The Oldest Unsolved Murder In Boulder Was Probably Solved A Century Ago

William Dickens Longmont House
William Dickens’ Longmont house situated in the trees at 303 Coffman Street (c. 1904-1925) | Photo courtesy Longmont Museum

On a cold winter night in November 1914, wealthy Boulder businessman William Dickens was reading in the library of his Longmont home when a bullet tore through the window and struck him in the back. A fragment of the bullet sliced the cheek of his wife, who was sitting nearby. She lived, but Dickens died in her arms.

 

Shock waves rippled through the community as news of the murder spread. William Dickens, cousin to author Charles Dickens, was a generous philanthropist and pillar of the community. Who would want the man dead?

 

That question would haunt authorities for decades to come. But perhaps it needn’t. The murder of William Dickens—the oldest unsolved murder in Boulder County—was probably solved a century ago.

William Dickens Portrait
Portrait of William H. Dickens | Photo courtesy Longmont Museum

In the hunt for the man who slayed William Dickens, police detectives and their leader, Sheriff Sanford Buster, chased down a cast of suspects that could have been pulled from a Wild West movie.

 

First came James DuBois, the brother of murderer and accused stagecoach robber Billy DuBois. In 1870 Billy murdered the Longmont postmaster after the postmaster refused to pay Billy money for falsely identifying him in the robbery of a mail coach. A vigilance committee led by William Dickens shot and killed Billy as retribution for the postmaster’s death. James DuBois vowed to avenge Billy’s death, for which he blamed Dickens.

 

Detectives theorized James DuBois assassinated William Dickens to carry out his oath of revenge. But there was a problem. James’ revenge oath was over 40 years old and he was now an upstanding citizen. Without evidence linking him to Dickens’ murder, James DuBois was released from police custody.

US Mail Stagecoach in Teller County
U.S. Mail Stagecoach, Teller County, Colorado (c. 1890-1910) | Denver Public Library

Detectives then turned their attention to Rienzi Dickens, the money-troubled son of William Dickens. Deeply in debt after losing heavily in the cattle industry, Rienzi had motive for killing his wealthy father.

 

By luck, a patrolman in Denver discovered Rienzi had purchased a high-power rifle and silencer from Tritch Hardware Store a month before his father’s murder. The bullet that killed William Dickens matched the type used in Renzi’s rifle.

 

When Sheriff Buster brought Rienzi in for questioning, Rienzi denied possessing the gun and silencer. A search of his garage proved otherwise. Detectives found pieces of the rifle and silencer concealed in different parts of the building. They also learned Rienzi had been seen firing a high-power rifle at a fence post on a farm five miles from his Longmont home.

Farm in a mountain meadow west of Denver Colorado (1916)
Farm in a mountain meadow west of Denver, Colorado (1916) | Denver Public Library

On the morning of his father’s funeral, Rienzi Dickens was arrested on the charge of slaying William Dickens. A marshal escorted him to the police station after the service.

 

Rienzi asserted his innocence, but the alibi he offered was thin. He said he was at home with two of his children the night of the murder, and his wife and three other children were at the movies. He conceded to purchasing the rifle and silencer, but claimed he only used them to shoot at fence posts.

 

Sheriff Buster was certain he had his man. The next day he acted on a tip Rienzi was seen frantically digging through an ash pile in the alley behind his home before his father’s funeral. After combing the pile, detectives located the cartridge from which the bullet that killed William Dickens originated. They believed Rienzi stashed it there after the murder.

 

Despite the mounting evidence against Rienzi, he and his family insisted he was innocent. They hired a private investigator to find an alternative suspect. A range rider named John Elmore Endsley was soon offered up. Labeling Endsley a “champion liar,” the investigator told Sheriff Buster he’d uncovered proof linking the range rider to the murder of William Dickens.

Painting of a range rider watching the herd by Herndon Davis
Cowboy watching herd (Herndon Davis) | Denver Public Library

Acting on the private investigator’s tip, Sheriff Buster took the range rider John Elmore Endsley into custody.

 

At once Endsley declared his innocence and claimed he was in Denver when William Dickens was murdered. His alibi was corroborated by the owner of a pawn shop on Larimer Street. Without evidence linking Endsley to the crime, Sheriff Buster released him from custody. But not before hearing his shocking account of the duplicitous tactics used by the private investigator in attempt to secure a false confession.

 

According to Endsley, the investigator disguised himself as a priest, got Endsley drunk on whiskey, told him he was dying from a fatal sickness, and urged him to confess to the murder. Father Agatho of Sacred Heart Church backed up Endsley’s statement, indicating the investigator took the vestment of a priest from the church.

 

The investigator came clean. He explained Rienzi Dickens’ family hired him to spread sensational news to exonerate Rienzi and get the range rider convicted instead.

 

Prosecutors moved forward with trying Rienzi Dickens for the murder of his father. Soon they were met with another devious attempt to blame someone else for the crime. During jury selection, proceedings were halted when the defense presented a sham confession letter from a person named “XXX.”

Newspaper clipping of the confession letter from XXX
Newspaper clipping: “I Slew Dickens, Confesses XXX.” | The Fairplay Flume, May 5, 1916

In the fishy letter the author claimed they killed William Dickens because “He had it coming.” They plead with prosecutors to release Rienzi Dickens, writing, “For God’s sake, don’t let them convict an innocent man.”

 

Certain the letter was another ruse, the district attorney refused to drop the charges against Rienzi. The letter was dismissed and jury selection continued. A month later the jury returned a guilty verdict for the second-degree murder of William Dickens. Rienzi was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment.

 

In an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, Rienzi’s attorneys argued the second-degree murder conviction didn’t match the prosecution’s narrative of the crime. The Supreme Court agreed and the case was retried.

 

Preparing for the second trial of Rienzi Dickens, the prosecution obtained additional evidence. Most damning was an eye-witness testimony that placed Rienzi outside his father’s home on the night of the murder. It should have been an open-and-shut case, but there was a problem. The jury was sympathetic to Rienzi Dickens and his family. Despite the mountain of evidence against Rienzi, they returned a not-guilty verdict.

 

After hearing the verdict, Rienzi boarded a train to El Segundo, California, and never came back. Many believed he got away with the murder of William Dickens. If it weren’t for the sympathetic jury, the oldest unsolved murder in Boulder County would’ve been solved a century ago.

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