Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who was Charles Marzyck?

I find people interesting. I like to watch people walking down the street and try to guess their story. Where are they from; what is their job; have they ever been arrested? The primary reason I started this little blog was to talk about the other victims and players in these murders and I’d like to write a little about Charles Marzyck. The only crime I am certain Charles Marzyck ever committed was stealing wheat from James Vopat. Marzyck’s ex-wife claimed he had forged checks, written bad checks and even deserted from the army after a stint in the Philippines. He was never convicted of any of those crimes and I haven’t found anything showing service during the War in the Philippines. The primary question a researcher needs to ask is “would this suspect commit this kind of crime?” As I have said before, I’m not certain Marzyck would have. But let me give you a little background on Charles.

Denver Museum of Modern Art & formerly the "finest bordello in Denver"

Charles Marzyck was born in New York City around 1878. His parents were Charles and Mary and were emigrants from Bohemia (Czech Republic). Charles was one of five children in the family. He had two sisters, Julia who was about four years older, and Annie who was about four years younger as well as a younger brother, Joseph. The family lived in the Manhattan borough and his father worked as a cigar maker. Sometime between 1880 and 1885 his family moved to Denver, Colorado where Charles’ father set up a cigar making factory in the section of town now referred to as LoDo (lower downtown). When I say factory I mean a place where stuff gets made and not a large industrial building with hundreds of employees; the older Marzyck had only five employees and probably had young Charles helping around the place as well. The Marzyck’s lived on Holladay Street and this may well be important. Holladay Street was notorious as a “red light” district. Bordellos, gambling halls and saloons were everywhere. Only “high class” prostitutes operated in the bordellos but “dollar girls” roamed the streets in front of the gambling halls and theatres. At the time young Charles Marzyck was living on Holladay, it was said there were one thousand girls for a man to choose from. The Marzycks did not live in the actual area known as the red light district but they were only a few blocks away. Marzyck’s neighborhood housed mostly railroad workers.

Denver's police department was notoriously corrupt in those days and the city was so  relaxed with regard to prostitution that it wasn't uncommon for a young man with some money in his pocket to head down to  Holladay (later changed to Market street at the request of the Holladay family) and consort with the "fallen doves" of Denver.  There is no evidence  suggesting young Charles ever made that trip; not even his ex-wife was willing to accuse him of that.

In October of 1885, when Charles was eight, his father purchased a bale of Sumatra Tobacco from a man named Waggner for $279.35. Marzyck only paid half of the money but convinced Waggner to allow him to take the tobacco. Marzyck then sold the tobacco to Joseph Benesch who operated his own cigar factory. It isn’t clear what Benesch paid for the tobacco but Marzyck failed to mention to Benesch that the tobacco wasn’t completely paid for. Marzyck didn’t pay the other half to Waggner and somehow pushed the blame over to Benesch. Waggner made a complaint and the tobacco was seized by police. By the time it was over, Waggner and Benesch where both out the money they paid to Marzyck and the bale of tobacco while Marzyck got away without even a slap on the wrist. Whether this “fraud” was intentional or not is unknown.

Records of the young Charles Marzyck disappear after 1885. I don’t know when he married Minnie Kratky or where he went after his trial in Ellsworth; my guess would be Canada. Charles’ mother Mary died in 1903 in Colorado. His youngest brother Joseph married and had his own children and was still corresponding with his brother in 1911. After that, I have no idea. Perhaps someone reading can lend some information?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts and ruminations...

Charles Marzyck is an interesting subject. The common belief of many relatives of the Showman family is that Marzyck killed the entire family because he was secretly in love with Pauline (his sister-in-law) and she did not return the feeling. In a rage of passion he struck the entire family down and then was able to escape justice. The other theory, the one advanced by the prosecution at the trial, was this was an act of revenge on those he felt had wronged him and sent him to prison.

