Murder motive revealed
Editor’s note: This is part two of a three part series. The conclusion will be published in Saturday’s edition.
The coroner’s report stated George E. King, 42, had died from two bullets fired into his head at close range. Powder burns were visible.
Venezuela King, his 27-year-old wife, claimed a hitchhiker they had picked up outside of Wichita, had committed the murder and taken money from her husband’s wallet before fleeing on foot.
Law enforcement advised the accused killer’s description fit that of a bandit who had recently committed other armed robberies in the Wichita area.
The cold-blooded murder held many mysterious angles for the investigators and Venezuela King held to her story - until she finally confessed after police interviewed her a second time. After being grilled for almost 24 hours, she freely signed her long confession to Gale Moss, Butler County attorney, at 1:30 a.m.
Venezuela’s motive for the slaying stated her husband did not love her, he taught the baby “dirty, nasty” tricks, he had threatened to kill her on several occasions and he also had told her he was going to take the baby from her. She also said Mr. King had refused her a divorce.
“I figured that if he took my baby from me,” she said, “there was nothing in the world to live for. I knew I had no chance, no money, no way of getting money to fight against keeping George from taking my baby. When he finally told me he had gone to a lawyer about taking the baby, I was desperate. What I did was the only thing I could think of to prevent him from doing it.”
Gun purchased in Oklahoma
Venezuela said her husband had the gun in the car.
“I suppose when he came back from Tulsa on the 21st, the shells were in the gun,” the confession said. “The night before George was killed I found the gun in the pocket. After I found the gun, I made up my mind to do what I did.”
Venezuela showed little emotion and cried for only a few seconds when she was asked to sign the confession. She was held at the jail and retired for the night.
The next morning Gale Moss filed a state complaint, charging Mrs. King with murder in the first degree in the County Court of Judge W.N. Calkins. It had been a number of years since a charge of its kind had been filed in El Dorado.
Case attracts crowds
The report that Mrs. King had confessed to the crime spread quickly around town and a large number of people gathered at the courthouse in hopes of catching a glimpse of Venezuela King and attending her hearing. The crowd became so large notices were posted on the doors leading to the court room, stating the hearing would be held later.
County coroner Dr. A.P. Cloyes advised in view of the confession, no inquest would be held.
If Venezuela pleaded guilty to first degree murder, she could be sentenced to life imprisonment in the Women’s State Industrial Farm at Lansing. If she stood trial, a jury could set her punishment at a life sentence or a hanging.
Court room packed for arraignment
The court room was filled as Venezuela King was arraigned before County Judge W.N. Calkins and her preliminary hearing was set for 10 a.m. on Feb. 7. The proceedings took only 10 minutes with the accused sitting on the edge of her seat catching every word that was said.
George Adams, Wichita attorney and former county attorney of Sedgwick County, was retained as counsel for Mrs. King.
In view of her confession, her plea of not guilty surprised authorities.
County Attorney Moss said if the case went to a trial, he would be “more than ready” to present the state’s case.
In default of a $15,000 bond, she was taken to the county jail.
A.F. Cooper of Great Falls, Mont., father of Mrs. King, arrived in town to be with his daughter. Mrs. Cooper had been expected, but when she had been informed of her daughter’s troubles, it was reported she had collapsed and was put to bed.
So far, nothing had been learned of Mr. King, whether he had relatives, or from where he came. He was known for telling stories about being a native of Mississippi and had even said on occasion he was from Texas.
J.F. O’Donnell, Augusta, a field foreman for the Sinclair Company, under whom King worked, said he never had heard King talk of himself or his family, but he always had been one of his best workers and was “a fine fellow.”
About all that was known about King was he served during World War I in the U.S. Army from May 1918 to April 1919, and given an honorable discharge. At one time he had worked several years in Africa. Unless some relatives stepped forward, his fingerprints were going to be checked against FBI records. Settling his estate would be delayed. He had insurance policies totaling $3,000.
