In March 2019, Colorado lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 19-182, which would have abolished capital punishment in the state. Just one month later, the bill was already dead, for another year anyway. But that’s only the most recent chapter in the fraught history of the death penalty in Colorado. The death penalty has been abolished and reinstated twice in the state’s history.
The death penalty in Colorado was instated as a reaction to rampant vigilante justice, lynch mobs, and hangings without due process in the early years of Colorado territory and state history. A total of 103 people have been executed by the state and/or territory, and only one person, Gary Lee Davis in 1997, has been executed in the last 50 years. John Stoefel committed the first murder in Denver in 1859, and after a three day trial, was hanged from a tree near Cherry Creek as the first person executed under Colorado capital punishment, although the death penalty wouldn’t become formal law until 1861.
Capital punishment was abolished in Colorado in 1897, but was reinstated in 1901 due to a rise in vigilante justice. So lynch mobs like the one in today’s article aren’t really that surprising. A grizzly double murder takes place near the small towns of Rye and Walsenburg, and it’s practically historical precedent when nearly 100 men “armed to the teeth” gather to find the killers. Today’s article makes the mob’s action sound almost quaint, describing it as “an old fashioned man hunt.”
So what exactly happened on the road between Pueblo and Rye one hundred years ago, and how did the murderers get caught?
On April 11, 1919, George Bosko (24) and his younger brother, Thomas Bosko (17), went to Pueblo looking for work on the Hatchet Ranch, located ~25 miles from there near Rye, CO. George was trying to get money to start a garage in Lafayette, CO with his brother-in-law, Horace McFadden. George Bosko committed one felony already in order to start this business when he forged a check in his father’s name, although his father did not press charges. His next felony would escalate quickly.
After hitchhiking their way to the ranch, George and Thomas were turned down for work, so they headed back out on the road where they were picked up by two men test driving a new Dodge car. Elton C. Parks, an automobile dealer in Pueblo, was giving a lesson in how to operate the vehicle to William T. Hunter, who was ready to buy the car. Hunter mentioned to Parks that he had $3,000 in cash on him for the purchase. George Bosko and his brother, upon hearing this from the back seat, decided to kill the men and make off with the money.
George Bosko took out his pistol and shot Elton Parks in the back, through the seat of the car. Parks was killed immediately. Bosko then shot William Hunter, who managed to escape the car and flee on foot. The brothers dragged Parks’ body from the car and threw him down the nearby arroyo. George Bosko pursued William Hunter and shot him two more times, killing him. The brothers left his body in the arroyo as well, but not before being seen by two people, William Reed and Jack Parker, in an approaching car. The Bosko brothers stopped the car at gunpoint and told Reed and Parker to go back to Pueblo, which they did.
Word reached Pueblo and the nearby towns of Rye and Walsenburg that Parks and Hunter were dead, both of whom were well known to the community, and each was married with two small children. Immediately, a hot blooded posse formed and started hunting the men. They found the abandoned Dodge south of Pueblo with an overheated radiator, but there was no sign of the Bosko brothers. The posse continued their manhunt into the mountains where their chase was stymied by the unforgiving terrain.
Meanwhile, the Bosko brothers somehow made it back to Pueblo, where they boarded a train to Lafayette to stay with their sister and brother in law, Mary and Horace McFadden. After staying only a few days, they left for Utah to hide from police. However, they confessed their crime to the McFaddens, who eventually gave up the Bosko brothers’ location to the police after intense questioning.
Sheriffs and Under-sheriffs from Utah and Colorado collaborated quickly, especially for 1919, and on May 21, 1919, the Bosko brothers were in custody back in Pueblo, where they signed a confession of their crimes. Apparently, things almost turned out much differently, for a Pueblo Chieftain headline from that month read “George Planned to Slay his Brother and Kill Himself”.
Since the brothers had already confessed, there was no trial for guilt. Instead, a jury was rigorously selected to determine degree of crime as well as sentencing. Sheriffs were placed throughout courtroom during the two day trial in case there was indication of mob justice. The jury took two and a half hours to bring back a first degree murder decision with a sentence of death for George Bosko and life imprisonment for Thomas Bosko. Although the execution by hanging was supposed to take place in September, it was continuously pushed back, notably in July of 1920, when George Bosko was given a three month reprieve so that a lunacy claim could be investigated.
Finally, after almost two years of failed appeals, George Bosko would be executed in December of 1920 at the Canon City Penitentiary. His execution date was held earlier than planned when Bosko collapsed in his cell and pleaded to be killed after his final emotional visit with his mother.
George Bosko wrote a final letter to his mother the night before his execution saying, “What ever we suffer here will only be better for us after death. For God has everything prepared for us, even for me. May peace from Almighty God come down on you and rest you and give you happiness and joy.”
He was put to death by hanging on December 10th, 1920. His brother spent the rest of his life in prison.