There are a couple of questions that come to my mind here. The first I already touched upon; why did James and Minnie Vopat not show for the trial? I am not a profiler nor am I a psychologist (and maybe I should leave it at that blog, my rules) but it seems to me James and Minnie were genuinely frightened of Marzyck. I believe there was a love triangle involving Marzyck but it was between him, Minnie and James. Marzyck had been involved in a few criminal enterprises before his prison term, all non violent and all the product of a "con." Bad checks, forged checks and a possible event involving the sale of tobacco that wasn't entirely his to sell*. The crime that got him "cheesed" was stealing wheat. The victim was James Vopat. Pauline may have testified against Marzyck in that trial but Will Showman clearly felt Marzyck had been wronged somehow. While in jail awaiting the trial, Will would visit Charles and bring him tobacco and food. While in prison, Will wrote letters and petitioned for his release as well as corresponding with Marzyck. These are not the actions of a man who's wife's life had been threatened.

If Marzyck followed his previous MO then the "theft" was likely that of fraud. A bad check or possibly paying half the money owed for the full order of wheat then selling the wheat elsewhere and skipping town with the money (the scam run with the tobacco in Denver). Minnie may have had enough of her husband's dishonest ways and confessed the crime to Vopat and Sheriff Bradshaw. If this is the case then not only did Minnie betray her husband but then she married the man he had tried to swindle, a double betrayal. This explains the actions of Marzyck during the murder trial. He practically burned holes in the heads of the Vopats during their testimony. Clearly Marzyck's beef was with the Vopats and not the Showmans. But Will Showman was a good and honest man by all accounts and it's hard for me to believe he would have taken up the cause of a person he believed to be a genuine criminal. Not to get to close to tin foil hat territory but the possibility exists that Marzyck was set up by Minnie and James in order to get him out of the way of their relationship. Clearly the authorities believed a piece of evidence, the cigar cutter, was planted. Conveniently this cigar cutter was IDed by Minnie Vopat as belonging to Charles.

I must stress that I DO NOT think the Showman's were killed in order to frame Marzyck and put him away for good. So James Vopat is not a suspect and shouldn't be considered at all; neither should Minnie. But should Marzyck? While his alibi put him in Denver at the time of the Ellsworth murders, it also put him within a short train ride of Colorado Springs. If Minnie is to be believed, then Marzyck also had relatives in Monmouth, Illinois. He represented himself in a trial that if lost, would have certainly lead to his swinging from a gallows so he was level headed. If I were to find out he was a gandy dancer for a railroad I'd say he was a great suspect. But Charles was a "clever" fellow and was a good talker. His crimes relied on his ability to convince others he could be trusted and he was comfortable talking to people. His crimes were that of the lazy man; working hard to con a person out of a few bales of wheat without realizing his talent for selling ice to Eskimos. The killer of the Waynes, Burnhams, Dawsons and Showmans had no such ability. He had to attack his victims in their sleep because he wasn't confident enough to get them while they were awake. Further, Marzyck had no history of violence (although he was said to be a nasty drunk) and the life of the con man is to get the money or items and get the heck outta there. I believe Marzyck was innocent of this and the other crimes but I can't rule him out completely; he's just to tempting a character.

*Turns out this may have been his father

The trial of Charles Marzyck...

Thanks to Lisa Lindsley of Ellsworth for writing up this summary of the Marzyck trial.  I will post my thoughts later today.  One question I will ask right now is: why did the Vopats need to be "fetched" from Blackwolf?  Surely they realized the importance of the trial and their testimony?  Why did James Vopat not show?  I'll ponder on that a'while and you read:

The trial of Charles Marzyck for the murders of Will Showman, wife Pauline and their three children, Lester, Fern and Fenton, was held in the Ellsworth County Court house after his arrest in Canada in April of 1912. Mr. Marzyck had no attorney, he choose to represent himself.

The prosecution questioned Mrs. O.W. Snook first. She reported the Showman’s had been visiting at her house the evening before until around 9 pm. Mrs. Snook testified calling the Showman house many times Monday morning. Finally, she and her daughter walked the two blocks to their home around 5 pm where she found the bodies.

