Loving Cecile: The Strange Case of Stanley Lantzer
By Carol Bowers
A shot rang out, followed by a woman's scream on a Sunday morning in August 1938. Cecile Lantzer lay dead in the yard of a south Cheyenne cabin camp with a bullet in her back. Her husband, Stanley Lantzer, appeared in the doorway of the camp store and handed a small caliber revolver to the frightened sixteen year old attendant Ralph Silverman, saying "I've just shot my wife. Take the gun and call the police.
Stanley Lantzer was a quiet, rather inarticulate man of diminutive stature. He had only a seventh grade education, having left school to go to work and help his mother support his younger siblings. Stanley's father was an alcoholic whose chronic drinking made it impossible for him to hold a job and support his family.
Stanley was reported to be a hard worker, a good provider, and a man of few vices, although he was known to take a drink from time to time in social situations. Folks in his home town of Akron, Colorado and those who knew him in Brush, Colorado, where he lived after his marriage to Cecile, spoke highly of Stanley. They considered him a devoted family man -- a good father to his two sons and a model husband to Cecile.
Stanley had been married at age 20 to a Jewish woman named Ruth. Following his marriage Stanley converted to Judaism. Ruth did not know how to keep house, cook, do laundry or manage the household finances. Stanley was patient with her, handling most of the household chores himself. He gave Ruth most of the money he earned working at the Burlington round-house. Stanley and Ruth had two sons, Sam and Jack. Ruth would leave the babies unattended while Stanley was away and go out to dances with other men. Many times the children were found playing in the streets naked. Eventually Ruth began disappearing from home for several days at a time. Stanley had to miss so much work during this time to care for his boys that he was in danger of losing his job. He finally filed for divorce, took the boys to Akron and left them with his mother. Just after Stanley returned from taking the boys to Akron, Ruth was located living with several young boys, dubbed the "Soda Pop Kids" by the Denver Post, who had been involved in a number of robberies in the Denver area. Ruth was declared an unfit mother and custody of Sam and Jack was given to Stanley and his mother.
Stanley worked for the Burlington-Northern Railroad. He married Cecile, a divorced mother of four, in 1936. During the early months of their marriage Cecile accompanied Stanley wherever the railroad sent him. They lived in small apartments or rooming houses. In time, Cecile tired of this arrangement and expressed a desire to put down roots and have a home of their own. Stanley arranged to purchase a small house in Brush, Colorado only a few doors away from the home of Floyd Drake, Cecile's first husband. Stanley also purchased furniture for the house. For reasons never fully explained, both the house and furniture were purchased in Cecile's name, rather than jointly.
Often Stanley's work took him away from home during the week, but he always managed to catch a train home each weekend. While away from home Stanley faithfully wrote to Cecile four times each week. Everyone who knew them felt Stanley was deeply in love with Cecile. They gave every appearance of being a devoted and happy couple. Sam, Stanley's older son continued to reside with his grandmother in Akron, Colorado. However Jackie, the younger son became quite attached to Cecile and preferred to live with his father and stepmother. Cecile's oldest daughter Anne also lived in the Lantzer home, while Cecile's three other children lived with their father a few doors away.
Stanley's job with the railroad made it possible for him to live in more comfortable circumstances than many others during the years of the Great Depression. However, less than a year after marrying Cecile, Stanley was laid off. Worried over how he would make the mortgage payment and the monthly payments on their new furniture, Stanley became increasingly depressed. Within a month he was able to find work in the beet fields. Despite his protests Cecile insisted on working in the fields also. After the beet harvest Stanley worked a number of other agriculturally-related jobs, such as putting up hay and harvesting wheat. Again, his work often took him far from home for several weeks at a time, but he never neglected to write his four weekly letters to Cecile, or to mail the bulk of his earnings to her on payday.
Cecile's father was a psychiatric patient at the Colorado State Hospital. Cecile's mother, Anna Hagan, came to live with Stanley and Cecile soon after they bought the house in Brush. However, this arrangement only lasted a few months. Mrs. Hagan moved into a place of her own, stating that Cecile was unkind to her. Mrs. Hagan got along well with Stanley, in spite of her difficulties with Cecile. Cecile's brothers and their wives were also fond of Stanley. Stanley and his in-laws had a close, affectionate relationship. After Mrs. Hagan moved out of the Lantzer home, the couple rented one of their rooms and their sleeping porch to boarders in an attempt to make ends meet during the lean economic times they were facing.
