March 5, 2008
A 19th-century murder confession scrawled on the back of a piece of window molding nailed to a bedroom wall went unseen by human eyes for almost 100 years.
Now it’s available for all to see at the Fountain Valley Historical Society Museum. The 4th Judicial District attorney’s office donated the foot-long section of decorative molding to the museum on Wednesday, 22 years after its discovery in 1986. “I’ve had that piece of wood in my evidence room for all these years,” district investigator Larry Martin said. The wood tells the story of the murder of John Sebastian, who died at John Spicer’s hand in March 1893. In pencil, using compact cursive writing, Spicer detailed his crime on the unfinished flat back of the molding, which he nailed to the wall of the house he was building at the intersection of El Paso Street and Alabama Avenue in Fountain. The message read: “To whoever may happen to find the confession, I, John W. Spicer of the City of Fountain, State of Colorado, being about to shuffle off this mortal act to make this my full confession in the hope that when I am gone it may be found and at last clear up the darkest mystery that ever embraced one in human murder.” Spicer wrote that he clubbed John J. Sebastian “four miles north of this city and two miles east of the foot of Cheyenne Mountain,” which puts the crime scene somewhere on today’s Fort Carson, Martin said. Sebastian’s body was not found. Spicer did it for $5,000 in jewelry and cash, he said. Spicer dragged Sebastian’s body into a ravine 500 yards away and wrote that he planned to spend his “last moments in prayer for the partial salvation of my soul,” Martin said. Martin said he’s not sure when Spicer wrote the confession, but records from the El Paso County assessor’s office show the house was built in 1899. Spicer’s note remained hidden until 1986, when the house’s new owner started remodeling, Martin said. As the owner ripped out sections of wood, he tossed it onto the lawn, where his children helped remove embedded nails. “One of his daughters was pulling the nails out and said, ‘Hey dad, there’s writing on it,'” Martin said. The man called a reporter from the Gazette-Telegraph newspaper, and the reporter took the wood to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. They said, “we’re not going to give it back to him because it’s a murder confession and it’s authentic,” Martin said. CBI investigators determined the handwriting matched the style typical of the late 1800s, Martin said. They never did find a sample of Spicer’s handwriting to compare, Martin said. But Martin kept digging into the case and eventually located Spicer’s only living child, Marguerite Bulkley of Pueblo, then 89. In his first interview with Bulkley, Martin told her about the confession. “She got real cold and turned off and said, ‘My eyes are so bad, I can’t look at that,’” Martin said. But a week later Martin got a letter from Bulkley, who’d had a change of heart. “She said, ‘It’s time the story was told,’” Martin said. Bulkley said her father told her he did kill a man, but it was in self-defense after a transient attacked him near his horse corrals south of town. Bulkley said Spicer told her local law enforcement investigated the incident but found Spicer not guilty. But Martin never found evidence to corroborate this version of the story. Spicer’s confession held fast, Martin said. Martin said he doesn’t know of any relatives of either Spicer or Sebastian living in the Pikes Peak Region today. Spicer ultimately moved to Florida, where he died in the 1940s. Spicer’s confession will be displayed behind glass at the Fountain museum. The house where he nailed it still stands. Penny and Dean Cimino moved there in the mid ‘90s. They fell in love with the two-story Victorian the second they walked in the door. When neighbors told them of the house’s history, they were intrigued. Even more interesting: The Ciminos married on Aug. 31, 1985 — exactly 100 years after John Spicer’s wedding anniversary. Now restoring the house to its former glory, Penny Cimino said she’s glad the molding is back in Fountain. She wants to replicate it in her house. “I’m happy that it’s coming back here,” she said.