Next, John Herink from Wilson went on the witness stand. He spoke poor English but he said he had met Charles Marzyck many times. Herink stated he saw Charles Marzyck on the corner of Douglas and Main, Ellsworth, at 4 am on the morning of October 16, 1911. The man’s English was very broken and the Judge had to quiet the crowd in the courtroom often as disarray broke out as everyone was trying to understand Herink’s words.

James Vopat, the man married to Marzyck’s ex-wife, was called to the stand next. He and his wife had not come to court that day. James was fetched from Blackwolf and he and his wife, Minnie arrived at the courthouse soon after. Marzyck stared at James during his testimony. His eyes only once turned to his ex-wife once when she identified a cigar cutter said to belong to Charles Marzyck. The cigar cutter was alleged to be found in the Showman’s house.

James spoke of the threats Charles Marzyck had made to the Showman’s while under the influence of the bottle. Marzyck prior arrest for stealing wheat from James Vopat was brought up. Also mentioned were his open remarks at that hearing to claim revenge on his ex-wife Minnie and sheriff Bradshaw who arrested him for that stealing charge. At the previous hearing, it was noted that both Minnie Vopat and her sister Pauline Showman testified against Charles Marzyck. However it was also noted that Will Showman had written to Marzyck while he was in prison and even petitioned for his release. The threats made to the Will Showman family didn’t seem comprehensible but James as well as others had personally heard the threats from Charles Marzyck’s mouth.

Sheriff Bradshaw took the stand next and testified that on the night of the murder, he had heard noises at his back door. After he heard the noise a couple of times he went to the back door but did not see anyone. The next morning, he did see that the screen to his back window had been partly removed as if someone had attempted to break into his house.

Then Charles Marzyck took the stand in his own defense. The prosecutor took great care in trying to trip up his alibi. Charles was clever and was very clear about the places he had worked and stayed while in Colorado during October, 1911. His probable residence in Colorado during the murders took him far away from Ellsworth.

At the conclusion of the trial, John Herink’s testimony was taken lightly. He had such broken English, he wasn’t completely understood. The Judge also ruled that at 4 am with no street lamp it would be difficult to identify a man on the street. 

The cigar cutter being found at the Showman’s house was not allowed as evidence as the authorities suspected it was planted. It was stated that the cigar cutter was not turned into authorities until two weeks after the murders. Charles Marzyck had what seemed to be an iron clad alibi. In the end, there was not enough evidence to convict Charles Marzyck and he was found “not guilty” and released. After the hearing many spoke of how Charles Marzyck had always been a clever man. He was generally a respectable man but when he took to the bottle he did become rather vile. Many speculated that he had been cleverest in his career to come out of the trail with an acquittal. 

Since his arrest and time in prison at Lansing, KS, Charles Marzyck had been charged both in Colorado and Missouri for writing bad checks and forgery. He was even arrested and held in jail in Missouri; however he was released on some small technicality.
Looking back know, one wonders if John Herink was the link that should of put Marzyck behind bars. Another point never stated was if Marzyck’s alibi in Colorado was ever checked out by authorities. Was his employer in Colorado contacted as well as the hotels he frequented?

The ax murders of the Showman family remain unsolved. A private investigation report in April 1917 implicated others but no arrests were ever made partially because the majority believed Charles Marzyck really did commit the crime. Today, the ax murders are referred to as” Hatchet” around Ellsworth and most citizens only have a slight knowledge of the crime which for the most part it is forgotten. The identification of the murderer was buried long ago, along with the memory of Will Showman and his family.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A suspect...

