When the trial began in earnest it was a battle royale with each side fighting for every inch of ground possible. On February 9, witness W.H. Fuqua was called to testify on behalf of Sneed. His defense team was attempting to allege and prove that Colonel Boyce had made derogatory and obscene statements about Mrs. Sneed and that those statements had been relayed to John Sneed. The prosecutor’s cross-examination was relentless, however. A clash occurred between the prosecutor and Mr. Faqua when the prosecutor questioned the validity and veracity of his testimony.
Faqua and Sneed were co-defendants in a lawsuit for $30,000 brought against them by a widow who had claimed she was defrauded by the pair. Of course, Faqua denied the prosecutor’s accusation vehemently. By the end of that day in court, a letter that was purportedly written to Faqua by John Sneed while he was in New York on his way to Canada to locate Lena was admitted into evidence. (The newspaper print is faint or else I would post it here – Sneed really laid it on thick about his plight and how everyone in the United States must perceive it – perhaps he was already plotting a defense before he killed Colonel Boyce.)
The defense called another witness to put forth the crux of their case – that John Sneed had acted in self-defense. E.D. Powers testified that he was present at the time of the shooting, but that Colonel Boyce had risen and approached Sneed in a threatening way and that he hadn’t merely said “there’s that Sneed now” but “there’s that #$@! now”. The prosecutor had a field day in his cross-examination to discredit Powers. Although Powers remained steadfast, he was forced to admit that he had been indicted at one time for a fraudulent land deal.
The final witness for the defense was the defendant himself. He testified that on October 13, 1911 he first discovered something was wrong in his family. He spoke of his wife’s elopement with Colonel Boyce’s son, his pursuit of them to Canada and the shooting of Colonel Boyce at the hotel in Fort Worth. John Sneed recounted how his wife had spent time at the Boyce home during a Boyce family illness and that Albert Boyce, Jr. had also spent time at the Sneed home. He claimed that one day he had returned home around noon to find Albert Boyce standing beside his ill wife’s bedside.
My boy, I am the best friend you have in the world; your wife has betrayed you and has been false to you. The only thing left for you to do is to throw her out and wash your hands of her. Unless you do, people will not respect you, and you also owe it to your children.
John told his father that he believed Lena to be insane and she did finally admit to him that she and Boyce had been lovers for eight months. John believed that Al Boyce had poisoned her mind since previously she had been a loving mother, wife and daughter – she had even told her father to leave her alone and that she hated all of them.
After the elopement, John was even more convinced of her insanity. On the day she eloped (escaped from the sanitarium), she penned “an affectionate letter” which was read to the jury. Before John Sneed went to Winnipeg to pursue them, he admitted on the witness stand that he had purchased an automatic pistol at a gun shop in Fort Worth under an assumed name – John Smith (how original is that?!). However, John never saw Al Boyce, who was surrounded by body guards day and night, until he was captured.
John testified that Lena told him she was miserable the whole time: “She had her baby’s shoe tied around her neck and would cry over it.” He also said that Lena told him that the Boyce family had arranged for her to return to Dallas and retrieve Georgia Beal (her daughter), but Al had talked her out of it, fearing she would be caught.
He further testified that his wife had planned to leave with Boyce and go to South America, taking their children. Sneed was enraged and admitted that he thought about killing his wife then and there, except that one of his little daughters suddenly entered the room.
Sneed freely admitted, in graphic detail, that he killed Colonel Boyce in the Fort Worth hotel: “Next to Al Boyce, I regarded Colonel Boyce responsible for the abduction and seduction of my wife.” The defense rested with John’s personal testimony.
The prosecution led off their case on February 16 with the testimony of Henry Boyce, another son of Colonel Boyce’s. The purpose of Henry’s testimony was to discredit the defense’s claim that Al Boyce, Sr. had approved and encouraged the relationship of Al, Jr. and Lena. Henry asserted that, quite the opposite, his father had tried to separate Al and Lena and that Al, Sr. was never aware of their scheme to elope. He quoted his father as saying, “that if it wasn’t for mother he would make Al leave home as he was disgracing three families and causing sorrow.”
Henry’s testimony indicated that the Boyce family was not approving of Al’s actions and that the Boyce family had actually paid Al, Jr. $60,000 to buy out his part of the family cattle business – the family was glad to see him go. Although the family didn’t know of Al’s intention to elope with Lena and flee to Canada, they certainly didn’t want to see him go to prison. Henry stated that his father at one point thought it would actually be good for Jr. to spend some time in jail, but when it appeared the Sneeds and Snyders (Lena’s family) were pushing for Al to be imprisoned, Colonel Boyce changed his tune.
