Murder of William H. Dickens
On the night of November 30, 1914, an assailant from an undisclosed location, shot into the Dickens's residence and hit William in the back, killing him instantly. The Longmont businessman, philanthropist, former soldier and cousin to author Charles Dickens was loved by the residents of Longmont and Boulder and his death shocked the communities. Of the many theories surrounding his death, including his own son Rienzi as a suspect, all thus far have been debunked. His death is still unsolved.
Backstory and Context
William H. Dickens was born on May 25, 1843 on the ship, the "Johnny Walker," as his parents sailed to Quebec from England. From there, the family moved to Wisconsin. At the age of 16, William, his mother and his step-father, moved to the Colorado Territory and settled along the St. Vrain River in 1859. The area would eventually become the city Longmont. Besides farming, the family operated a stage stop for the Cherokee Trail stage line.
In 1862, at the age of 21, William enlisted with the Colorado Third Cavalry and participated in the attack on a village of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians. This November 29 attack is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Mustering out soon afterwards, Dickens decided to homestead next to the property next to his step-father's property. He planted and irrigated alfalfa, wheat, sugar beets and potatoes, while also raising cattle, horses and sheep. In 1876, the same year Colorado became a state, William Dickens married Ida Kitely. They would go on to have five children.
From 1876 to the time of his death, William became a prominent member of the community. He developed a freight business that transported goods between Denver and Cheyenne. He then established the Famers Mill and Elevator Company, which at one time could produce up to 600 sacks of flour in a day. He was also instrumental, as founder, in the creation of the Farmers National Bank. He was also a member of the board of a sugar company. To help bring culture to the area, he had the Dickens Opera House and Tavern constructed in 1881 (corner of Main and 13th streets). Often he would let the town's homeless stay in the Opera's basement if they agreed to help clean up after performances and parties.
On the night of his murder on November 30, 1914, the original suspect was one James DuBois, a member of the state board of Agriculture and a clerk in Larimer County. It was rumored his brother, Billy, had been killed by a posse after he murdered a man in 1870. One of the posse members was said to have been William Dickens. Revenge was hence a motive for murder. James was released due to lack of evidence.
After the funeral ceremony on December 3, police arrested a new suspect: Rienzi Dickens, one of William and Ida's own children. The belief was that based on the recent purchase of a high-powered gun and a silencer and Rienzi's lack of an alibi, the son may have a powerful grudge to carry out. It also did not help that he originally lied about the gun and was in thousands of dollars of debt. Surely, he must have sought to gain his inheritance early to pay off the debts. With his earnest stance on being innocent and with family beside him, he was let out on bail. However, his trail started in April of 1915. Between December and April, another suspect cropped up as having a grudge against William, due to the latter's apparent witness to the former's murder of an Indian woman. However, with no evidence, he was let go.
Rienzi's trail was interrupted by a letter from a person simply known as "XXXX," who urged the release of Rienzi and admitted he killed William. However, the letter and "confession" was not enough, and the trail continued. On May 28, Rienzi was found guilty of second degree murder. Despite a conviction of 10 yeas in prison, he was out on bail for a time and his lawyer appealed. Despite witnesses declaring they say Rienzi at his brother's house at the time of the murder and an expert gunsmith stating Rienzi's gun and the bullet in WIlliam did not match, the appeal was denied and Rienzi was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Appealing to the state Supreme Court, Rienzi was offered a new trial, since the Court declared the second degree conviction did not match the prosecution's theory of why William was murdered as well as the prejudiced actions against Reinzi made by the county sheriff.
In mid-October of 1927, the new trial ended with a "Not Guilty" verdict. Rienzi later moved to Long Beach, CA, and stayed until his death. The murder of his father William remains unsolved.
Dickens V. People. 186. Supreme Court Of Colorado. 06 Oct. 1919. Print.
"Verdict "Not Guilty"" The Longmont Ledger 14 Oct. 1921. Print.