The case of the kidnapped coed

How the Denver Post and Perry Mason ruined a Colorado murder case

Wadsworth knew Walker well. He was a regular at the drive-in, quite a drinker, and, by his own frequent declaration, unhappily married. He'd once asked Wadsworth if she wanted to go on a date. She'd declined.

Her story was a fatal blow to Walker's claim of picking up a hitchhiking couple after he left the Nifty Nix. But it also blew holes in what Gardner and his fellow fantasists at the Post had written about Theresa Foster and her presumed abduction, how she would never have gotten into a stranger's car without a terrible struggle. If the waitress was telling the truth, then Foster wasn't as boy-shy or timid as her hagiographers made her out to be. She could have simply committed an eighteen-year-old girl's error of judgment, trusting in the good intentions of a handsome older man who offered her a ride and a cup of coffee on a cold night.

The jury got the case late on a Saturday afternoon. They were back two days later with a verdict: guilty of second-degree murder. Judge Bradfield sentenced the defendant to a term of eighty years to life in the state pen. From the Rocky: "A shudder passed visibly through Walker as he stood on the stand. Then he dropped his head as though struck."

Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason mysteries, was hired by the Denver Post to help solve Theresa Foster's murder.
Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason mysteries, was hired by the Denver Post to help solve Theresa Foster's murder.
The torrent of publicity in the case generated fear and outrage, encouraged amateur sleuths — and muddled the evidence.
The torrent of publicity in the case generated fear and outrage, encouraged amateur sleuths — and muddled the evidence.

Less than a month after the verdict, two CU students were attacked next to Boulder Creek while out on a blind date. The assailant struck Doris Weaver in the head with some kind of metal pipe. Weaver escaped, but her companion, Roy Spore, had a leg in a cast and couldn't easily flee or fend the man off. His body was recovered from the creek the next day, his skull fractured in several places. Weaver was unable to provide much of a description of the attacker. It was the second student slaying in the history of the school — and the second in less than a year.

Like Foster, Spore was an engineering student. Like her, he'd been badly beaten in the head — "with what must have been insane fury," one reporter wrote. As in the Foster case, authorities offered up a reward.

But the vicious bludgeoning of a male student wasn't nearly as interesting to the press as the violation of Theresa Foster, and the case was never solved. As for the hefty reward in the Foster case, the regents later discovered they couldn't authorize the payment of $10,000 without a court order. What was left of the fund was eventually split among eight people.

Hunters Boom and Blood and waitress Wadsworth each got a check for $138.50.

*****

Like every other inmate, convict #25633 started out on the rock pile at the Colorado State Penitentiary. But he was an easy man to like, and his good behavior earned him a job tending warden Harry Tinsley's garden. Tinsley considered him a model prisoner and thought he'd be a good candidate for clemency after he'd served a decade or so.

For years after the trial, Eleanor Walker continued to insist on her husband's innocence. "Find Spore's murderer and you will have the person guilty of both crimes," she told reporters. In 1956, she divorced Joe and disappeared.

In 1957, a caravan of reporters and shutterbugs went to Cañon City to watch a psychiatrist inject Walker with sodium amytal, or "truth serum" — another crime-fighting wonder of the age. Under the influence of the drug, Walker denied killing Foster and described the blond man once more. The psychiatrist told reporters that while "psychopathic liars" had been known to beat the drug, he believed Walker was telling the truth.

This fit in neatly with the efforts of Walker's attorneys to reopen the case. One of the original defense investigators, R.J. McDonald, revealed that he and Walker had tracked down a possible suspect while Walker was out on bail before trial. The man was a CU graduate student at the time and a known "sex deviate," McDonald explained. Although the man had dyed his blond hair after the Foster murder, Walker had identified him as the "Doug" who got into the car with Foster. The suspect was still living in Boulder at the time of the Spore killing, McDonald added.

But truth-serum experiments were no more admissible in court than Keeler's polygraph, and the men who'd put Walker away responded tartly when reporters asked about clemency for him. "In my 32 years as a cop, I was never more sure of any man being guilty," now-retired Denver detective Nick Carter said. "He killed Theresa Foster. I'm sure he did. There was never any evidence any other person was involved."

In the mid-1960s, Governor John Love commuted Walker's sentence from eighty to forty years. Under the sentencing scheme at the time, he would be eligible for parole as early as 1967. But Walker didn't dare apply for parole. By that point, he was engaged in a ferocious legal battle to have his conviction overturned, and his new attorneys feared that parole could jeopardize his chances of getting a full hearing on his claims that he hadn't received a fair trial.

In the summer of 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that threw out the conviction of Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland doctor charged with killing his wife, on the grounds that overwhelmingly prejudicial press coverage had violated his constitutional rights. (The Sheppard case is often credited with being the inspiration for the hit television series The Fugitive.) Three months later, Walker's attorneys summoned Palmer Hoyt to a court hearing, in an effort to prove that the publisher and his minions had done the same thing to their client.

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17 comments
VivlianWozz
VivlianWozz

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Mikoe Wozz
Mikoe Wozz

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Steve
Steve

I found the end of the article poetic myself. A fascinating account - I think it would be fun to be able research and write something like this! And the Denver Post was so helpful in those days.

Another Amateur Detective
Another Amateur Detective

Is that the end of the article? Not much of a conclusion - and an old man who knew lots of details was not listened to. The End.

 
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