Stanley Lantzer -- a model husband, devoted father, good provider, hard worker, responsible community member, a man of moderate habits -- appeared to have wanted nothing more from life than to live with Cecile and make her happy. What led Stanley to become the second man to die in Wyoming's gas chamber?
In July 1938, Stanley was working on a farm in Kansas when he received a cryptic call from Bill Shaw, one of his boarders. Shaw asked how soon Stanley would be coming home.
Stanley replied that he did not want to come home until the wheat harvest was over because he needed the money for his mortgage. Shaw would not state the purpose of his call, but urged Stanley to come home at once, saying he would discuss the trouble with him when Stanley arrived. Fearful that some harm had come to Cecile or the boys, Stanley caught the first bus back to Colorado. After arriving in Brush, Stanley stopped at the home of Cecile's friend, Mrs. Mollie O'Daniels, to find out what the trouble was with his family. Mrs. O'Daniels told Stanley that Cecile and Anne had run away with a carnival that had come to Brush on the 4th of July. Mrs. O'Daniels' daughter, Bonnie Burchel, had also gone with the carnival. Stanley could not believe what he was hearing. He inquired of others about town, including Cecile's brother Raymond, who gave Stanley a detailed explanation of what had been occurring during his absence.
According to Raymond, Cecile and her friend Minnie Newton had been entertaining men in Stanley's home during the times he was out of town. Reportedly, it was not uncommon for numerous men to be in the house with the women, drinking and partying. (Minnie Newton's former husband Robert confirmed this also.) Cecile was reported to have been spending nights away from home, sleeping with various men at a local rooming house and at a cabin camp in Brush, where her sister-in-law who lived nearby had observed her sneaking out of various cabins in the early morning hours. Cecile was also reported to have been a frequent participant in strip poker games at the home of her brother Tom.
When a carnival came to town for the 4th of July celebration, Cecile reportedly lost no time in contracting with the carnival to work as an exotic dancer in a side show for "Men Only." Described as a "hula-hula dancer," Cecile's duties apparently required her to briefly perform in costume in front of the tent to entice men to buy tickets for the show. During the show, Cecile and the other dancers would perform the "hula-hula" inside the tent for their male audience. The "hula-hula" involved shedding their grass skirts, removing their brassieres and dancing nude except for their "bloomers." Cecile performed in the carnival side show in Brush for several days and her performance was observed by many men in the community during that time.
Stanley attempted to find where the carnival had gone. He and his brother-in-law Raymond Hagan eventually located the carnival in Julesburg, Colorado, but failed to find Cecile. The carnival manager told them that Cecile did not continue to work for him after the carnival left Brush, but he did not know where she and Anne had gone. Raymond and Stanley returned home where, according to relatives, Stanley's depression worsened. Family members later testified that Stanley was obsessed with finding Cecile and bringing her back home. He could talk of nothing else. Family members began to fear that Stanley was becoming mentally ill. It appears from testimony later given by Stanley's friends and relatives that Stanley was engaging in complete denial with regard to Cecile's behavior. He could not cope with the reports of Cecile's infidelity and her abandonment of their marriage in a realistic and rational manner. He did not hold Cecile accountable for her actions, he only persevered on the hope of finding her and bringing her home where they could resume life as before. Stanley maintained that he had never suspected Cecile of being unfaithful and could not fathom the reason for her behavior. Stanley did not appear to be at all angry with Cecile, just devastated by her abandonment and desperate to find her and bring her back home.
Stanley finally discovered that Cecile, Anne and Minnie Newton were living together in Cheyenne. He came by this information when he discovered a letter written by Cecile to Mrs. Loving, one of the Lantzer's boarders. Stanley drove to Cheyenne and located Cecile. He tried to persuade Cecile to come home with him, but she stated that she did not want to come right away. Cecile asked Stanley to go home and find another job, and she would think about coming home later when he had a little money.
