The roaring twenties must have been a great time for people who could afford it. Women wore the “flapper” look – flat-chested, bone-rack thin wearing shapeless dresses and all sorts of bling. The idea of course was to be as unbound as the Victorian Era had been a corset-cinching prison. And, gasp, of all things, women now smoked cigarettes – in public. Moonshine, Prohibition, dance-craze, newspapers seeking sensational headlines, King Kong’s first appearance in a silent film in 1922, love nests with cocaine-snorting jazz musicians, and the new era of the Italian Mafia were incredible happenings in America, including in Denver, Colorado, a city that was on the rise in terms of socioeconomic status. In 1928 Denver also became a media circus for a famous love scam involving a duped nurse and a rotten-heeled lothario, who took a perverse delight in leading on the young lady simply for the reason that it fanned the narcissistic flames of his ego. Read on for a good tale and, incredibly, a true one.
Once upon a time, way back before 21st century technology, the typical way people met was through family, friends, chaperones, dates, dance halls, ad sometimes love ads in newspapers. Many love scams were run there, often as a ploy for money or whatever weird reason the author of such ads might fancy. The same is true now except we have the internet and things like dating sites to ruin our lives in our ongoing quest for love.
In 1916 Farice King had a twin sister named Clarice. Clarice was a sensible young woman who had been lucky in love, married a good man and raised children. Farice on the other hand must have been a born loser where Cupid’s arrow was concerned. She married briefly to a doctor and after getting pregnant, was abandoned – about 12 days into the marriage. Her baby girl only lived or 5 months then she suddenly died. Depressed over her little girl’s death, Farice returned home, vulnerable and lonely, a perfect target for a lothario.
King talked about her first meeting with Bob Evans, the cad in this true tale, in 1916. He was a blind date, an unfortunate last-minute replacement for someone else. He walked into the room tall, broad-shouldered with keen, dark eyes, and just like that, she was in love. King described meeting Evans; “He looked at me and I looked at him and all the rest of the world just melted away for us.” Oh. One of those types of forlorn love stories.
Evans was still married to Cecily Lewis at the time. King didn’t know anything about that, and by the time she found out, it didn’t seem to matter. They went out a few times, and then Evans told her he loved her and wanted to marry her. She told him about her previous marriage and the dead baby. He greatly sympathized, told her they would have a child of their own and he would put his name on the dead girl’s tombstone so that the child would have a “father” at last. First, though, there was this little matter of the war in Europe and his plans to enlist in the Navy, but as soon as the war ended, he’d be back to make an honest woman of her.
She didn’t worry. Not even when, shortly before he left for his naval training, Evans demanded sex from her. It wasn’t something she liked to admit. She once insisted that she and Evans had shared a “chaste love.” But in reality she gave herself to Evans in the spring of 1917. Because he asked. Because they belonged to each other. In the months that followed, letters from Evans bearing a San Francisco postmark arrived frequently. King didn’t seem to notice where the letters came from.
“Whenever I see a little baby I always think of you,” he wrote. “How I wish for your sake that your (our) little girl was alive. It would be such company for you while daddy is away…. You, dear, I love above anything on this earth, and if I can’t get you, I don’t want anybody.” He called her Darling Farice and My Dear, Dear Sweetheart. He signed himself Your Big Boy Bob. “I want you all the time, morning, noon and night, but the evenings when I am not working is when I miss my baby…. How I long for you, day after day. I don’t believe, come what may, I could ever stop loving you.”
King’s dead daughter was a favorite topic. In a morbid manner, Evans couldn’t stay away from the subject, referring to the baby as if it had been his own, binding his lover’s loss closely to him: “Listen, dear, do not forget to go to our little one’s grave before winter sets in. Will you, dear, and let me know how it looks? We will have it fixed up nice next summer, won’t we, dear? I can’t imagine how you felt the night that you left me at the depot…. I never want to leave you again that way. I will never leave you for a single day and night…. I want to make you so happy for the rest of your days. I send you my life’s love.”
The Con Begins
Eventually, King learned that he hadn’t enlisted in the Navy at all. He came back to Denver to do that, giving her some story about having been rejected the first time around. But he pledged his undying love before heading off to the naval station at San Diego. The next day, King received an anonymous letter telling her that she was a fool, that Evans was married and that his wife had taken the train with him to California. King couldn’t believe it. She wrote to Evans, who assured her that the letter was a vicious lie. He begged her to come to San Diego. She went but he didn’t meet her at the station. She called him at the training station then he had the nerve to go to her hotel the next day and take her to the beach. Incredibly, King allowed herself to be wooed, wanting to believe that everything he told her was true even when he caught him in lie after lie. The day after that, she waited in her hotel again, but he didn’t show.
