Trio of robbers arrested, convicted of 1938 murder
This is fourth in a series about a web of violence and vice in Grand Junction, or as some called it, “Little Chicago,” that came to a head in the late 1930s with the formation of a grand jury investigation.
Grand Junction citizens, irate and aghast at illegal gambling and a “crime spree” in their peaceful town, received a stunning blow just one day after Mesa County Judge Straud M. Logan had signed an order calling for a grand jury investigation.
At around 11 p.m. on Dec. 18, 1938, W.J. “Big Kid” Eames, manager of the Biltmore Club, located on the second floor of the Reed Building at Fourth and Main streets, was shot and killed in an apparent armed robbery.
Three men, their faces covered with silk stockings, entered the gambling hall armed with a sawed-off shotgun and wielding revolvers and announced: “This is a stickup.” Apparently the three masked men were there to recover the money, reportedly between $500 and $1,200, that one of them had lost in several card games over the past several months.
According to newspaper reports, Eames was shot in the face before he could react to the gunmen’s demands.
Some eyewitnesses reported that the man with the shotgun seemed stunned that the gun had fired. While the gunman fumbled with his weapon, Eames, who was bleeding profusely, staggered for a few moments and slumped to the floor. The gunmen fled the scene without the money.
Eames was rushed to the hospital, but wounds were so severe the doctors could do nothing to save his life. Eames’ death eliminated any opposition to the upcoming grand jury investigation.
People who remembered “Big Kid” said that he had a heart of gold and was always there to help those in need. He was a member of Elks Lodge 575 and, when he died, was preparing 200 Christmas baskets to be distributed by the Elks to needy families. In addition to his gambling interests, Eames had operated legitimate cigar store businesses in Denver, Telluride and Grand Junction.
F.L. “Boost,” as he was known by locals, Sadler, manager of the Copeco Dance Hall, was arrested Dec. 27, 1938, on suspicion of Eames’ murder. Although there was evidence that he had borrowed a gun from another person and stockings from a “lady friend,” no charges were filed, and the investigation continued.
In early February 1939, after the grand jury had recessed for a couple of weeks, the public learned that a Denver special investigator, Walter Byron, had taken two men into custody on the Front Range for Eames’ murder.
The two, Otis D. Slane and John “Tommy” Homutoff, were returned to Grand Junction to be questioned by Byron. The duo admitted to being a part of the attempted robbery and murder, naming Sadler as the “ringleader.”
When Sadler was told that his two friends from their San Quentin days had confessed, he corroborated the story. He also told authorities he had planned on robbing the Royal, a gambling hall across Main Street from the Biltmore.
Slane also admitted that he was paid by Sadler to torch the River Park dance hall near the Gunnison River, south of Grand Junction.
On Feb. 23, the trial for Eames’ murderers got under way to a standing-room-only crowd. After a 10-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict for Sadler in six hours. According to newspaper reports, Sadler broke into tears when the verdict was read.
It took the jury only 50 minutes to reach guilty verdicts for Slane and Homutoff.
All three men were sentenced to terms in the state penitentiary in Canon City.
After serving about 20 years in prison, all three were paroled in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Sadler and Homutoff were freed earlier than Slane.
Sadler returned to Grand Junction and by 1959 was listed as the owner of the Snow Peak Drive-In in the city directory. He died of cancer April 8, 1966. Ted Vath, who had worked for Sadler, took over ownership of the drive-in, an agreement they previously had arranged.
According to Social Security records, Homutoff died in April 1976.
In a story in the Aug. 3, 1961, Sentinel, it was reported Slane was to be paroled the next week. Warden Harry Tinsley said Slane had become an expert leather craftsman in prison and was going to work for a novelty dealer on the Front Range.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.