1910)
In one of the most sensational murder cases of the period, Mrs. Maria Laguardia was missing for an entire year before her body was found in a washed out gully up on South Table Mountain. The bizarre tale of how she was lured up to the mountain by her “god-daughter,” Angelina Garramone, and two other women, was hard to believe. And what happened to her up on the mountain was crazy and horrifying. The star witnesses in the subsequent trial, Stella Forgione and her mother Concetta, were not entirely innocent themselves.
Mr. Bellew Runs Amuck (1912)
Now a ghost town on the South Platte River, the village of South Platte was once an important stage and railroad stop on the route up to Leadville and other mining towns. A stage coach driver who lived there, George Bellew, one day lost his mind and went on a shooting and burning rampage that injured several and destroyed the The South Platte Hotel, run by Charles and Mata Walbrecht.
A Most Tragic Corner of the County
A Muddled Case of Frontier Justice (1868)
This is the story of professional crooks, Ed Franklin and Sanford Duggan, and their fateful encounter with “General” Davy Cook and his men in Golden City. The unfortunate victim of this bungled “capture” was an innocent local man named Miles Hill.
The McQueary-Shaffer Feud (1907)
Two well-known families in the upper Platte region, the McQuearys and Shaffers had been feuding for some time — but nobody seemed to know exactly why. One day on a ranch near Shaffer’s Crossing, the feud came to a violent end over the trivial matter of some railroad ties. Grant McQueary lost his life and the young Albert Shaffer had to leave the area for good.
Murder of the Judge’s Son (1916)
A group of “vacationers” at Gill’s Resort — now called the Wigwam Resort — is shocked when an acquaintance named James Brown bursts into their cottage and shoots Frank Hughes Turner in the head. Turner, brother to the famous silent film actress, Maidel Turner, was not an entirely innocent victim however. It turns out he was formerly a partner to Brown and something had gone wrong between them after they pulled a con together down in Cuba. Investigators would be taken on a wild ride in efforts to track down this crew of swindlers and blackmailers. One of the investigators on this case was Leonard DeLue of Denver’s DeLue Detective Agency.
The Headless Skeleton (1924)
When hikers found a headless skeleton one spring day in Golden Gate Canyon, authorities had no clue who the man could be. They soon got word that it might be a young Nebraska police officer named John Afferbach, who had vanished years earlier while escorting a crook named Harry Randolph back to Nebraska.
A Divorce Most Foul (1883)
It was hard to tell whether Marmaduke P. Switzer was just mad with grief over his divorce or just plain mad. People swore to both versions of the fellow. It didn’t matter much to Theodore Jones, who was wooing Switzer’s wife, Ella Stover. Ella divorced Marmaduke and made plans to marry Theodore, but it turned out Marmaduke couldn’t let that happen.
A Clash over Cucumbers (1881)
A patch of cucumbers turned out to be enough for John Berki and Peter Spink to shoot over.
The Missing Wagonmaster (1979)
When Reuben B. Hayward hired himself and his wagon and team out to two men, he had no idea the two fellows were in the middle of a crime spree. When Hayward didn’t return from the trip, his wife did not rest until he was found — which he was, eventually. Lying dead in a ditch. The hunt for his killers by “General” Dave Cook and his men was long, arduous, and ultimately successful. As it turned out, Samuel Woodruff and Seminole Jack, would never have their day in court.
The Peculiar Case of Mary Cobb (1910)
Mary Cobb lived with her brother, Bert Hodge, and a lodger and helper, Marion Shobe. One Saturday morning, Mary was found dead in their small cabin near the old village of Midway (at today’s Wadsworth and West Jewell Avenues in Lakewood). Shobe was a black man so, considering the day and age, it’s not too surprising that he was instantly arrested. Bert was also arrested for awhile, but it was Marion Shobe who eventually went on trial for murder — with surprising results.
A Horse with Only One Shoe (1884)
When Robert and Marie Standring were found shot to death at their cabin on Elk Creek near Shaffer’s Crossing, there were plenty of theories about what happened. One theory was that Marie’s former husband, who had disappeared years earlier, had come back and had his revenge against the couple. Authorities, however, zeroed in on “Uncle” John Carrothers, who was feuding with Standring and supposedly tried to hire a local drunk to help him kill the couple.
The Mystery of the Crescent Postmaster (1918)
Today a windswept meadow south of Gross Reservoir, Crescent was once the scene of the brutal murder of Fred E. Bill. Bill was shot in the head through the window of his store by a sniper hiding among the trees. Investigators soon began to focus on a local man named Louis Seeley, who was showing inordinate interest in the case.
A Bully Gets his Due (1918)
Back before the town of Westminster, the village of Semper was situated around the intersection of 92nd Avenue and Pierce Street. One cold Sunday morning, W.H. Harriman returned from a drinking binge in Denver’s bars to the small farmhouse where his young wife and her brother, Ralph York, cowered in terror waiting for his return. Earlier, Harriman had torn up the house and threatened the two. This time, however, Harriman had a nasty surprise in store.
The Voices Made Him Do It (1920)
Everyone thought Orrin and Mary Babcock and their son Vernon had a great life together. They lived on the Terry ranch (near today’s West Colfax in Lakewood), where Orrin was foreman. This all changed one weekend when Mary and Vernon were found murdered in the ranchhouse. Orrin Backcock was nowhere to be found.