Undaunted, King sought him out on the docks. She caught him unawares, clutching a letter he was about to mail, addressed to another woman in Denver. He took her back to her hotel and offered various excuses why she couldn’t walk him back to his ship. He said he was going to stop by the YMCA. She said farewell, then had enough sense this time to follow him at a distance. He walked past the YMCA and into another hotel. She discovered that Evans was registered at the hotel. So was a Mrs. Evans. Devastated, King went home and tried to bury herself in work. She was fortunate to have a nursing job. King was independent and sorrier, but wiser. However the cad Evans wouldn’t leave her alone. He showed up at her house one day to pick up a trunk he’d left there, acting as if nothing had happened. He told her he was getting a divorce.
“He took me in his arms and said he loved me more than ever,” she recalled, “and we began all over again. He said when we married, we’d have a real home with a little one in it to make us happy.” Evans became a frequent visitor at the King house, especially at the dinner hour. Farice’s family didn’t like him much, but she hotly defended him against even the mildest criticism. She did his laundry. She turned one of his old shirts into an apron. She kept his picture under her pillow, clipped his name out of the phone book and plastered it in a scrapbook. She even saved a toothpick he used. Ick.
The wedding was repeatedly postponed and Evans always had reasons. First it was waiting out the divorce from Cecily. Then it was the need to save money. The reasons kept coming, and the months turned into years. Still, King played the woebegone unrequited lover and kept waiting, turning down other suitors in the process. She usually stayed home instead of enjoying raucous nightclubs and glittering parties. In 1922, Evans belatedly tried to extricate himself from the situation, penning a Dear Jane letter:
“There is no use for this to continue longer. Not that I think any less of you, Farice…. The fact is, I have made up my mind that I am better off as I am and will never marry again…. I would like to call just as a friend of the family, if I can be considered such. But I do not wish to cause you to have any false hopes.” For a few weeks, Evans continued to call, and King continued to hold out hope. From her diary of August 10, 1922: “Your visit was wonderful, dear, and I’m happy tonight. I think the door opened just a little. You seemed your old self again.” Really when would this no longer roaring flapper get a clue?
August 1923: “It has been one long year since that wonderful night you came back to me. You held me in your arms again. Now you are away.”
One day King attempted to phone him and found out that he’d moved to north Denver. She checked the city directory and discovered that there was a woman living at that address, too: Mrs. Lillian Evans. The man who’d told her he would never marry again had changed his mind, settling on a bride he’d been courting for five years. She finally realized was worse than a fool, she was something to be used and thrown away. Frantic for an explanation, she went to see Evans at the garage where he worked. He pleaded with her not to be angry and told her that he was forced to marry Lillian, that there was a baby on the way. But after it was born, he would leave her and marry Farice after all.
Of course there was no baby. But the letters and clandestine meetings started up again, and for a little while it was possible to pretend that there might be a future for them. Evans told her how miserable he was in his marriage and that Lillian felt the same way, judging from her 1924 divorce complaint. King giddily reported the admission in her diary: “My dearest, I did today. I went to you and asked you. You told me it was true, and said you were very unhappy. I am so glad you are.” Now if that isn’t a weird entry, what is?
Then the letters and the meetings stopped, and King had to struggle to maintain some faint hope of deliverance against an overwhelming wave of despair. She began writing in earnest in her diary.
June 1, 1924: “I will always love you. The man you used to be. But if it’s true I am your bitterest enemy — the man you are.”
June 13: “You have always been honest, fair and square with men and in business. Why haven’t you been with me?”
June 14: “Dear you, I hope some day you will be hurt just as you have hurt me…. I want you to be deeply, deeply hurt.”
July 1: “Dear, I love you anyway, tho you haven’t been fair. I will always love you. You can’t keep me from it. You belong to me and I can never give you up.”
On July 13 she sent him a birthday card and wondered if it would wind up in the wastebasket: “Every year on this day I wish the same wish, that the door will open before this day the next year.”