If you read any of the articles on the Millers Paranormal website then you know of two of the suspects in the Showman murder. One was a John Smitherton or Smithson or Smith who was passing through on his way to Kanopolis looking for work in the salt mine there. The other was Charles Marzyck, ex husband of Minnie Vopat (Pauline Showman’s sister) and one time wheat thief and forger. Marzyck was the only suspect ever put on trial for the Showman murders and in short was acquitted of the crime. The Ellsworth County Independent published an article about the Showman murders in July of 2008. It is a good rundown of the motive Marzyck may have had for killing the Showman family. The article’s author, Lisa Lindsley has kindly written up a summery of Marzyck’s trial which I will post soon. Marzyck is an intriguing character and I have actually been researching him for a while. There are a couple things we know about Marzyck that makes him a least an interesting suspect. First he lived in Colorado at one time and was reported (indeed it was his alibi) to be living in Colorado in 1911. His brother lived in Denver and it is quite likely Charles lived with his brother and when he and Minnie were married they lived in Colorado where Charles had written some bad checks and forged some other checks. Second, Marzyck had been heard by several witnesses to make threats against those who had helped send him to prison for the wheat theft. Pauline had testified along with her sister in that trial. So he can be placed within a train ride of Colorado Springs in 1911 and made threats of violent retribution towards (in a general way) Pauline Showman. Minnie Vopat also believed Marzyck had relatives in Monmouth, Illinois but that might have been a fib.

Ellsworth County Courthouse - 1908

Was the Showman family massacred out of revenge? Was it a crime of passion incited by the unrequited love of Pauline Showman? The descendents and relatives of both Marzyck and the Showmans don’t like to talk about the crime. Those on the Showman side generally believe Marzyck was a killer regardless of the verdict of the trial. I’ll discuss a bit more about Charles Marzyck and my own opinion after I post Lisa’s trial summery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the comments...

Sherri in comments asks a good question that I haven’t really addressed: Why not Rev. Lyn Kelly? Any of you who have read about the Villisca crime know who Lyn Kelly was and those of you who don’t need to get over the Villisca Axe Murders blog and study. In brief, Lyn Kelly was a tiny, weird little preacher who was in Villisca on the night of the murders. Rev. Kelly was absolutely howl-at-the-moon crazy and had a bit of a peeper’s fetish. He’d been busted in one town for peeking in a window, arrested in another town for trying to hire a young lady to type and pose nude for him and in another town had cornered a young girl and spent the better part of an hour trying to talk her into undressing for him. His relationship with his wife was more like that of a mother and it is believed the two never consummated the marriage. But was Kelly a psychopath?  

Looking at two of the crime scenes you can draw a few conclusions without needing to be a trained profiler. In Colorado Springs the killer acted strangely. Think Jack the Ripper on the night known as the double event. A run-of-the mill breaking and entering crime gone wrong would have the killer fleeing the scene after the first murder and getting away as fast as possible. Instead the unsub went to the neighbors’ house and killed them as well. The risk involved was substantial with houses all around the area, trolleys clanging down the street and men walking to work. Absolute calm had to be maintained through all of it. In Ellsworth, while the chance of discovery wasn’t as great, it was still there. The killer apparently made an attempt to break into another house but was interrupted by the owner (in this case it was Marshall Merritt) but this near brush with discovery did not dissuade the killer at all. With Bill Miller’s axe in hand, the killer walked south among other houses for quite some distance until he came to the Showman house. If the bloodhound trail was accurate, he hid in some bushes behind the house in order to observe. After he killed the family he washed his hands, wiped the axe down and posed Pauline. He then stepped out the front door, hopped a train and left town. In order to do this there had to be an escape strategy other wise the entire getaway would have been based on whether or not a train was passing by. Did he wait inside the house until a train came or did he lounge on the front porch? Or did he have an idea of how long to stay inside before hopping the train?  

Judging by the way Kelly reacted while in jail and during the trial it is clear he couldn’t handle high pressure situations. He shrank in his chair during the trial and while he had some peculiarities with regard to children it seems he just didn’t have the nerves required to break into a house without waking anyone, kill the occupants without waking anyone and then escape unnoticed through town. Now Dr. Epperly knows a lot more about Rev. Kelly than I do and I look forward to reading the upcoming book once it comes out but based on what I know I just can’t see Lyn Kelly as being able to pull any of this off.