The case of the kidnapped coed

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

Now nearing the end of his 24-year reign at the Post, Hoyt testified that he'd hired Gardner, Snyder and Keeler as a "public service" and paid them a grand total of $4,555.15. He denied that the Foster coverage had done much to boost readership: "I know we were trying to get circulation in Boulder, and we didn't do good on this."

Walker attorney Francis Salazar contended that the Post "went far beyond the bounds of any newspaper in history.... The Denver Post took it upon itself to lead the mob."

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed. In 1969 the court voted 6-1 to vacate Walker's conviction, concluding that the Post had gone much further than the press in the Sheppard case "by actually injecting itself into the investigatory process." The paper had distorted evidence, presented speculation as fact and dubious detective work as infallible, described events that never happened, and generally whipped up publicity "so extensive, so slanted and prejudicial, so calculated to inflame, and so all-pervasive" as to make a fair trial for Walker impossible.

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.

Walker was now a free man. Boulder District Attorney Stanley Johnson declined to seek a new trial. Many of the original witnesses were either dead or living elsewhere, and Johnson suggested that "justice perhaps has already been served" by Walker's twenty years in prison.

Walker didn't think of it as justice. He sued the Post for two million dollars. Nothing came of it.

In prison, with nothing but time on his hands, he'd learned how to repair watches. He drifted to Aspen, Grand Junction and then Texas, plying his trade. He volunteered little about his past. In 1982, he was suspected of theft at the Waco department store where he worked and was quietly dismissed.

A month later, facing eviction from his motel, he hanged himself with a belt nailed to a door. He was 65 years old.

Walker was buried in Waco at county expense. Some secrets of the Foster case were buried with him. His strange journey remains a cautionary tale of media excess that Boulder's police agencies, at least, have taken seriously. A generation after Foster's death, CU was sent reeling by another unthinkable murder, this time in the heart of the campus: the 1966 rape and slaying of student Elaura Jaquette in an organ recital room in Macky Auditorium.

"It was such a shocking thing," recalls Alan Cass, the longtime campus historian who was the stage manager at Macky at the time and has extensively researched both cases. "There were a lot of parallels with Theresa Foster's death. In both cases, the victim felt at ease with the perpetrator, and then tragic things happened."

But in the Jacquette case, Cass notes, police kept tight control of the crime scene and the evidence. A bloody palm print ultimately led to the conviction of custodian Joe Morse for the crime — and no loose ends.

Echoes of the Foster case continued to reverberate in Boulder long after Walker's death. In 1998, while the town was consumed with the ongoing tabloid saga of another pretty female who'd been struck on the head, strangled and sexually assaulted — a six-year-old girl named JonBenét Ramsey — an elderly man walked into the sheriff's office in Hobbs, New Mexico, and began talking in detail about the Theresa Foster murder.

The man had lived in the Boulder area in his youth. He seemed to know a great deal about the case. Authorities suspected that he had mental-health issues and wanted to be reassured that he hadn't been involved somehow in the homicide.

He was, they decided, just another amateur detective. Someone confusing fact and fantasy, desperate to solve the mystery.

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17 comments
VivlianWozz
VivlianWozz

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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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