Many have asked when my book on the history of West Terre Haute, Til the Coal Train Hauled It Away: The Rise and Demise of a Small Town, will be published. I am very happy to announce that if all goes according to plan the book will be published in October, 2017.
In the meantime I want to share news of another publication. A collection of my short fiction, A Sky Held Captive, will be published on May 10. Included in it are three stories either set in, or featuring characters from, West Terre Haute.
It will be available on Amazon and other book outlets after May 15, but if you wish to purchase an advanced personally inscribed, autographed copy, please contact me via the blog site or my email address (email@example.com) and I will tell you how to order a copy.
Thank you all for your continued interest.
No one knows exactly how Cozzie Jones managed his escape from the Indiana State Prison in 1960. A retired guard said according to prison lore an assistant warden, who became close to Jones, had aided his escape. It seemed odd that a man who had spent almost half his twenty years in solitary for various infractions was allowed to work on the prison honor farm. What is known that Jones managed to slip away and acquire clothes, cash and a car, and flee the state.
Jones headed west, stopping long enough to murder a hitchhiker in Missouri, settling in Arizona.
Settling isn’t really the correct word. He slid from place to place, the right move for an escapee. He was known to have lived in Casa Grande, Tucson, Florence and Phoenix. He adopted the name Steve Palmer for his new life. Jones was an accomplished pianist and lived the life of an itinerant musician, playing in bands and working as a solo act. The owner of the Quick Draw Club in Casa Grande acknowledged Jones’ skill but said he was a strange character. Along the way he picked up a woman he sometimes introduced as his wife.
One think did not leave behind was a most horrendous trait. Cozzie Merrill Jones was a pedophile.
He was a small man with “hard dark eyes and a smirk when he spoke,” but he could also be charming. He appears to have been adept at what is now called grooming his potential victims. Several women still recall with a shudder their encounters with him six decades ago.
Laura Dey’s father was a band leader who hired “Steve Palmer” through the musicians union. She remembered he played beautifully, but would sometimes disappear for days. Once he returned looking worse for wear and with his car re-painted. Even as a sever year-old she did not like him.
Marie Johns came very close to becoming a victim. Her family lived near Jones and his “wife,” who just disappeared one day never to be heard from again. Jones would take her places when she was six. He even stayed close to her after they moved away from the neighborhood. He would appear at their new house and ask to take young Marie with him. He followed her home from schools one day The last time she saw him was the day he knocked on the door and wanted to take her to visit Colossal Cave. Her father, leery of Jones, refused the invitation. Later that night they learned Jones had been arrested.
Jones was living in Tucson when he met Lucinda Hutcherson and her mother met Jones and his “wife” in a local drugstore. Jones later invited them to his home, where he seemed much more interested in 13 year-old Lucinda than her single mother. Jones was constantly asking Lucinda to come hear him play the piano. Her mother was wary of “Steve Palmer” and did not allow him alone with her daughter. He persisted by visiting their home. When he did Lucinda and her mother turned out the lights and pretended not to be at home. She remembers him peeking over a concrete wall when she was having a slumber party with her friends. She also saw him peeking through her bedroom window on several occasions.
Time finally ran out on the escapee in December 1962. Two men saw Cozzie trying to pull a young girl into his car near Florence, Arizona. They intervened and Jones sped away. In a chase that sometimes reached 90 MPH they cornered him at a dead end. He jumped out the car and fired shots from a pistol at them. A 62 year-old retired rancher Carl Quast happened to be cleaning his hunting rifle in his carport when Jones ran up and pointed a gun in his face. He forced Quast to be his getaway driver. After Quast drove him out of harm’s way, Cozzie murdered him, leaving his body in the desert.
The Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department tracked Cozzie down and arrested him for the Quast murder on December 8th. They learned that “Donald Steve Palmer” was wanted by the Tucson police for making “improper advances” toward an 11 year-old girl there. Armed with this information they interrogated Jones for hours.
Jones quickly confessed to Quast’s murder. The police were suspicious that he was also involved in the murder of an 8 year-old Tucson girl the year before. He was given a lie detector test that proved inconclusive. The technician giving the test told police that Cozzie was “a man who knows a great deal about lie detectors and human reactions produce certain reactions. Jones also continually moved his arm to throw off the machine. The detectives also suspected he was the killer of a young couple in the desert earlier in the year.
A few days later Jones finally admitted he killed young Marguerita Bejarano. He stated “woke up with an uncontrollable desire to see and talk to a young girl. He drove by the Tucson Sports Center and “saw a little girl walking by herself.” He pulled over and offered her a ride to school. Marguerita began to cry when she noticed they had driven past her school without dropping her off.. He drove several miles and then stopped to “comfort” her. He asked her if she would tell on him to anyone if he let her go. The terrified girl’s fate was sealed when she said she would tell “her mother, police and her teacher” on him.
