The Schank Family Murders

crime scene tape
The Schank family murder captured national attention according to the Greeley Tribune, earning a description as “the cruelest series of murders ever committed in Weld County.” / Photo by Kat Wilcox on Pexels.

In Weld County in 1919, a family of six was brutally murdered just outside of Twin Bridges. The Schank family murder captured national attention according to the Greeley Tribune, earning a description as “the cruelest series of murders ever committed in Weld County.” A deaf and mute man, Alex Miller, was convicted of the crimes with “all circumstantial” evidence after a jury deliberated for just 15 minutes with some reports saying it only took eight minutes. 

The six Schanks, parents Adam and Elizabeth and their children Wesley, Juanita, Margauret and Florence, were discovered shot to death in their home by Adam Schanks’ cousin. The Greeley Tribune reported that the investigation immediately turned to Miller who was seasonally employed by Adam Schank as a farmhand. 

According to the Greeley Tribune, Miller was cruelly dubbed “Dummy Miller” in several newspapers. The Greeley Tribune also reported Miller was known for having “a quarrelsome disposition.” The Herald Democrat in June 1920 reported William Jacoby, a farmer who lived near Gilcrest, testified he heard Miller the year before threaten to kill Adam Schank over a payment dispute. 

The Greeley Tribune reported investigators determined the Schanks were killed with a .38-caliber revolver and that nine shots were fired at the scene. Miller’s bunkhouse had a .38-caliber gun with nine shells missing from a nearby ammunition box. A number of witnesses came forward reporting they’d seen Miller the day of the murders walking along the highway and at the train station buying a ticket for a train going to Denver. “One of the few pieces of evidence police couldn’t find was the clothes Miller would have worn during the crime,” the Greeley Tribune reported.

Miller’s attorney, Charles Townsend, reportedly had a “penchant for theatrics” and “received local fame several years earlier when he successfully defended Miller against an assault with the intent to kill charge after he was accused of nearly beating an Evans man to death in LaSalle,” according to the Greeley Tribune.

Miller allegedly confessed to the Schank family murders to jailmate Guy Kirk, according to the Herald Democrat. Townsend reportedly “failed in cross examination and was unable to shake the principal points in Kirk’s story.” The newspaper also reported Townsend asserted Miller was unable to read or write but Fred Nims, the city marshall of Evans, testified that Miller could. 

The Greeley Tribune reported “Townsend erred when after putting Miller on the stand to testify in his own defense – using his brother, Conrad, as interpreter – Townsend asked Miller point blank if he killed Adam Schank and his family. The deaf and dumb mute shook his head, indicating to the jury he clearly understood his attorney’s question and knew how to respond.”

Miller was found guilty by a jury after just 15 minutes of deliberation on June 8, 1920.

According to the Fort Collins Courier, Townsend asked for a new trial based on 13 arguments, including that one of the jurors reportedly told a “prominent Greeley man” that he didn’t understand the instructions and thought Miller was actually innocent. The Fort Collins Courier also reported Townsend said “the wife of one of the jurors who sat in the audience at the trial stated to a companion sitting next to her that her husband was a juror and that he knew the defendant and that he would see that the defendant was punished or words to that effect.” 

A new trial was refused and Miller was given a life sentence according to the Idaho Springs Siftings-News.

Miller became eligible for parole in 1958, according to the Greeley Tribune, but since none of his surviving family agreed to take him in, he stayed at the Colorado State Penitentiary until his death in 1961. Similar to Denver’s Spider Man Theodore Coneys, Miller was buried at the penitentiary and a private service was held, according to the Greeley Tribune.

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