Stanley reluctantly agreed, and found work on a farm in Kansas. Cecile reneged on her promise to come home. At some time during this period Stanley's son Jack moved to Cheyenne to live with Cecile. After finishing the job in Kansas, Stanley and a friend found work haying near Walden, Colorado. They traveled to Cheyenne before going to Walden and Stanley again asked Cecile to come back home and help him face down all the scandal in Brush. Cecile refused, but said that if Stanley returned from the job in Walden with some money she would go back home with him then. Relieved, Stanley and his friend continued on to the new job.
After finishing the job in Walden, Stanley and his friend passed through Denver. Stanley told his friend that he was going to remain in Denver for a few days to get a withdrawal card from his union so he would not have to continue to pay dues. Stanley had also heard an acquaintance of his talking about someone who had joined the Foreign Legion. Stanley told his friend that he wanted to get more information about the Foreign Legion while he was in Denver, and find out if it would be possible for him to join. While in Denver, Stanley visited a pawn shop and purchased a .25 caliber revolver and some shells. Stanley stated that he had always wanted a gun like that, and bought it with the intention of taking it home and showing it to his brother. He later denied having any intention of buying the gun when he wandered into the shop, but rather happened to see the gun and purchased it on an impulse. The following day Stanley took a bus to Cheyenne intending to see Cecile and bring her back home to Brush.
Stanley arrived in Cheyenne on Saturday, August 27, 1938. He went to Minnie Newton's home and asked for Cecile. Minnie said that Cecile was working at the Lone Eagle Cabin Camp in south Cheyenne. Minnie left to go get Cecile and Stanley remained at the house, chatting with Minnie's son Ralph, a soldier stationed at Fort Warren. Early in the afternoon Cecile returned to the house and she and Stanley went into the kitchen to talk privately. Again Stanley begged Cecile to come home with him and again she refused, stating that she could "make it" in Cheyenne and did not want to go back to Brush with Stanley and "starve." Stanley told her that he did not know what to do about the house and furniture and asked her to sign it over to him if she would not come home, but Cecile refused to do that also. Suddenly, Minnie and Ralph heard Cecile yell, "Put that gun away!" They rushed into the kitchen and found Stanley sitting on a daybed and Cecile standing across the room. Stanley had his hand under his sweater. Minnie asked if he had a gun and he said, "Maybe." Minnie took Cecile out in the yard and Ralph sat down with Stanley and persuaded him to give up the gun. Cecile stated she was not afraid of Stanley and asked Minnie not to call the police because they would take Stanley to jail and "that is no place for him. Ralph told Stanley that they kill people in Wyoming who commit murder, and Stanley reportedly replied, "I don't care what happens to me." Stanley apologized for causing the trouble and stated that he only wanted to scare Cecile with the gun. He left the house soon afterward, but returned later with a carton of cigarettes for Cecile. Minnie and Ralph later testified that when he returned to the house he was in good spirits. Minnie returned the gun to Stanley, but kept the bullets.
The following morning Stanley bought a half-pint of whiskey, drank it, and reloaded the gun. He took a cab to the Lone Eagle Cabin Camp where he asked the attendant Ralph Silverman to direct him to where Cecile was working. Ralph stated that Cecile was washing clothes and directed Stanley to the washroom. Ralph then returned to his work in the camp store. Reportedly, Stanley again asked Cecile to come home, and once again she refused, telling him it was no use talking to her about it anymore. Cecile left the washroom with a basket of clothes to hang on the line and Stanley went into the menís restroom. When he came out he once again asked if there was any use talking and Cecile said no. Stanley took the gun from his pocket and shot Cecile in the back. Cecile screamed and ran a few steps before crumpling on the ground. The bullet had passed through her lung and nicked the tip of her heart.
Ralph heard the shot and Cecile's scream. Before Ralph could reach the door to go out and investigate, Stanley appeared in the doorway with the gun which he handed to Ralph, saying "I've just shot my wife...call the police." Stanley then entered the store and wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes. Ralph was so upset he could not place the call, so he ran across the street to a filling station and had the employees there make the call for him. He returned to the store to find Stanley quietly sitting in a chair waiting for the police. Ralph's uncle, Max Goldhammer, awakened from a nap by the commotion, had come to investigate and was sitting with Stanley in the store. Goldhammer reported that Stanley mentioned that he wished the police would hurry, and then mumbled something about wanting to talk to a rabbi. Oddly, no one went outside to check on Cecile, but rather simply accepted Stanley's statement that she was dead.
