Eighty years after the grisly murder of two law enforcement officers, the case has been solved and closure comes to the victims’ families.
June 1937, Boone County Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and Boone County Constable William Wathen investigate the odd behavior of two well-dressed men in an east-central Nebraska pasture.
The men shot them dead.
For a variety of reasons, the case grew cold and Chief Investigator Bill Black with the Attorney General’s Office says efforts to revive it failed.
“No one could find the original file and didn’t know who to ask to locate that file,” Black tells Nebraska Radio Network. “And therefore, they had no information to be able to pursue this case at all, even if they wanted to.”
Evidence at the time pointed to career criminals Charles Doody and Marion Cooley.
A rancher had complained about suspicious activity at the pasture near Albion. Smoyer had even followed up on the complaint. On June 17, 1937, he returned to the pasture, this time with Constable Wathen. At about the time they arrived at the gate, Doody and Cooley were trying to leave.
Black calls it a surprise encounter.
It was a deadly one.
Doody and Cooley shot Smoyer and Wathen. Smoyer died instantly. Wathen survived for 108 days, enough time to provide a detailed, written account which provided valuable clues.
Doody and Cooley had apparently been looking for something valuable in that pasture which had been used to hide stolen property, according to Black. Black says the two had motive enough. Both were wanted at the time. Both were career criminals. They were driving a stolen car.
The two fled, ditching the black 1937 Ford Coupe with Colorado license plates in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cooley was arrested and imprisoned in Colorado. Doody assumed another name and settled in California; married with at least one child.
World events and a change at a state agency disrupted the murder investigation.
The United States became embroiled in World War II. Many involved in the investigation left for military duty. Some didn’t return. Others continued their military service even after the war.
Nebraska changed its law enforcement structure. The Nebraska Sheriff’s Office operated on a statewide level and would eventually become the Nebraska State Patrol. The case got lost in the transition.
It revived when Seward County Sheriff Joseph Yocum began to research fallen officers in Nebraska, became intrigued with the case and began to work it on his own. Yocum and Black joined forces in 2014.
The big break came this year when Black asked the Nebraska State Patrol to dig through its archives and see if the original file could be located, a real long-shot.
“They called me back the next day and told me that they had located the original investigative file from 1937 and I was just completely stunned,” Black says.
The Attorney General’s Office announced the resolution of the case Tuesday in Albion.
Black says he’s just happy the families have received closure, 80 years later.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]