A woman was at the center of this feud in early twentieth-century Texas, a love triangle in which two wealthy cattle ranchers fought over who would win her back – the husband or the lover. The feud might have started, innocently enough, years before when the two men, John Beal Sneed and Albert Boyce, Jr., vied for the attention of Miss Lenora (Lena) Snyder while attending Southwest University in Georgetown, Texas.
John Sneed won her hand in marriage, but after twelve years of marriage Lena wanted a divorce – and with good reason in her estimation as she had been carrying on an affair with none other than her husband’s college rival, Albert Boyce, Jr. Sneed, a cattle buyer and lawyer (Princeton graduate) reacted by committing his wife to a sanitarium in Fort Worth to treat her “moral insanity”. One source related that Lena was treated with calomel (mercury chloride). It had been common practice in the nineteenth and into the first part of the twentieth century to treat people in the advanced stages of syphilis, which typically would be accompanied by mental illness.
Lena, however, escaped from the sanitarium with Al Boyce’s help just a month after commitment, and the pair fled to Winnipeg, Canada. Sneed notified the police and by the end of 1911 the authorities were attempting to extradite Al Boyce, Jr. from Canada to stand trial for abducting Lena. Apparently, however, Sneed became frustrated with efforts to bring Boyce, Jr. back to the United States, and on the evening of January 13, 1912, John Sneed assassinated Colonel Albert Boyce, Sr. (a Civil War veteran) in the lobby of the Metropolitan Hotel in Fort Worth.
Albert Boyce, Sr. was a banker and former manager of the XIT Ranch – on that day he was unarmed and shot in the back. Sneed accused Albert, Sr. of assisting his son in breaking up his marriage. On January 15, Sneed appeared in court and was reported to be calm, conversing with his father and brothers and a smile on his face, according to the Amarillo News headline of January 16. John Sneed mustn’t have been too concerned about the proceedings – he was observed reading a newspaper, pausing to comment when he read a paragraph stating that he had been affected by a jail preacher’s sermon. Sneed remarked, “that preacher was mistaken” for he had not been the first to go forward in response to the sermon as the paper reported – he never went forward at all.
Before Sneed’s habeas corpus hearing, a hearing was convened to determine the mental status of Mrs. Sneed. The doctors who testified didn’t think she was suffering from “moral insanity”. Lena testified in her own defense, and although her husband’s representatives promised to bring out in their trial that she in fact was suffering from “moral dementia”, the judge ruled that indeed she was sane. Lena’s testimony had been so riveting that – “she told her story without interruption and the ticking of the clock was all that could be heard.”
The next event was her husband’s bail hearing. However, according to the Amarillo News, “the state is opposing bail every inch of the way.” One of the first witnesses to testify, E.C. Throckmorton (son of a former Texas governor), was seated next to Albert Boyce in the lobby of the hotel when Sneed entered. Throckmorton testified that Albert Boyce, upon seeing Sneed enter the hotel from the street, declared, “My God, there is Sneed now.” Sneed said a few incoherent words and fired four shots into unarmed Boyce’s body. Throckmorton testified that Sneed had said afterwards, “Now you’re done for, you’re out of it.”
It was widely thought that Throckmorton’s testimony alone would prevent Sneed from obtaining bail. A relative of Sneed’s, W.H. Atwell (also a Federal District Attorney), testified that Sneed had been agitated and believed that the Boyce family had employed their own legal maneuvering to free Lena from the sanitarium. Interestingly, at the end of the January 24, 1912 article, it was reported that “men have offered to go on Sneed’s bail whose combined wealth totals nearly a hundred millions.” Sneed apparently had rich friends in high places.
John Sneed was granted bail since the judge did not believe him capable of “cool, deliberate action at the time of the killing.” His bond was immediately signed for by his father Joe T. Sneed, Sr. of Georgetown, Texas and his father-in-law T.W. Snyder of Clayton, New Mexico, his brothers Joe and Martin, and one hundred prominent businessmen from across the state of Texas who had given Joe, Sr. power of attorney to sign for them. Although John Sneed was cautioned regarding his safety after leaving jail, he told officers of the court that he did not fear for his life.
Immediately, Sneed’s defense team announced that its firsts fight in court would involve technicalities. The case was about to be tried in the Seventeenth District Court in Fort Worth, whereas the grand jury indictment had been entered in the Sixty-Seventh District. They would claim that an official request for transfer had never taken place. The deliberations lasted from 10:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on January 29. However, the judge overruled their motion and the defense’s next move would be a motion to quash Lena’s testimony because they claimed she had in effect testified against her husband.
Again, the judge denied their motion and defense announced its intention to seek a continuance the next day. However, they were again rebuffed by the judge – the jury selection would then begin. It appeared to those present reporting on the trial that Sneed’s defense preferred married men who had been born in the South for their jury picks. Prospective jurors were questioned as to their feelings if they should ever discover that their wives had been unfaithful – what would they do and should they be allowed to use weapons to protect their homes. That was reported on February 2, 1912.
On the following day, the headlines read:
On January 30, a brief mention had been made of Throckmorton, who was suffering from a mysterious illness – the paper reported that he lay dying in the hospital that night. In court on February 2 were nurses, doctors and medical personnel testifying regarding the death of Throckmorton. The county attorney refused to affirm whether an indictment would be returned, but confirmed that detectives were hunting for “mysterious strangers” who had been seen drinking with Throckmorton before he was found unconscious on the street.
The doctors could not testify with any certainty what actually caused his death, but doubted he was poisoned. A planned autopsy was cancelled. Throckmorton’s son, Fred, believed his father had been poisoned, employing his own detectives to investigate. At this point five jurors had already been seated, but there were rumors that prospective jurors were being bribed. Curiously, Sneed’s defense team admitted Throckmorton’s death would hurt their case! It is unclear why they would say that since testimony at a habeas corpus hearing cannot be admitted as evidence at the actual trial.
The jury was finally seated by the end of day, and lo and behold, all but three jurors were married and all were Southern-born men! Sneed was surrounded by family and friends from the Panhandle of Texas who came to support him. Every day each person entering the court was searched for weapons. Interestingly, according to the newspaper, Sneed’s father was a friend of Colonel Boyce’s.
Tune in next week for Part II of the “Boyce-Sneed Feud (Because This Is Texas)” story. I promise you won’t be bored!
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.