The Long Arm of the Law

The day after I first read Alan Prendergast’s marvelous story about Philip Van Cise, the fighting DA pictured here, I was at a memorial service at the First Universalist Church just off Colorado Boulevard at Hampden Avenue. I was seated behind Judge Larry Bohning, a member of that church and a man who’d like to see Denver’s new justice center named for Van Cise. I told the judge that I’d just been reading about Van Cise – and after the service, he beckoned for me to follow him down a flight of stairs to the basement.

From a shelf in a crowded corner, he pulled down an object covered with plastic. Unwrapping it, he revealed a child’s chair, one of the Sunday school seats on which members of the Blonger gang were forced to sit when they were rounded up in August 1922 and held in Van Cise’s makeshift jail -- the original First Universalist Church on Colfax.

The congregation left that building and moved south decades ago, but it took its history along. And in addition to that tiny chair that held the butt of a bunco artist, the church has a cache of press clippings commemorating Van Cise’s exploits, as well as period photos showing the religious slogans that hung over those con men imprisoned in the church basement: THE WAY OF THE UNGODLY SHALL PERISH,

But their stories will live on. – Patricia Calhoun

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun