Love Crazy

The nurse, the cop, the yegg: Fate brought them together and claimed four lives. Then the newspapers stepped in, and things really got insane.

A reporter visited him at the county jail. Ives jabbered in an unknown tongue for an hour. Then he said: "Horses! Horses! Goin' to the races! Worms! Worms!"

The prison warden and the man who'd prosecuted him thought Ives's execution should be delayed while he was evaluated in Denver. The alienists poked and prodded and pronounced him sane.

On the drive back to Cañon City, Ives kept on spouting gibberish. After an hour or so, the warden told him to knock it off, the act wasn't fooling anyone anymore.

Jason Edmiston
A woman scorned: Before Farice King became Robert 
Evans's nurse, she was his lover. Then she became 
his killer.
A woman scorned: Before Farice King became Robert Evans's nurse, she was his lover. Then she became his killer.

Ives stared at the mountains and sighed. Then he uttered his first coherent sentence in six months. "For God's sake, give me a cigarette," he said.

In October 1929, three weeks before the stock-market crash, the plan to hang Ives hit another snag. The worst prison riot in Colorado history gutted three cell houses and left twelve dead, including seven guards. The first hostage to be killed in the uprising was Jack Eeles, 77, who'd been the prison's hangman for thirty years.

Ives was offered a hammer by the rioters but refused to join in the slaughter. He'd become an ardent Catholic and protested to the end that it was Henry Hill who shot that cop from under the bed, not him. But the governor could not be swayed.

Early in his criminal career, the littler burglar had been warned by a Denver detective that the path he was following could lead to the gallows. Ives supposedly responded with an eighty-pound sneer. "Hell," he said, "they couldn't hang me if they wanted to. A noose couldn't crack my neck. I'm too small to spring the trap."

After the Ohle killing, Ives's remark was revived by reporters as one of those "prophetic" statements crooks make about their own doom. But nobody knew how prophetic the quote would prove to be. On January 10, 1930, while the other convicts slept, Ives took the long walk to the penitentiary gallows -- and put on a show the assembled witnesses would never forget.

A guard pulled a lever that sent a weight hurtling down a chute. The weight was supposed to pull the rope taut; then the prisoner would break his neck as he fell through the trap. But Ives was too light for the apparatus. As the weight fell, he went flying toward the ceiling. The rope jumped off the pulley and Ives fell to the floor, gasping for breath.

The rope was rethreaded. "You can't hang a man twice," Ives protested.

But they did. According to one witness, it took three attempts. They never did snap his scrawny neck. The state choked him to death for 23 minutes, slowly squeezing the life out of him like one of those ghouls in the newspaper.

Ives was the first of seven condemned men to hang in Colorado that year. The hangings were closed to the press, but the sheer awfulness of Ives's death eventually leaked out. "Colorado has one of the most ghastly hanging machines possible," Thomas Tynan, the pen's ex-warden, told the Rocky Mountain News. "More than half of the men executed at Cañon City have not been hanged at all. They have strangled."

In 1933 the state legislature decided to replace the noose with the gas chamber. It was one little man's lasting contribution to society.

Farice King was the first woman in Colorado to receive a life sentence for killing her lover. Some people thought that was a sign of progress, of growing equality for women: "If they can vote, they can hang," the reasoning went. Previously, murderesses had managed to secure lenient treatment by claiming some sort of provocation -- a sock in the jaw, a threat, an insult -- that would hardly be considered justification if the perp was a man.

But popular sentiment was on King's side. Her crime was seen as a distinctly female response to an impossible heel of a man, and women's clubs rallied to her defense. One hundred thousand people signed a petition circulated by a nurse seeking a new trial for her, a record-breaking figure for the state. The male judges turned her down.

Pinky Wayne thought that was outrageous. After King's appeals were exhausted, the Post announced its own petition drive, running front-page stories by Wayne every day for a week to drum up support for a pardon. This was being done, Wayne informed her readers, without King's participation: "When I last saw her at the state penitentiary, she spoke of herself as one who, 'being dead, should be left in peace.'"

Despite the blitz, despite the overblown headlines (WHOLE STATE BACKS FARICE KING PARDON) and overheated prose, the Post was able to gather only about 15,000 signatures. Ten times that number probably wouldn't have made any difference; Governor William Adams was a law-and-order man who'd won the paper's endorsement in part because of his adamant refusal to grant paroles or pardons. Adams took the petition in hand, thanked the Post for its efforts -- and shitcanned the whole business as soon as he could.

Wayne didn't give up. When Ed Johnson took over the governor's chair, she renewed her crusade. Compared with Adams, "Big Ed" was a soft touch. It helped that District Attorney Wettengel had joined the cause by this point; he figured that King had already served enough time for what should have been a manslaughter conviction in the first place. In 1933, Johnson commuted King's sentence to twenty years. The following year, he granted her a furlough to visit her dying, 81-year-old mother. She was still out when Johnson announced her parole.

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