A killer’s dead eyeballs? A truant teenager who kills a mass murderer? A lady serial killer? You’ve been warned. Reading this list will probably change the way you think about the relative safety of Wyoming. Here are 10 sometimes disturbing—and always fascinating—crime-related facts about the Cowboy State you’ve probably never heard of.
10. THE EYES HAVE IT
Itinerant dishwasher Andrew Pixley, 21, murdered three young girls in Jackson’s Wort Hotel in 1964. He was found naked and drunk in their room, surrounded by the dead children. He was convicted and executed in Wyoming’s gas chamber without appeals (by his request) in 1965. The triple killer’s eyes were removed and donated to a Colorado medical school, also according to his wishes.
9. TARZAN OF THE TETONS
In 1939, mountain man Earl Durand went on a rampage. He killed five people during a sprawling chase through the mountains, ending in a daring daylight bank robbery in Powell WY. A teenager who skipped school that day happened to be at a gas station across the street and shot Durand with a .22 rifle. The wounded wild man shot himself dead at the end. He had become a national media sensation, and his story ultimately was retold in a Hollywood movie. So many people wanted to see Durand’s body at Easton’s Funeral Home that morticians laid him on a couch in the foyer so a blocks-long line of gawkers could file past.
8. CONFESSION IN LARAMIE
In 1876, not long after he’d shot the famous Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood SD, Jack McCall was in Laramie boasting about the murder. He was arrested and tossed in the Laramie jail. While awaiting extradition, McCall admitted to a newspaper reporter that he’d killed Hickok out of revenge. Later, he was hanged in SD and the assassin’s story continues to be told with great gusto in the Black Hills.
7. A FATAL WRONG TURN
After filming Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in 1957,actress Judy Tyler, 24, and her husband drove across Wyoming to NYC, where she was ready to begin a new a acting gig. At a roadside petting zoo (long gone now) near Rock River, a car illegally turned in front of them and they crashed head-on into another vehicle. Judy, her husband, and a passenger in the oncoming car were killed instantly. Adding to the fatal illegality of the bad driver, looters stole Tyler’s wallet and her cash, furs, and jewelry.
6. MURDERESS OF SLAUGHTERHOUSE GULCH
Strange things were happening in Polly Bartlett’s inn near the gold-rush town of South Pass City: Rich travelers were dying all too frequently. When the marshal suspected foul play — or so the local legend says—the “Murderess of Slaughterhouse Gulch” was arrested and convicted in South Pass. Vigilantes couldn’t wait for a judge to pass sentence. One night in the late 1860s or early ’70s, Polly was literally cut in half by a shotgun blast in jail. Or so the legend says. Is there any truth to Polly’s legend? Maybe. Maybe not. But in Wyoming history, the truth is often difficult to disentangle from myth.
5. WYOMING’S COLDEST CASE
On Sept. 17, 1934, two young newlyweds—Carl and Olga Mauger—hiked in the mountains near Togwotee Pass. A tired, hungry Olga sat on a log while Carl explored farther down the trail. When he returned, Olga was gone. A massive manhunt ensued, but no sign of Olga was found. A runaway bride? A murderous husband? A hungry bear? Nobody knows. Olga has never been found. But Carl quickly went back to the sweetheart he’d jilted for Olga, and they lived happily ever after.
4. THE WILD BUNCH’S UNLUCKIEST OUTLAW
The Wild Bunch’s “Bob” Meeks’ life went downhill fast after he helped Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay rob an Idaho bank. He did time in the Idaho state prison, tried to escape a couple times but always got caught (losing a leg in one jail break), went to an Idaho asylum, failed two suicides, then died in the State Asylum in Evanston WY in 1912. His family eventually buried him in an unmarked grave in Robertson WY.
3. A GOOD GUY WITH A GUN
Remember that story about wild man Earl Durand who killed five people in Powell in 1939? His rampage ended partly because teenager named Tipton Cox wounded Durand at the end. ‘Tip’ Cox grew up to become a pilot in WWII. He was one of two pilots who rescued 16 scientists on Eniwetok after the atomic bomb test in the Pacific, earning the US Air Medal.
2. THE WINE OF WYOMING
In the late 1920s, on one of Ernest Hemingway’s frequent hunting, fishing, and drinking trips to Wyoming, he met an old couple making illegal wine—still forbidden during Prohibition—in the basement of their modest house on the outskirts of Sheridan WY. The great writer was so taken with these colorful French immigrants’ tale that he turned it into one of his more popular short stories, “The Wine of Wyoming,” published in 1930 in Scribner’s Magazine.
1. WILD BUNCH VS. HOLE IN THE WALL GANG
The terms are often used interchangeably to describe Butch Cassidy’s gang … but they’re not technically the same thing. The Hole in the Wall Gang was a catch-all term for many outlaw bands that hid out in the Hole in the Wall country west of Kaycee WY. Cassidy’s crew called itself the Wild Bunch, just one of several outlaw gangs in Hole in the Wall during the 1890s.
Want more? Check out Ron’s Wyoming/Colorado crime history book, “The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies” (2011, Globe Pequot Press), available everywhere.