Laramie County Sheriff George Carroll, Undersheriff E. D. Brown, and Chief of Detectives Harvey Jackson responded to the call to the Lone Eagle Cabin Camp. It took them somewhat longer to respond than usual, because Brown had to locate his camera so he could photograph the crime scene. After arriving at the Lone Eagle Camp, the law enforcement officers went directly to the camp store where they found Lantzer waiting for them. Goldhammer and Silverman identified Lantzer as the killer. Undersheriff Brown asked, "Where is your wife?" and Stanley replied, "She is out there on the ground." Brown asked Stanley if he killed her and Stanley replied, "I shot her for dead" or words to that effect. (None of the witnesses to this conversation could agree on Lantzer's exact words.) Like Goldhammer and Silverman, the law enforcement officers also took Stanley at his word, and no one made any effort to determine whether or not Cecile was actually dead, and render aid if she was not. The law enforcement officers continued to interview Lantzer and the other men inside the camp store. Ralph Silverman turned the gun over to the officers. They noted that it was jammed, with an empty shell in the ejector, and could not be fired. Eventually Carroll and Brown left Stanley in the custody of Detective Jackson and wandered out in the yard "to see if Mrs. Lantzer was dead." By this time more than half an hour had elapsed since Cecile had been shot. According to testimony given by Brown, he was the officer who finally inquired where Cecile's body was located because "I was interested to find out where she was at so I could take some pictures." The officers found Cecile lying on the ground between cabins 19 and 20 and began to photograph her. By Brown's admission, no one touched her to check for a pulse or to otherwise check for signs of life. They simply made a visual determination that she was dead and proceeded with the photographs of the crime scene. (It should be noted that because of the position of Cecile's body, no wound or blood was visible, so the officers did not have any means of determining definitely that she had been shot without moving her.)
Detective Jackson conducted Stanley to the police car while Carroll and Brown completed their initial investigation. Stanley asked Jackson to move the car to a position where it would not be possible for him to view his wife's body and Jackson complied. Carroll and Brown joined Stanley and Detective Jackson in the car and started back to the jail. No one had yet advised Stanley that any statements he made could be used against him, or issued any statement consistent with what would twenty years later be known as a Miranda warning. On the ride to the jail Stanley became somewhat expansive, allegedly stating that he felt more rested than he had in six weeks "now that this is over." Stanley also reportedly stated to the officers that after shooting Cecile he had first thought of running away, but he decided "What is the use? I will just stay and take what is coming to me." Sheriff Carroll stated that no one questioned Stanley in the car on the way to the jail. He insisted that Stanley made these statements to them voluntarily while he was "technically but not formally arrested."
After arriving at the jail the officers "formally" arrested Stanley, finally advised him that anything he said might be used against him, and requested that he make a statement. Court Reporter Clarence Ferguson was summoned to the jail to take down the statement. Also present was Robert G. Caldwell, County and Prosecuting Attorney for Laramie County. No counsel had been obtained for Lantzer at this point. Mr. Caldwell advised Stanley that anything he said could be used against him and asked if Stanley understood this. Stanley indicated that he did. Caldwell then stated "and with the full knowledge that anything you might say may be used against you, you still wish to make this statement? You have no objections, do you?" Stanley replied, "Well, I don't know. I don't know what to think or say or do." Caldwell then said, "You have no objections to telling us the facts in this case?" Stanley answered, "There is some facts that I wouldn't want to bring up. No characters or anything like that." Caldwell pressed on, stating "And now I wish to ask you some questions relating to the facts of what occurred this morning. There will be a few short questions. That is agreeable to you, is it?" Stanley replied, "I guess it is." Caldwell reiterated, "You are willing to answer these questions? If you don't want to answer them, why, you can refuse. Is that all right?" Stanley answered, "That is absolutely all right."
