Friday, June 12, 2009

Murder at the Brown Palace

I had time so I picked up a book on a murder that occurred in Denver around 1911. Murder in the Brown Palace is about Frank Henwood's murder of two men, Tony Von Phul and George E. Copeland. In all honesty this murder case goes down as one of the more stupid examples of misguided chivalry leading to tragedy than any other I've read. Evidently, Henwood killed Von Phul to prevent himself being beaten publicly by the much larger man. Copeland was an innocent bystander. The reason for the animosity between the two men was one Mrs. Isabel Springer the wife of a prominent man. Mrs. Springer had asked for Henwood's assistance in retrieving some love letters from Von Phul. Von Phul was using the letters to black mail Mrs. Springer into continuing to see him. Henwood let his testosterone get the better of him and gave into Von Phul's baiting and refused to drop the matter even after being asked to do so by Mrs. Springer. As payment for his misguided gallantry (and the death of an innocent bystander) Henwood gets to die in prison.

It's a pleasant read, but even this completely unrelated book got me to thinking about Vivian Chase! (can you say obsessed!) I was thinking about Isabel Springer and her privileged existence and the very different circumstances that Vivian was (more likely than not) born into. Although Springer is at least 20 years Vivian's senior I don't think there was that dramatic a difference in the expectations of either woman about marriage. Marriage was your primary occupation and you married the best provider you could get.

In the 1920 Kansas City, MO census Vivian Davis (prior to her marriage to George Chase) is listed as a waitress. I really didn't think too much about that because I didn't fully grasp where that put her in the American "egalitarian" social structure. I've been trying to find ways to learn what her life might have been like and it hasn't been easy. There's loads of material on Jazz Age women but usually from the viewpoint of middle class expectations and experience. Vivian wasn't middle class (although she could fake it). I stumbled upon an e-book Four Years in the Underbrush Adventures of a Working Woman in New York . Reading this provided me with a new perspective of what it would have been to be an unskilled woman working in Vivian's time. Marrying George Chase and becoming a housewife/gun moll is definitely easier. More than likely she ate better too!

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Right now my path doesn't leave me much time for active research. Which means that I have any number of ideas running through my head waiting for a time when I can try to find out if the idea has any merit.

It's not that I can put something else aside to do research I'm dealing with circle of life issues that I can't ignore and remain the person I want to be. So here is a list of things that are going by the wayside for now:

  • John Langan & Vivian's relationship there is always speculation that Langan and Vivian carried on but I've never been able to figure out the truth of the matter. Vivian and Langan's wife Margaret were physically similar; I've always wondered if the idea that Langan and Vivian were together stemmed from confusing the 2 women. Also, if Clarence Sparger did shoot Vivian and she and Langan were an item John Langan seems the type who would have retaliated against Sparger. In fact Langan and Sparger continue partnership until they are captured.
  • I think I know what Vivian was doing for the period after the Cherryvale Robbery newspaper articles have her living with Dorothy Flournoy in Picher, OK until she's hauled in 1928. Since their 2 men were killed each women had a direct share in the haul meaning that Vivian could have lived well for quite awhile if she were smart.
  • Earl McDowell I always wonder if Vivian shot him herself! But I also wonder if he was killed in retaliation for talking to police or if it was an execution ordered as repayment for one of his hot headed acts.
  • Was McDowell in on the Liberty bank job and did Vivian decide to play an active role because of his death. Or did the plans include her from the beginning.
  • George M. Chase's death. Did he die in a car accident in California around 1923 or did he die during a robbery attempt at that time. These days I wonder if Vivian's first? husband wasn't the member of the Flournoy/Mays gang killed on the highway during a bootlegging venture. Or maybe he died in Mexico MO about that time.
  • Vivian's escape from the Liberty jail. She obviously had to have had help. Now did she still have money left over from the robberies for the bribes necessary? Did she go directly to St. Joseph MO after the escape? Did she know the Spargers before that time?
  • Did Clarence Sparger shoot Vivian the way it's described in the FBI files or was it John Langan?