More months, then years passed, and it began to sink in that Evans was never, ever going to marry her. Who knew why this man led her on then let her down? Most of her youth had passed her by. Her prettiness had faded and in its place was a dour-faced, aging woman. The 1920s were roaring by without her. In spite of this, in 1927 she went to Texas with a private patient and returned engaged to a Dallas man, James Daniels. But her fiancé didn’t seem to mean anything to her. She threw Daniels’s letters in the trash and wept over the old letters from Evans. She wrote poems about death and discarded flowers: “Love to the heart is like dewdrops to violets/Left on the dust-ridden roadside to die.”
One night, shortly before midnight, a 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. Two police officers named Ohle and Bob 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.
End of a Saga
Evans’s wound wasn’t that serious; he was expected to be back on the job in a few days. He’d been a patrolman for almost three years, and now he was a sure bet to make detective when his four-year stint was up. The next day’s papers hailed him as a hero. He was taken to Denver General Hospital, where he was delivered into the loving care of a special night nurse. She was a woman he knew well but hadn’t seen for more than a year. Her name was Farice King, and she was a much better shot than Eddie Ives. He greeted her with open arms. “Farice,” he said. “Where have you been? I’ve been thinking of you.”
It was all too much for the long-suffering King. The following night King returned to Evans’ ward and shot him twice at close range while he slept. Then she shot herself in the breast and collapsed on the bed next to his. Evans died instantly. Although badly wounded, King was still alive. The bullet glanced off a rib and missed her heart. DG staffers rushed her into surgery. The strange saga of the nurse and the beat cop was over.
The police were mortified. Two officers gunned down within a week, first by this Ives character, and now a deranged nurse. It didn’t help that the crazy woman had left behind a note that seemed to promise further scandal to come. “Dearest Bob, you belong to me and I cannot go on any longer — living without you. And you shall not go on. I have waited over 5 years for this chance, and it came. I hope no one else will ever know the real cause for this. Only you and I. Farice.”
A second note was addressed to King’s brother Floy, a mortician. In it, she asked to be buried near Evans and apologized “for the grief and sorrow this brings to all of you.”
The notes were only the beginning. At the house on Garfield Street that King shared with her twin sister’s family, detectives found a tidy collection of newspaper clippings, mementos of every arrest by Patrolman Evans that had ever made the papers. They also found more than 200 letters from Evans to King, many of them dating back to the Great War, as well as King’s diary, which presented a record of betrayal and obsession playing out over more than a decade. The press began prowling around. One platoon of reporters descended on Evans’s distraught widow, Lillian, who’d been married to the man for five years. King was obviously insane, she said. She’d come across this madwoman on the street, mumbling strangely to herself. Once, King sat across from her on a streetcar and glared at her. Her husband had told her that the woman wasn’t right in the head. A second horde cornered King’s twin, Clarice Hanson. She told them that if her sister was crazy, then it was Bob Evans who’d made her that way. He’d used Farice abominably, she said. Promised marriage, loved her and discarded her. What woman wouldn’t go mad if she loved a man like Evans?
The press soon found Cecily Lewis and discovered that Evans had married Lewis in 1914, which made him a bigamist, since he’d never bothered to divorce Emma. The second marriage fell apart sometime in 1917, after Evans told his wife that he “loved someone else and was going to have a good time.” (This someone else may have been Farice). On another occasion, he told her he was going to a “house of ill repute” and she could go with him or do as she pleased, he didn’t give a damn. The divorce became final in 1920.
The third wife, Lillian Evans, had sought a divorce, too, less than a year after her 1923 wedding, claiming to be the victim of “extreme and repeated acts of cruelty.” But she’d withdrawn the complaint.
The press was also struck by how much older King looked than her twin sister or even her own photographs. She looked much older than a woman in her late thirties should look. The ordeal of her near-suicide and imprisonment, during which she’d frequently been overheard calling out for her own death, had left her gaunt and hollow-cheeked. Her physical appearance became a constant theme of some stories and King was once described as having been “battered to a mere skeleton of a woman by regret and despair…everything carnal seems to have been burned away in the fire of suffering.”
The flappers lined up early in the morning for seats in the west-side courthouse. There was no standing room permitted, and many were turned away. But battles over evidence and the defendant’s own hysterics frequently interrupted the week-long trial, clearing the courtroom and giving latecomers a shot (pun) at the action. People expected to see the vengeful gaze of the Woman Scorned and were disappointed. King sat slumped in a heap of fur at the defense table. The heap moaned and sobbed whenever her baby or Bob Evans was mentioned, and even, on occasion, swooned.
King’s lawyer, Mowry, had a dramatic flair in the courtroom. He insisted that King was clearly not guilty by reason of insanity; she was suffering from a form of madness known as melancholia or “love mania.” Her “balance wheel was knocked out of gear by shock after shock,” he explained, starting with the collapse of her marriage and the death of her baby. Evans had seduced her and deceived her until she snapped. Mowry took days to make the case for love mania and the balance wheel. King’s brothers, her sister and her mother testified about Farice’s brooding depression, her pathetic faith that Evans would return to her, her obsession with “souvenirs” of her lover ranging from used toothpicks to dirty laundry. Dirty laundry and then some. One family friend talked of finding her in bed with the body of her recently deceased brother Ray, raging at a God that would take Ray instead of her. (The incident occurred in 1915, which suggests that King’s balance wheel was already wobbly before she met Evans.)
Called to the witness stand, King leaned on Mowry’s arm, moved sobbing and shaking toward the chair, then abruptly threw herself on a pile of bloodstained clothing on the floor. The clothes were the pajamas Evans was wearing when she shot him, forgotten after Mowry had removed them from a laundry bag in order for an earlier witness to identify them. King hugged the clothes, shrieking, “Oh, Bob, my Bob!” She refused to give them up, even as Mowry and then two patrolmen struggled to haul her to her feet.
Mowry called for a recess and hustled her out of the courtroom. She raved incoherently. Mowry told the judge his client wouldn’t be testifying after all. Without any instructions the jury retired and took just a few hours to make up their minds. They were back in court Sunday afternoon to return a verdict of guilty, a verdict that carried a sentence of life in prison. The press asked King if she thought a jury of women would have freed her. King readily agreed. “Men juries free pretty, pathetic-looking girls, with plump cheeks and red lips. What they have given me is worse than death. Death is what I wanted.”
Farice King was the first woman in Colorado to receive a life sentence for killing her lover. Some people thought that was a sign of progress, of growing equality for women: “If they can vote, they can hang,” the reasoning went. That’s a helluva way to demonstrate equality. But popular sentiment was on King’s side. Her crime was seen as a female response to an impossible heel of a man, and women’s clubs rallied to her defense. One hundred thousand people signed a petition circulated by a nurse seeking a new trial for her, a record-breaking figure for the state. The male judges turned her down. However after some years the new District Attorney Wettengel joined the cause. he figured that King had already served enough time for what should have been a manslaughter conviction in the first place. In 1933, Johnson commuted King’s sentence to twenty years. The following year, he granted her a furlough to visit her dying, 81-year-old mother. She was still out when Johnson announced her parole. King had served five years for the murder of Bob Evans.
And with that, King buried her mother and disappeared. She never talked to a reporter again and she vanished like yesterday’s news, which was precisely what she became. It was the end of an era in America: the 1920s gave way to the stock market crash and Great Depression of the 1930s. Attorney Mowry became a dairy farmer, working a bucolic pasture that later became a congested strip mall; he died in 1965. Clarice Hanson, Farice’s twin sister, died in 1975. Evans’s widow, Lillian, outlived him by more than fifty years before finally expiring in Texas in 1981. Think of the changing historical American eras they lived to see. It must have been both wonderful and bewildering although it’s doubtful any societal occurrence affected most of them as much as the love affair of Farice King and Bob Evans.
No obituary for Farice King ever appeared in any Denver daily. Her closest local relative, a 76-year-old nephew living in Lakewood, said he had only the barest childhood memories of his aunt. He lost touch with her long ago and didn’t know what became of her. What little was known about her fate can be found in seven sentences in the September 4, 1969, edition of the Bates County Democrat, published in Butler, Missouri. The item dealt with the passing of Mrs. Earl C. McBurney, 79, a former nurse. It would seem Farice found a man who was able to see past her “unbalanced wheel” and marry her. Mrs. McBurney was “a former resident of the Amsterdam community” before moving to Butler. Her husband died four years later. There were no children, nobody to correct the cemetery records, which identified her as Francie, not Farice. There was no one to tell the good folks of Butler about the multiple tragedies in her life before she married Earl and returned to Missouri. Probably just as well.