Caldwell then questioned Stanley about the events leading up to the shooting of Cecile. Stanley was cooperative, answering all of Caldwell's questions and providing information that would be consistent with testimony given by other witnesses at the time of the trial. However, when questioned about the actual shooting, Stanley did not deny shooting Cecile, but his memory of the incident was unclear. Stanley stated, " I told her I think this was the last chance, if I remember right, to come on home with me, but that part of it doesn't make any difference, but I asked her to come on back home with me... she said no, there wasn't any use talking." "Then what did you do?" Caldwell prompted. Stanley replied, "I know I reached for the gun, and outside of that it is kind of a dreamy blank to me." Caldwell asked, "You remember that you shot her, do you not?" Stanley then said, "No, I don't." Hoping to establish intent, Caldwell then asked, "Mr. Lantzer, when did you first make up your mind to kill your wife?" Stanley responded, "Oh, I don't know for sure. I have been thinking of it for a month. She told me when I come here going to North Park that she would go back home with me when I came back through Cheyenne. I thought and talked myself out of it for a month." When asked if he had been drinking prior to the shooting, Stanley stated that he had consumed some whiskey. Caldwell asked, "You were not drunk when you shot your wife, were you?" Stanley answered, "No, I don't suppose I could have been." Caldwell then asked, "You knew what you were doing, didn't you?" Stanley answered, "Oh, I don't know whether I did or not."
Later, during the interview, Caldwell broached the subject of Cecile's not wanting to return to Stanley, suggesting that Cecile was involved with someone else. Stanley's denial of the realities of his relationship with Cecile is evident in his outright dismissal Caldwell's suggestion. Stanley stated, "Well, I hate to say anything about that because -- Well, I don't want to say anything about her at all...It concerns somebody else...I am satisfied that that wasn't the cause at all." Caldwell inquired, "Did she tell you she did not love you any more?" Stanley insisted, "No, she didn't tell me. I begged her to. I told her if she didn't love me I would go off and leave her alone and not bother her any more, if she would tell me that." Caldwell then asked, "Did she refuse to live with you this morning?" Stanley replied, "Well, yes and no. She said there wasn't any more use of talking or begging her to come back."
Later in the interview Caldwell and Stanley engaged in the following exchange:
Caldwell: "All of the story you have told us is substantially true, is it?"
Lantzer: "As near as I can remember, yes."
Caldwell: "You are in your right mind mentally, are you?"
Lantzer: "As to that, I wouldn't say."
Caldwell: "Do you feel that you are mentally all right?"
Lantzer: "No, I don't."
Caldwell: "What is the matter with you?"
Lantzer: "Well, for the last two months there have been times I just haven't felt right that I know of. I might be, but there has been times I didn't feel just right...Things are hard to remember at times. I am trying to think something about it. Seems like it is all a jumble before I can get it thought out."
The interview transcript indicates that Caldwell and Carroll terminated the interview and held a conversation with Stanley off the record. The interview was resumed a short time later with the transcript indicating the following exchange:
Caldwell: "You have just stated that you once told your wife that you would kill her if she ever left you?"
Lantzer: "Yes, and then I told her I couldn't do anything like that."
Caldwell: "You couldn't?"
Caldwell: "Where did you tell her you were going to kill her?"
Lantzer: "I imagine it was at home there as near as I know."
Caldwell: "Several years ago?"
Lantzer: "Well, it is since we have been married. I wouldn't say for sure."
Caldwell: "She never has gone out with other men, has she?"
Lantzer: "Well, no."
Caldwell: "Did you ever accuse her of going out with other men?"
Caldwell: "Then why did you shoot her, Stanley."
Lantzer: "I couldn't think of anything else at the time."
Caldwell: "You realized at the time you shot her -- that something might happen to you, what the law would do, didn't you?"
Lantzer: "No, I didn't... Well, I guess I did. I never tried to think much about that."
Caldwell: "Now, did you feel this way: That you didn't care what happened to you after you shot her?"
Caldwell: "How do you feel about it now?"
Lantzer: "Well, there is only one way to feel about it. I am sorry, awfully sorry, and I wish I hadn't done it. I wanted her to be alive and to go back to my mother and father and take up my life before I met her."
Caldwell: "Do you feel that in view of the fact that you killed your wife, the State ought to condemn you to death? Don't you feel that way...and you expect that, don't you, Stanley?"
Lantzer: "Yes, I can't expect nothing else."
Later, when the statement had been typed up and presented to Stanley for his signature, he refused to sign, stating that certain parts of the statement did not reflect his meaning and were inaccurate.