The following day the prosecution introduced a bombshell – a letter that Colonel Boyce wrote to a Chicago friend expressing his desire to separate Lena and Al and engaging the help of his friends to accomplish that. At that point Lena had already returned to her husband, but Colonel Boyce further implored the help of his friend and that of Secretary of State Philander Knox and President Taft to keep Al out of prison. Apparently the Colonel wasn’t all that fond of Lena either – “[S]he is no more insane than I am. She is mean as the devil and smart as a whip.”
According to sensational headlines the next day of the trial, the youngest son of Colonel Boyce’s attemped an assault on the defense attorney. Len Boyce’s mother had been on the stand in support of the prosecution’s case and the defense attorney on cross-examination appeared to insult his mother, “on the verge of sarcasm”.
Don’t you believe, Mrs. Boyce, that a man who has disgraced and run over his father and mother stealing another man’s wife and killing his little children should be placed in a sanitarium or penitentiary?
“Agile as a tiger”, Len jumped over chairs and other spectators and tried to grab defense attorney McLean. Len was restrained and fined $100 by the judge along with an hour in jail. Mrs. Boyce, however, remained composed (even sending a bottle of camphor to quiet Len) but never answered McLean’s question. At that the point, the prosecution ended it’s rebuttal of defense testimony and the defense would next offer it’s rebuttal. One more notable event took place that day – a woman with a large handbag attempted entrance to the trial without being searched. She called Judge Swayne out for ruining her life two years ago when he granted her husband a divorce two years earlier – never a dull moment!
The headlines the next day weren’t about the trial per se, except that it was the cause of the death of one Sylvester Morris, a real estate dealer. He was shot by Detective Ben Bell who denounced Morris’ conversation with a fellow street car passenger. Morris struck out at Bell, and in the scuffle Bell claimed to have accidentally shot Morris. This actually brought the total to six additional persons who had been killed since the elopement, all over people arguing over who was right and who was at fault in the case.
Two women conducted a duel with hat pins, arguing over spectator seats, disrupting the court proceedings for ten minutes. The sheriff separated the two ladies, but their fracas caused a panic in the courtroom – no arrests were made, however. There was a particularly large crowd that day, and with seating limited many were turned away.
Sneed’s defense attorney Cone Johnson addressed the jury in his closing remarks, and said that Sneed was: “the first man since the time of Christ who had done his full duty toward his wife.” He further declared that his client, “had violated no law, and is a product of Texas chivalry and Texas Christianity.” His co-counsel W.P. McLean offered his closing arguments as well and he took a stance that was headlined as “pathetic”.
According to the Amarillo News, McLean bowed his head at the end of his remarks and with a “tremulous voice” prayed “If papa should die before I wake, I pray the Lord his soul to take” – insinuating this would be the prayer of Sneed’s ten-year old daughter Lenora, “kneeling in a home ruined.”
The state’s response to defense’s closing arguments rebuffed their claim that Sneed was a “near God man” or that he was the first ever man since Christ to protect his family. He proclaimed Sneed “a murderer in mind, spirit and act.” The judge gave lengthy instructions to the jury, which received the case at nine o’clock p.m. No jury verdict was expected until Monday although deliberations would begin the following day.
The jury deliberated and on Monday, February 26, sent a note to the judge declaring that they were hopelessly deadlocked:
Their decision at that point was seven to five, although they would not say which way they were leaning. The Judge would hear none of it, ordering them back to the deliberation room, but not before granting them one request – the jurors had demanded baths, “and were soon splashing in tubs.”
The interest level and demand for trial news was so high that day that it shut down telephone and telegraph communications in Fort Worth. At one point the only wire service was via an office in Los Angeles. Two days later the jury again informed the judge of their hopeless deadlock. Judge Swayne told them he didn’t want to receive any more communications until a verdict was reached. The foreman replied to the judge, “We will send as many as we like, and the law won’t let you stop us.” The judge ordered them back to the jury room and told them it might be a good idea to get on their knees that night “and pray to Almighty God that he may endow you with wisdom to reach a verdict.”
On February 29, the jury still hopelessly deadlocked, was dismissed and upbraided by Judge Swayne. The final tally was seven for acquittal and five for conviction, despite their six-day deliberations. One juror more or less shrugged his shoulders and said, “[I]t is not the first hung jury in Texas or Tarrant County, I guess.” The Boyce family was not present that day and Sneed’s attorneys were disappointed they did not receive an acquittal. Nevertheless, John Beal Sneed was free to go (a retrial date had not been set) and he planned to leave the city for a time, perhaps to visit his father in Georgetown.
End of story? Not so fast. I originally thought I could conclude this vengeful feud story today, but upon further research it turns out there were so many twists and turns, and thus a summary article simply won’t adequately relate this piece of history. So, like a defense attorney before a presiding judge, “I beg your indulgence” to allow for a “continuance” – this will be four-part article, but again I promise you won’t be bored!
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.