17 Slices
Medium 9781574413175

Chapter 5: To the Courts

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

5

CHAPTER

To the Courts

From Guns to Gavels

AS THE STORY OF THE BLOODY Boyce-Sneed feud continued

to unfold for more than two years—more melodramatic than any modern soap opera—lurid newspaper accounts of a scandalous romance, the stalking, the killings, and the sensational murder trials titillated readers all across America and Canada (where the press continued to take an unusually condescending and voyeuristic interest). Every twist of the tale seemed even more unbelievable than the last, and it not only shocked the nation but shook the pillars of West

Texas society.

The courtroom dramas, riveting enough as they were in their own right, also served to bring into sharp focus the marked differences between the liberal values emerging in the northern states and the traditional Victorian morals, customs, and religious beliefs still so deeply imbedded in southern culture—all this at the dawning of the new century when these “Old South” values were first beginning to be seriously challenged.

<=

When they slammed shut the jailhouse door on John Beal Sneed for the killing of Colonel Boyce, the entire drama abruptly shifted

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413175

Chapter 9: “Because This Is Texas”

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

9

CHAPTER

“Because This Is Texas”

The Second Fort Worth Murder Trial of John Beal Sneed

LODGED IN THE POTTER COUNTY JAIL in Amarillo under

indictment for the murder of Al Boyce, John Beal Sneed once again petitioned for bail.1 The Amarillo district attorney, H. S. Bishop, opposed it. District Judge J. N. Browning agreed, finding that “proof was evident” that Sneed was guilty of having committed the offense of premeditated murder. As Sneed’s defense lawyers had done only nine months earlier in Fort Worth, they contended that proof was not evident that Sneed had committed premeditated, first-degree murder.

Just as they had done in the Colonel Boyce murder case, McLean did not deny that Sneed killed Al Boyce or deny that Sneed had killed him intentionally. Nevertheless, McLean contended, the most that the state could prove against Sneed was a manslaughter charge, and therefore, Sneed was entitled to have appropriate bail set for his release. In making this argument, McLean relied on the “insulting words or conduct” directed toward a “female relative” statute as he had during Sneed’s first murder trial. The effect of that statute was to reduce the grade of that offense from what would otherwise have been premeditated murder to manslaughter, two to five years, provided that the defendant killed the libertine at their “first meeting” after the enraged relative learned of the insulting words or conduct.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413175

Chapter 3: A Man with a Plan

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

3

CHAPTER

A Man with a Plan

Escape, Flight, and Pursuit

AT FIRST IT MUST HAVE SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE for John Beal

Sneed to concoct any one plan that would accomplish all of his goals.

Revenge had to be exacted—not only against Lena but also against

Al. Both had publicly humiliated him. His battered hubris had to be assuaged; his honor in that Victorian society had to be restored.

And he had to do all of that while publicly portraying himself in some heroic role. In 1911 Texas society he could kill Al, even waylay him from ambush and most likely get away with it—maybe even be applauded for it. After all, there was still a statute on the law books of Texas that justified the killing of a libertine provided the enraged husband caught him in bed with his wife.1 But what about Lena?

She had to be punished too. However, as any southern gentleman knew, killing a woman, even a cheating wife, was out of the question.

There was just no way that slaying a woman could be portrayed as the act of a proud, courageous, manly southern hero. On the other hand, after it became public knowledge that Lena had committed adultery, he couldn’t take her back—couldn’t permit that soiled dove to return to the marital bed—without incurring public disdain and therefore disgracing himself.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413175

Chapter 1: The Three Families

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

1

CHAPTER

The Three Families

Settling in Antebellum Texas

BY HAPPENSTANCE, the Sneed, Boyce, and Snyder families all

settled in the same place, a wild and sparsely populated area a few miles north of Austin around the central Texas village of Georgetown. The three families were bedrock Texans, all arriving before the Civil War—some even before statehood in 1845. During those early years, the families shared the same struggles and hardships in that harsh, dangerous, and unforgiving frontier where there was the constant threat of Indian depredations. They also shared many of the same qualities. They were intelligent people and reasonably well educated for that day: ambitious, bold-spirited, hardy, independent, and, most of all, determined—determined not only to survive, but also to prosper. They were a religious people, devout Methodists. All three families, years later, joined to help found Southwestern University in Georgetown, a Methodist-sponsored college that received its official charter in 1875. Over the years, the lives and destinies of the three families became intertwined.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413175

Epilogue: B. Reflections, Speculations, and Unsolved Mysteries

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

252

VENGEANCE IS MINE

How skillfully, how masterfully, did McLean, Johnson, Scott, and even Beal Sneed himself when he took the stand, play on those prejudices, those fears of female eroticism, which, unless decisively restrained, threatened their own manhood and honor, those fears that a northern encroachment of modernism was threatening their core values and their way of life. In the end, the only patriotic thing the jurors could do to protect the home of John Beal Sneed, and— even more importantly—to protect their own homes, and to protect the homes of all upright and right-thinking citizens of Texas was to send forth a clear and resounding message that this was not the North; that henceforth free love, promiscuity, female eroticism, lightness in women, easy divorces, as well as lustful libertines, and any other brand of northern modernism would not be tolerated.

Henceforth Texas homes would be protected!

Because . . . well, after all, because this was Texas.

In the end, it seems more than probable that the jurors, at least the jurors in the second Fort Worth murder trial, didn’t really believe that Lena was insane, didn’t really buy into that “moral insanity” charade. But they were willing to give Beal Sneed a pass on that to salvage his tattered pride. What the jurors did buy into, however, was the “protecting the home” fiction that the McLean-Johnson-Sneed team orchestrated so masterfully to resonate so well with the jurors’ inherited Victorian culture.

See All Chapters

See All Slices