The morning following Stanley's arrest, the banner headline "1ST DEGREE MURDER COUNT FACES WIFE-SLAYER HERE" screamed from the front page of the Wyoming Eagle. Pictures of Cecile, Stanley, Ralph Silverman and Stanley's son Jack filled the front page. The Eagle reported that "Jackie Hates His Dad" and went on to state that when told of the crime Jackie had said to reporters, "Sure take his picture, take his picture with pink pants on." Apparently, Jackie considered this the ultimate insult he could offer his father for taking the life of his beloved step-mother. A more bizarre story related that Cecile, an amateur fortune teller had foretold her own death on the Friday night prior to the shooting. Minnie Newton had reported that Cecile had commented to her daughter Anne and Mrs. Newton, "Girls, I'm afraid I'm not going to be with you long. Here's three nines, that means I'm going to die."
Stanley's arrest provided the Wyoming Eagle and other papers in the state with hot copy for nearly a week. Minnie Newton basked in the attention she received from the media, stating in one interview that the motive for the murder could be found in Lantzer loving Cecile too much By the first of September the media had exhausted interviews with the attorneys, witnesses, and relatives of Lantzer connected with the case. In a last gasp effort to milk something else from the sensational murder case the Wyoming Eagle ran a front page story announcing that "APPETITE OF WIFE-SLAYER IS UNAFFECTED" which went on to inform its readers that Stanley Lantzer ate "just as much as the other prisoners."
Allen A. Pearson was appointed as Stanley's attorney, and the trial was scheduled to begin on December 6, 1938.
Stanley Lantzer was a man who loved too much. He never said an ill word about his first wife Ruth, despite her unfaithfulness. Stanley was also very reluctant to say anything detrimental about Cecile's character. If fact, it appears that Stanley actually believed that there was nothing detrimental to be said about Cecile.
This was a man who had never been charged with so much as a traffic violation prior to his arrest, yet who, within the space of two months' time, had been involved in behavior which could be characterized as stalking, and had menaced and then murdered his wife with a pistol. Stanley Lantzer appeared to change from a rational, responsible, law-abiding member of his community to a man completely out of touch with the reality of his broken marriage and unable understand or cope with his wife's rejection. Those close to him felt that Stanley appeared to be suffering from impaired short term memory. His affect was reported to be remarkably flat and unemotional. He was extremely passive in interactions with others from the moment he reported the murder until the moment he was strapped into the chair in the Wyoming Penitentiary's gas chamber.
Was Stanley Lantzer a cunning, cold-blooded murderer, who feigned memory loss in an attempt to save himself from the gas chamber? Or was he a man so overcome with depression and delusional thinking that his capacity for rational behavior had become eroded by his impaired sanity? These questions and others would become the nucleus of the both the defense and prosecution strategies in the upcoming trial.
The sensational trial of Stanley Lantzer, began on December 6, 1938, in a court room filled to capacity with concerned relatives and eager spectators. Although Allen Pearson had initially planned to request a sanity hearing for Stanley prior to the trial, he abandoned the plan for reasons not fully explained, opting instead to call Dr. H. R. Rothman, a psychiatrist at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Cheyenne, to attest to Stanley's mental condition at the time of the murder.
The sensationalism of the trial was compounded by the astonishing fact that Cecile's mother, brother Raymond, and sister-in-law Ellen were the primary defense witnesses. As expected Minnie Newton, her son Ralph, and Cecile's daughter Anne Drake were witnesses for the prosecution. Cecile's friend Mollie O'Daniels and her daughter Bonnie Burchel also had traveled from Brush, Colorado to be present for the trial.
While all other witnesses were sequestered, Dr. H. R. Rothman, the psychiatrist testifying for the defense, and Dr. Phillip Work, a psychologist testifying for the prosecution were allowed to remain in the courtroom and observe the testimony of all the witnesses.
The trial lasted two days, with the case going to the jury on the afternoon of December 7, 1938. The parade of witnesses gave testimony consistent with the chain of events related by Stanley in his statement to George Caldwell and Sheriff Carroll at the time of his arrest. Although expressing grief over Cecile's death, Mrs. Hagan, Cecile's mother, steadfastly defended Stanley as a model husband who had never intended any harm to come to Cecile. Raymond and Ellen Hagan supported Mrs. Hagan's assessment of Stanley, but also expressed concerns for Stanley's mental health and were more explicit in their descriptions of Cecile's activities in the months before her death. It was Robert Newton, Minnie Newton's former husband, testifying for the defense who first revealed that Cecile had been dancing nearly nude in the carnival side-show. Stanley had not volunteered that information. The most interesting testimony in the case came from Stanley Lantzer himself.
