Tragic Young Love Leads To Murder

By Stephen D. Bowling

He heard the loud reports of a shotgun- 1, 2, 3 shots. He had a good idea who was shooting so he walked up the road to see what the shooting was about.  As he rounded the curve on December 10, 1935, he wasn’t sure that he “saw what he saw. “

Thomas Jefferson Salyers stopped and took a second look.   He ran over to the ditch line and found her lying there. She was obviously dead.  The body of a young female lay beside the roadway near Haddix Fork on Highway 30 West, about 8 miles from Jackson, that Tuesday afternoon.  He did not immediately recognize her.   

Three shotgun shells lay on the edge of the roadway near her body.  The young victim was covered in blood and pieces of flesh were torn away from her right arm and side with what appeared like a gunshot wound or as if she had been hit by a vehicle.  Salyers ran back to his store and called Sheriff R. A. Collier. 

The Lexington Leader from December 11, 1935, page 1.

Sheriff Collier, Deputy Sheriff John Rice, and Coroner James Goff arrived at the scene and identified the young woman as Evalee (Howard) Spicer, the wife of Whick J. Spicer.  Coroner Goff found three shotgun blasts, most likely from a 12-gauge, had been fired at very close range.  He immediately opened a homicide investigation.   

Witnesses told the Sheriff that he saw Whick Spicer, 18, standing in the roadway looking down at the lifeless body of his wife.  The body was taken to Jackson for a complete examination and inquest.

A few hours after Sheriff Collier’s return to Jackson, he spotted Whick Spicer leaving a poll room and arrested him as he walked down the street in Jackson at about 9:00 p.m.  Spicer was charged with murder and placed in the Breathitt County Jail.  He told officers that he had not seen his wife and that he knew nothing of the shooting.

Investigative work by the Coroner and Sheriff’s Department did uncover a great deal of evidence against Spicer.  T. J. Salyers, who owned a store at Haddix Fork and who found the body, told the investigators that Whick Spicer had purchased “some 12-gauge shotgun shells” at his store a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon Spicer’s wife was killed.  He said he heard three short shortly after the Spicers left the store.

Whick and Evalee Spicer married on May 8, 1935, in ceremonies at her father’s home at Curt. The couple made their home near their families who lived in the area.  Neighbors reported that there were no signs of any trouble between the couple and were puzzled by the events of the day.

Whick Spicer’s examining trial was held on Saturday, December 21, 1935, in the Breathitt County Court. Witnesses near the scene, including Evalee Spicer’s father, Elijah Howard, testified that they saw Whick in the area carrying a shotgun just before and after the shooting.  Officers presented into evidence a 12-gauge shotgun that they found at the home of Spicer’s cousin, Daniel Spicer. According to testimony, Whick Spicer “left it there for safe keeping” with several shells that matched those found on the roadway near the body. Enough evidence was presented the Judge ordered Spicer held without bond until his case could be presented to the next Breathitt County Grand Jury and his trial date was set in 1936.

The brief story of Whick Spicer’s recapture on Cane Creek appeared a few days later on page 2 of The Jackson Times.

In February 1936 while awaiting trial, Whick Spicer, then 19, sawed his way out of the Breathitt County Jail and escaped at about 4:00 a.m.  According to newspaper reports, Spicer was not locked in his usual “all-steel cage” and took advantage of the opportunity to saw away two bars of a window on the second floor of the jail and slid down a rope made from bed sheets. 

His early departure was discovered when Jailer Willie Combs made his rounds at 5:00 a.m.  Several other prisoners in that section did not escape despite the easy path out made by Spicer.  Despite a wide search by the Breathitt County Sheriff’s Department, he was not located.  A complete shock to Jailer Combs, Spicer’s cousin knocked on the door of the jail on the afternoon of February 16th and told the Jailer that Spicer wanted to surrender to authorities.  Jailer Combs drove to the agreed place, and Spicer walked out of the woods and surrendered as had been arranged.  He was taken back to the Breathitt County Jail and placed in the “steel cage.”

Spicer’s murder trial was held in March 1936, and a jury of Breathitt County men found him guilty.  The Commonwealth asked for the death sentence and, after a short deliberation, Spicer was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his young wife.  He served his time at the Kentucky State Reformatory at Eddyville from 1936 until September 1944 when he was paroled along with 103 other convicted felons.

Whick Spicer, 22, was an inmate at Eddyville, Kentucky on the 1940 Lyon County, Kentucky Federal Census.

Spicer, the son of Seldon and Lula (Spicer) Spicer, found work and married on November 12, 1946, in Scott County, Indiana to Viola Howard (1920-1988), a cousin of Evalee. Spicer and his new wife settled in Scott County, Indiana where Whick worked for the Morgan Packing Company. He attended the Baptist Church. Whick Spicer died of a heart attack on September 22, 1970, and is buried with his second wife in the New Providence Cemetery in Austin, Scott County, Indiana.

The grave of Whick and Viola (Howard0 Spicer in the New Providence Cemetery in Scott County, Indiana – Source

After the coroner’s inquest, Evalee (Howard) Spicer’s body was taken to her parent’s home near Haddix Fork of Cane Creek.  Services were held, and the family buried Evalee in the family lot at the Bowling Cove Cemetery, high on the hill overlooking Cane Creek and not far from where her life ended in 1935.  No motive or evidence was ever presented to explain why she was killed.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling

About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
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