Background on the couple
George E. King and Venezuela Cooper were married on July 8, 1931 at Cheauteau, Mont.
In a letter to authorities from Mrs. Cooper, Venezuela’s mother, it was revealed George King had sought to wed Venezuela when she was only 15.
Venezuela had been afflicted since infancy with a thyroid ailment, which caused her to grow abnormally and gave her extreme nervousness, which for several years was manifested by attacks of St. Vitrus’ Dance, a disorder characterized by rapid uncoordinated jerking movements primarily affecting the face, hands and feet.
Venezuela’s schooling had been confined to the elementary grades at Fort Benton, Mont., and in Great Falls, and in desperation at her inability to keep pace with normal children of her age, she was then placed in the Ursuline Academy in Great Falls in the belief special instruction might benefit her.
“It was while she was at the academy, a child of 15, that she first met King,” her mother had written. “And he became infatuated with her and begged her to marry him. His attention was repulsed, and he left Montana then - to return three years later - when Venezuela was 18 - for a whirlwind courtship that terminated in their marriage in 1931.”
Venezuela’s confession shared a look into a bad marital situation. According to her, George had threatened on numerous occasions to kill her, never wanted to go anywhere with her, constantly told her that “women weren’t worth a damn and that he was going to give me misery the rest of my life for the misery his other wife had given him. He nagged me constantly and he said that he’d already seen a lawyer about taking the baby from me.”
The authorities in Great Falls had contacted the local law enforcement to inform them the late Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a notorious bandit, and George King were associates and had been at the King home in Texas in 1933. Venezuela said Floyd “hung out” at their place “three or four days,” but she did not know who he was until after he left and then her husband told her. She believed George had become acquainted with him in Africa a number of years before.
Venezuela’s mother said George King was an associate of Floyd, that King hid Floyd in the their home when the Kings resided in Drumright, Okla., and that Venezuela had been forced to cook for Floyd.
Mrs. Cooper also said, “If my baby (referring to Venezuela), killed him (King), she should have a medal, not a jail cell. She has feared for her life for years.”
In the midst of all the excitement, the 22-month-old child of the Kings was ill from pneumonia and taken to St. Francis Hospital in Wichita.
Venezuela seemed to be in fair spirits, but worried about the baby while she was being held in the Butler County Jail.
Also being held at the county jail was Art Reade, 43, possibly Venezuela’s “alleged” boyfriend. He was taken into custody for questioning and admitted he had been friendly with Mrs. King in recent months. He had been to the King home on many occasions and a picture of Venezuela was said to have been found in his wallet when he was arrested. No charges had been filed against him, but he would be detained as a material witness.
Venezuela King was taken to Wichita by sheriff deputies and one of their wives to attend the funeral of George E. King. The service, held at the chapel of Lahey & Martin Mortuary, was attended by a morbid, curious throng of several hundred people. Some started to gather at the chapel before noon, although the funeral was not held until 4 p.m.
Many more stood outside in the bitter cold trying to get a glimpse of the woman who confessed she fired two bullets into her husband’s head “to save my baby,” and the child who was lying in the hospital battling pneumonia.
George’s first wife was also in the chapel, but at no time, either during or after the service, did the two women meet. Venezuela sat with her father and her sister in the family room with other members of the family.
The minster referred to the tragedy several times, reminding that “only God knows how and why these things happen, and only He can be the judge.”
It was estimated more than 600 people filed past the casket, taking more than 25 minutes.
Many of the curious followed to Memorial Lawns Cemetery, where the body was buried in the Veteran’s Circle. Members of the VFW acted as pallbearers and conducted military rites at the grave. A squad of Spanish War veterans fired the three-gun salute over the grave, after “Taps” was sounded.
While in Wichita, Venezuela was permitted to visit her child at the hospital.
Read the conclusion to this 1939 murder story in Saturday’s edition. What would be the fate of Venezuela King?
Sources: The Augusta Daily Gazette, January, 1939; The El Dorado Times, January, 1939; The San Antonio Light, January, 1939.