Stanley took the stand on the second day of the trial. In the lengthy testimony given by Stanley, it became apparent that he was still troubled with short-term memory loss. While the prosecution contended that Stanley's memory lapses were feigned, the fact that Stanley consistently accepted responsibility for acts which he stated he could not remember leaves the prosecution's contention open to scrutiny. Stanley continued to manifest a flat affect throughout the course of the trial, with the exception of times during recesses when he was observed occasionally smiling while quietly talking with members of his family. During his testimony Stanley spoke in a low voice which was at times barely audible. He had to be frequently reminded by the attorneys and the judge to speak up.
Stanley was able to recount with relative accuracy events in his life prior to the murder, although he began to have difficulty recalling the gist of conversations with friends and relatives after he returned to Brush to discover that Cecile had abandoned him.
When asked about the gun he had purchased in Denver, Stanley testified that he wanted the gun for protection when he returned to work on the railroad because when he worked out of town it was dangerous to walk through the railyards at night on his way to the sleeping quarters.
Allen Pearson led Stanley through a recital of the events which occurred on August 28th at Minnie Newton's house. He then reminded Stanley that Ralph Newton had testified as to the nature of these events earlier and asked Stanley if Ralph's testimony was correct. Stanley replied, "I don't remember exactly but in the conversation yesterday it sounded about like the conversation we had... word for word, I couldn't say." Stanley was similarly vague about his actions on the morning of the shooting, admitting that he reloaded the gun, but not able to be sure if he had done it that day or the night before. When questioned about the actual shooting Stanley gave the following testimony:
"Well, I asked her if she cared for me. She said she wouldn't --That she cared for me. I believe that is what she said. I know she didn't tell me she didn't care for me... I asked her 'Cec, is there any more use talking to you?' She said no, there wasn't any more use talking to her. I asked her if that was the last chance I would have to talk with her, because I had to go home, and I think she said, 'Yes.' The next thing I remember of is reaching for this gun and starting to point it... I just got a kind of faint picture of her screaming. I never heard no shot, and I never knew I was starting to run, but when I kind of come to myself I saw this fellow standing there, this fellow who testified... It seemed like before I was looking at him I kind of wanted to run off or get away from there or throw the gun away...I couldn't tell just what was going on... the next thing I remember was the police officer there. I told this man I wanted him to get a Jewish rabbi to come down and see me on account of my children if he possibly could.
Pearson next questioned Stanley about the statement he had given in the presence of George Caldwell and Sheriff Carroll and his reasons for not signing it. Stanley stated that he had not signed the statement because "there was several places in there was wrote different than what I meant then when I spoke them." Later on cross examination by County Attorney Caldwell, a portion of the statement was read and Stanley was asked if he remembered making the statement to Caldwell and Sheriff Carroll. Stanley answered, "Well, I don't remember of it, but I wouldn't deny it." Stanley's testimony continued along an essentially similar vein with Stanley insisting that he had no memory of certain events, but also agreeing that he must have done or said the things reported, regardless of whether or not he could remember them.
Dr. H. R. Rothman testified that he had interviewed Stanley and observed the testimony of all the witnesses and, on the basis of these observations and interviews, had come to the conclusion that Stanley Lantzer was insane at the time he shot Cecile. Dr. Rothman stated that severe depression and emotional trauma could induce such a state and could impair short term memory of such an event.
Dr. Phillip Work, A Denver psychiatrist, challenged Dr. Rothman's conclusions, stating that the type of amnesia from which Stanley was purportedly suffering was feigned. Dr. Work, who based his evaluation on the same criteria as Dr. Rothman, testified that while Stanley was emotionally upset at the time of the shooting, he was, nevertheless, sane.
