Hard Time

The oldest lifer in Colorado prisons is dying to be anywhere but here.

"I didn't tell no lies about what happened," she says.

No matter how old and how sick Madson is, Redd has no tears for him.

"He should die in prison," she says bluntly. "Don't let him make you feel sympathy for him. Don't you dare. No one wants to die in prison, but he put himself in there. No one did it for him. He is a threat. There are a lot of sick and dying people in this world who deserve your sympathy. He ain't one of them."

On October 3, 1941, the Eastern Colorado Plainsman & The Range Ledgerpublished a story under the headline "Slayer Signs Confession," with a verbatim account of Madson's signed statement. It is very different from the tale he tells today.

Madson's rap sheet dates back to 1935. He stole corn, cigarettes and a WPA check from a neighbor. And he did time at the state Industrial School in Golden, the state reformatory in Buena Vista, the state penitentiary in Cañon City and federal prisons in Nevada, Oklahoma and California.

Four days after his 23rd birthday, Madson arrived in La Junta, determined to "go straight." He moved in with his parents and took jobs at the ice plant loading produce into boxcars and picking onions in the fields.

Two weeks later he ran into Frank Madill, a 27-year-old machinist with a seventh-grade education. The two had known each other from school and crossed paths in prison, where Madill had served time for burglary. Before long, the two men launched a series of "thieving expeditions" in and around Walsenburg, Gardener and Rocky Ford. They burglarized service stations and cafes and hauled away slot machines and cigarettes. They stole a car and abandoned it.

But the crimes netted them little more than pocket money, so they set their sights on a job that could net them more than $100: robbing a general store some eighty miles north of La Junta. It was called Punkin Center because its owner, a 67-year-old bachelor named Howard Stevens, had painted it orange. At the intersection of highways 71 and 94, it was a landmark.

And a target.

Stevens had been shot and robbed while lying in bed in 1931. He had been hog-tied with electrical wire, slugged with a blackjack and robbed again in 1937. Afterward, he packed a Colt .45 to be ready "for the next fellows."

At 3:30 a.m. on August 28, 1941, they came.

Madill had borrowed a .22 target pistol from his brother; he and Madson had taken it target practicing the day before. Madson, who was about "two-thirds drunk," had borrowed his father's '34 Ford sedan. As they approached the station, they slathered mud on the front and back license plates.

Madill honked and woke the old man up.

Stevens walked outside with his flashlight on and his pistol in his pocket.

Madill ordered five gallons.

Stevens unlocked the pump and set the gas cap on the rear spare tire.

Madill told Madson, "Get out and stick 'em up," so Madson put the .22 in his pocket and climbed outside.

"I walked around back and watched the old man put the gas in," Madson said in his statement. "I started to pull the gun out of my pocket and he saw me. He dropped the gasoline hose and jumped back about three steps, starting to take the gun out of his pocket. I told him to 'Stick 'em up,' but he didn't act like he was going to obey. It looked like his gun was just about out of his pocket, so I shot twice."

Stevens staggered around the front of the car, holding his chest, and headed for the store.

"As he stepped into the door sill, he turned facing me," Madson said. "I saw his right arm coming up, so I told him, 'Hold it.' I saw him move back, so I shot again."

A bullet ricocheted off the door casing, spun through a soda can and lodged inside a tin of potted meat.

Stevens raised his .45 and squeezed off one shot before collapsing onto the floor. The spring-loaded latch locked the door shut behind him.

"Frank drove the car out of the driveway out on the road facing south, to go back to La Junta," Madson said. "I waited a minute and then ran over to the car, and we went back."

Behind them, Stevens lay unconscious. One of the hollow-point slugs had slammed into his liver, the other had cracked off a rib and ripped through his lungs. As his chest cavity filled with blood, he suffocated.

Madson was arrested four weeks later when he walked into the Otero County sheriff's office and tried to bum a dollar.

At first he denied everything. But after five days of questioning in a Colorado Springs jail, he cracked. A rancher had found a gas cap on the highway the morning after the shooting and turned it over to police. Detectives, following the trail of "two peculiar characters" with prison records, showed the cap to Madson's younger brother, who said it belonged to his father's Ford.

Madill was arrested shortly after Madson in Salt Lake City, trying to pawn a camera. His confession matched Madson's on every count, except that he blamed Madson for planning the robbery and Madson blamed him.

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