Love Crazy

Forget Kobe. Adios, JonBenét. To hell with Court TV.

Crime ain't what it used to be.

A place is shaped by its resident evil as much as its good, and by how the community deals with its transgressors. If you want to understand why it was once a privilege to live in Colorado -- and possibly get bludgeoned, stabbed or shot here -- then you need to travel back a few generations, to a more distinctive, passion-soaked era.

You must return to the Denver of the 1920s, a very special time and place. Starring, in no particular order: A city still rough around the edges but doggedly on the make. A loud, shameless brute of a newspaper that dipped its headlines in red ink, the better to keep its ledgers solidly in the black. Bathtub hooch, gum-snapping flappers, pistol-packing district attorneys and hoods named Orville. Love nests crawling with jazzbos hopped up on cocaine and goofballs. Egghead alienists, pushy dame reporters and dulcet-toned defense lawyers. It was a time when murder mattered, damn it, and every big criminal trial was a freaking circus.

Amid this plenty, one case stands out: The strange saga of Farice King, woman scorned, packed the courtroom and electrified the city. It sent the press into ecstatic convulsions and launched the Denver Post on a breast-beating crusade that lasted six years. King's trial made mush of prevailing theories about sanity and "love mania" and exposed fundamental flaws in Colorado's justice system; the grotesque execution of one of the key players in the drama changed the state's approach to capital punishment. Then its tragic lead vanished, her fate a lingering mystery -- until now.

Seventy-five years later, it's still a hell of a story.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for November 22, 1928, the night that set a bizarre chain of events in motion -- "the tangled skein one bullet started," as the Post put it. This one is for all the star-crossed lovers out there.

The bootleggers came out at night. So did the Denver vice squad. On the night in question, patrolmen Harry Ohle and Robert K. Evans spotted a suspected liquor car rolling through downtown. They tailed it.

Shortly before midnight, the car pulled up outside a boardinghouse on Curtis Street, a well-known "party house" in the heart of the city's black district. The white driver headed into the house with a gallon of moonshine whiskey.

Ohle and Evans crashed the party. They nabbed the jug of booze and the delivery man, John Morrissey, and ordered a dozen black men and women to line up against a wall. Ohle found another man sitting by himself in a dark bedroom and sent him to join the others. Something about the scene didn't seem right. Ohle knelt down to shine a flashlight under the bed.

"Think I'm a damn fool?" he snapped. "Come out!"

The man under the bed opened fire. Ohle dropped dead to the floor, shot in the head and shoulder. Louvenia Reese, the owner of the house, was hit in the chest as she stood in the doorway. The slug went through her and caught Evans in the right arm, spinning him around. He jumped out of the way of a fourth shot and retreated.

Evans had trouble unlocking the front door with his left hand. Sweating like a hodman, he ran into the crisp November night, found a phone and called for backup. Carloads of cops roared into Curtis Park and Five Points, but the gunman had fled the area. Police chief R.F. Reed and Bert Clark, the captain of detectives, were prowling Lawrence Street in search of a snitch when they were flagged down by a black man named Henry Hill.

Hill identified himself as the man who'd been sitting on the bed when Ohle entered the room. "It was Eddie Ives who killed that copper," he said.

Ives was no stranger to police. He was a 44-year-old barber, heister and petty burglar -- a yegg, in the parlance of the times. He'd been in prison or on the lam most of his life. He'd begun his thieving ways as a child, boosted into open windows so he could unlock doors for older accomplices. Two of his brothers had died badly, one shot by Oregon police and the other in a fight in Denver's city jail. Eddie usually got his prison stretches knocked down for good behavior -- he was a prince behind bars -- but when he got out, he couldn't seem to stick to barbering. Still, he was a shrimpy white guy who weighed just eighty pounds, not the kind of sport you'd expect to find at a moonshine party on Curtis Street.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast