By the time John Spellman came to Denver he was already a seasoned lawman after working as
a deputy sheriff for San Miguel County in the Wild West, gold-crazy town of Telluride, high in the San
Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. He began his law enforcement career there after coming out
west from his hometown of Beloit, Kansas, in 1885, when he was only 20 years old. Although the work
was often dangerous, he found he had a natural aptitude for it and soon developed a reputation as an
honest and hard-working officer.
In 1901 he was appointed the master of the guard at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City by
Governor James Bradley Orman, a Democrat. Orman met Spellman and formed a favorable impression
of him in May 1901, when a crisis erupted after 350 miners organized walked away from their jobs at
the Smuggler-Union mine in Telluride. A shooting war was triggered when one of the strikers, believed
to have been unarmed, had been shot through the throat by a deputized mine guard, leading to what
became the greatest crisis during Orman’s administration.
Spellman When Orman was voted out and succeeded by a Republican two years later, Spellman
and many Orman appointees lost their jobs. By this time, Spellman was a family man and decided it was
best to move to the big city where there were better opportunities for him and his family. So, he, his
wife, Mary, and their young son who was also named John but called Raymond, moved to Denver. On
December 8, 1903, he raised his hand and took the oath of office as a patrolman for the Denver Police
Department and pinned on star number 105. For the next three years, for $85 per month, he worked as
a beat cop on the night shift in a part of town most other family men were well advised to avoid after
It was there on his beat, in front of Vance’s Saloon at 919 19th Street, on a Monday night, June
18, 1906, John Spellman’s life was taken from him by a thug with a gun.
Shortly after 11 p.m. a group of three drunken men, George Turner, Edward Carse and a third
man identified only as West, was creating a disturbance by yelling and cursing in front of the Abbott Hotel, on Curtis Street around the corner from Vance’s Saloon. Spellman walked over and told them to
quieten down. “I don’t want to have arrest you on my beat.” At first, they seemed willing to comply and
started to walk off less raucously towards 19th Street. One of them, Edward Carse, who called himself Kid
Bosco, stopped the other two and told them, “Wait until he gets down near the alley and I will beat his
head off.” They became rowdy again, in an apparent attempt to cause Spellman to take further action
which would give them an opportunity to assault him in the alley. Before that could happen, however,
Spellman caught up to them sooner than they had anticipated on the sidewalk mid-way between the
corner and the alley.
Telling them, “Stop! You are under arrest,” he grabbed Turner by the collar with one hand and
West by the collar with the other and began walking them towards a callbox to summon a police wagon
to take them to jail. Carse remained just out of his reach, standing behind Turner and West. He suddenly
pulled out a revolver and shot Spellman three times in the chest and abdomen. Spellman staggered back
10 feet and collapsed by the saloon doors in the arms of the proprietor, Vance Schneider. The three
suspects ran off in different directions without looking back.
A police ambulance arrived a little later but Patrolman Spellman, 41, was already dead. An
autopsy the next day revealed that the first shot had killed him, piercing his heart. The second shot
entered below his left arm, and the third bruised his chest, then fell into a vest pocket.
Three witnesses gave vivid accounts of the murder.
Leslie Irving, an employee of the Crystal Theater, had just walked out of a chili parlor next door
to the saloon. “I had just come out of the chili parlor when I saw the policeman walk up behind the …
[suspects]. He shouted for them to stop at once. By the time he was close to them and grabbed one with
each hand. No sooner than when he seized the arm of the shorter … [suspect] than the latter turned and
shot twice. Then he backed away and shot again. One of [them] ran down the alley and the other ran
across Champa Street, into the yard of the second house. He fell twice on the way across the street and once inside the yard. I ran into the saloon to get help for the policeman then, but I believe he was dead
by that time.”
Frank Litsey, a Western Union messenger, told detectives: “I was walking toward the policeman
and the two men on the corner were not over 20 feet away when the shooting commenced. The
policeman had each of the men by the arm. The smaller one facing the officer and the taller was looking
toward me. The short … [suspect] called the policeman a name as he turned toward him and then I
heard the shots and saw the policeman fall back against the building. I couldn’t say which one of the
men fired the shots.”
Ross W. Reed, who lived across the street at 918 19th St., saw the shooting also. Spellman and
the three suspects were all clearly visible since the murder happened directly below a bright arc light,
hung above the door to the saloon.
All three suspects were arrested within five hours of the shooting.
West’s role in the murder was discounted early on, and he was released without charges. He
worked as a picker in the beet fields of northeastern Colorado and had become acquainted with Carse
and Turner only a few minutes before the shooting.
When questioned by detectives at the central station both remaining suspects mostly admitted
their role in what detectives theorized had happened; however, Carse said it was Turner who had fired
the shots while Turner swore it was Carse. Turner, 29, had come to Denver a week before from Topeka,
Kansas, where he lived with his wife and small child. He had been acquitted of murder only 18 months
earlier in Kansas City, after claiming self-defense. Carse, 23, was a Denver resident and known to the
police as a “tough” who frequented local saloons and arcades.
The shooter’s identity continued to remain in doubt even after Patrolman Carr found out that an
hour before the shooting Carse, using the name of Moore, had redeemed a $2 loan at a pawnshop a few
blocks away from the shooting scene to buy a revolver. He then sold the gun to Turner for $4, pocketing
a profit of $2. The gun was not immediately found. Fearing that a lynch mob might force their way into the jail at the central station to take Turner
and Carse, on June 21, El Paso County Sheriff Nisbitt took the two prisoners to Colorado Springs. Turner
went to trial in July at the West Side Courthouse and was acquitted after witness testimony and other
evidence strongly pointed to Carse as the gunman. Although Turner was cleared of the murder charge,
Judge Dixon ordered him to be held as the prosecution’s chief witness in Carse’s trial in October. Carse
was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in the state penitentiary. He
was paroled in 1912.
In addition to his wife and son, John Spellman was survived by his parents, five brothers and
three sisters, most of whom lived in or around Beloit, Kansas. One brother, Daniel Henry Spellman, who
was four years older than John, followed his brother into law enforcement and served as city marshal
for the town of Beloit from 1919 until his death from a stroke while on duty in 1934.
Funeral services for John Spellman were held on June 20 th at the Roman Catholic Immaculate
Conception Cathedral at Colfax and Logan, two blocks south of the Spellman family home at 1767 Logan
St. Mary and Raymond Spellman accompanied the coffin on a Union Pacific train to Beloit, where he was
buried in the family plot at St. John Catholic cemetery.
They remained in Beloit and lived for a short time with Spellman’s parents before moving to
Wellington, Utah, in 1910 to live with her parents. Raymond joined the army in 1918 and was honorably
discharged as a corporal a year later. In 1930, Mary was remarried and Raymond was also married. They
all lived in Los Angeles, where Raymond worked as a salesman for a plumbing wholesaler. He and his
wife Frances had a son, Wayne Spellman, born in 1927. Mary died in 1940 and Raymond in 1959.
Wayne died in 1979 and had no children.