When she told him she was thirsty he pulled over and let her out to drink from a brook. Instead Marguerita began to run away. Jones pulled out the pistol he always kept with him and shot her in the head. He pulled her body into the bushes under a bridge near a stream. The scene was eerily reminiscent of Jones leaving young Edith Barton’s body in Sugar Creek twenty-one years before. As he was leaving he heard Marguerita moan. He turned back and shot her again, to “put her out of her misery.”
In a ghastly postscript Jones told the police he had later attended the young girl’s funeral.
When asked why he did such things Cozzie seemed to paint himself as the victim of uncontrollable circumstances. After all he was a man who loved children:
“I had no intention of hurting her. I’ve taken kids on picnics, bought them ice cream and things like that. I just like kids, that’s all. Oh there isn’t anything I can say. I couldn’t help it. I would have these impulses come over me. I would be shaving and then would have to go out and find one.”
He estimated he had been with over 100 kids since coming to Arizona.
At his trial he said “I just want to die and get it over with,” implying they should just send him to the gas chamber.
His wish was granted on January 22, 1963 when he was given the death sentence. He was sent to the Arizona State Prison‘s Death row in Florence to await his meeting with the gas chamber. There he joined 14 other killers awaiting their own fate.
Cozzie’s execution was set for April. They didn’t fool around with that sort of thing in the Arizona of the early ‘sixties. But just days before his execution date he was given the first of what would be several stays, so his lawyers could appeal the decision. After the appeal was denied a new date was set for January 1964.
All this came as a rising sentiment to abolish the death penalty came to his rescue. In December groups gathered outside the prison to protest again capital punishment. A local minister who was spearheading the movement said that Cozzie Jones was a “victim” of a human life taken “in the name of society.” The story shared the same page as the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr.
Jones received another stay. This time until November 1964. This time it looked like he would take his seat in the gas chamber. Instead of a last meal he ordered a last feast to be served three days before the execution. He asked for barbecued spare ribs, fried chicken breasts, baked macaroni and cheese, French fries with catsup, cottage cheese, creamery butter and raisin toast, creamed slaw, sweet pickles and cherry pie a la mode.
This time sentence was stayed because of a new appeal saying Cozzie was not given a lawyer for over a week (This was two years before the Miranda Ruling) and was denied changing his initial plea to not guilty. The case dragged on for nearly a year before it was found he was denied due process.
In April 1966 Jones was removed from Death Row and sent back to Pinal County Jail. The court ruled he had indeed been denied due process because he was not allowed to change his plea. In essence, the ruling stated he had to either be set free or re-arraigned on the charges. All of a sudden there was a fear that Jones would soon be back on the streets menacing children, It was decided to retry him.
Interestingly, Jones was never charged with Marguerita Bejarano’s death, even though they had found her blood stains in his car and ballistic evidence tied his gun to the killing. But a potential case charging him with the girl’s death was weakened when it was discovered that the Tucson Police had lost the murder gun. They tried to substitute another gun in its place, but were caught in their scam.
So, in January 1967 a new member joined Cozzie’s defense team. Controversial lawyer William Morgan, known for getting men off Death Row because their rights had been violated, took over the case. The huskily built Morgan was a crusader for his clients. He hired a psychiatrist and private detective to aid in the case.
A few months earlier two court appointed psychiatrists had ruled that Jones was a “hopeless paranoiac.” Interestingly, one of them had ruled Cozzie was sane and fit to face trial after his arrest. The new shrink agreed that Jones was “hopelessly insane” and should be put in a mental hospital instead of a prison cell. There had always been a furious debate in Arizona newspapers about Cozzie, but this latest news led to angry letters to editors and editorials. Many took up pens filled with outrage over the “animalistic” Jones getting off easy.
It looked like the case might drag on for many more years. Finally, in 1967, Cozzie agreed to plead guilty to both murders in exchange for a life sentence in the prison hospital in Florence. He died in the Maricopa Hospital on August 17, 1973 when an aorta ruptured as he was undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.
His death did not come soon enough for an editor of The Tucson Daily News. The editor avowed that Cozzie Jones was “a good, strong case in support of capital punishment.” Jones should have died in the gas chamber ten years earlier, not in a hospital. The writer had visited Jones on Death Row in 1964. During the interview Jones talked casually about murdering the hitchhiker and Carl Quast. He even bragged about “killing an Indian” outside a Tucson bar, a crime for which he was not charged. As for Jones’ mental condition, that was a con. He played games with people, like poking pins in a voodoo doll that was supposed to represent the local sheriff.
Deputy Sheriff Charles Barber dealt with Cozzie Jones for over a year. He never forgot the killer’s hard, dark eyes and noted he was a “con man.”
Cozzie Merrill Jones did not receive any mail or visitors during his final years. He was always afraid to go into the prison yard because he knew what other prisoners thought of child molesters. All it would take was for a guard to look in the other direction and fellow inmates would take pleasure in killing him. Instead he died on an operating table.
No one came forward to claim his body.