The jury deliberated for two hours before returning a verdict of "Guilty of Murder in the First Degree" on the sixth ballot. Three jurors held out for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty, but one by one they eventually joined the other jurors in condemning Lantzer. When the verdict was read, Stanley did not appear to understand that the unqualified verdict meant that the death penalty would be imposed. He turned to his attorney and quietly asked a question, then grimaced and turned to stare incredulously at the jury. Formal sentencing was postponed until the following day, when Judge Sam Thompson sentenced Stanley to die in the gas chamber of the Wyoming State Penitentiary before sunrise on January 20, 1939.
Stanley was transferred from the Cheyenne jail to death row at the Wyoming Penitentiary a few days after his sentencing. Stanley's brother Elbert and his other siblings, as well as Cecile's relatives, hurried home to Akron and Brush where they began a campaign in the two communities to raise money to fund an appeal for Stanley. The money was quickly raised by well-wishers in the two communities and Allen Pearson filed an appeal on December 19, 1938, gaining a temporary stay of execution for Stanley Lantzer.
Allen Pearson filed a motion for a new trial on December 15, 1938. Four days later he filed an appeal. The appeal listed twenty-nine points of error which Pearson alleged to have occurred during Stanley's trial. The motion for new trial listed eight points of error in support of the motion. The major issues in both documents centered around the refusal of the court to give certain instructions to the jury, the introduction of the photographs of Cecile taken after her death, the admissibility of Stanley's statement given to Caldwell following Stanley's arrest, and the contention that the unqualified verdict was the result of passion or prejudice on the part of the jury and was excessive and contrary to law.
In the Specifications of Error, Pearson stated that the District Court erred in refusing to give the following instructions offered by the defendant:
...The evidence or oral statements of guilt is to be received with great caution; for there, besides the danger of mistake from the misapprehension of witnesses, the misuse of words, the failure of the party to express his own meanings, and the infirmity of memory, it should be recalled that the mind of the prisoner himself is often oppressed by the calamity of his situation, and that he is often influenced by motives of hope or fear to make an untrue statement. Subject to these cautions in receiving and weighing them, it is generally agreed that deliberate statements of guilt are among the most effectual proofs in the law. Their value, however, depends on the supposition that they are deliberate and voluntary, and are on the presumption that a rational being will not make admissions prejudicial to his interests and safety, unless when urged by the promptings of truth and conscience. Were [Lantzer's statements] made deliberately, intelligently and with understanding on the part of the prisoner?
You are instructed that acts which might constitute murder in the first degree may, if sufficient provocation for the doing of the act by defendant appears, reduce the degree of the crime to manslaughter. It is your duty in determining the adequacy of the provocation, if any, to consider... all the facts and circumstances...in this case, and if you find that by reason thereof the defendant's mind at the time of the killing was incapable of cool reflection and that said facts and circumstances were sufficient to produce such a state of mind in a person of ordinary temper, then the proof of the sufficiency of the provocation satisfies the requirements of the law...
In determining whether the provocation is sufficient to reduce homicide to manslaughter, ordinary human nature or the average of man recognized as men of fair average mind and disposition should be taken as the standard, unless the person whose guilt is in question be found to have some particular weakness of mind or infirmity of temper not arising from wickedness of heart or cruelty of disposition.
Pearson also alleged that the introduction of the photographs of Cecile taken by Brown at the scene of the shooting served no purpose but to prejudice the minds of the jury against Stanley. Pearson's reasoning was based on the fact that Stanley had already admitted to killing his wife, and the photographs did not show the wound, or contribute further meaningful evidence related to the killing.
The admission into evidence of Stanley's statement given shortly after his arrest was also alleged to constitute error on the part of the court. Pearson based his objection on two points -- first, that the prosecution failed to show that the statement was made voluntarily, and second, that the transcript does not show all that was said during the interrogation, and indicates that an important conversation between Stanley, Caldwell and Sheriff Carroll took place off the record. The challenged portion of the transcript shows that Caldwell says to Stanley "That is all." Then the transcriptionist notes, "Whereupon, colloquy off the record was had between Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Carroll, and the witness [Stanley Lantzer]." Thereafter, questioning was resumed by the prosecuting attorney.
The Wyoming Supreme Court considered Lantzer's appeal and issued an opinion on February 13, 1940 affirming the decision of the District Court. With regard to the admission into evidence of the statement given by Stanley following his arrest, the Supreme Court stated that it had found nothing to indicate that Stanley had been induced to speak by threat or promise, and therefore, it was the opinion of the court that the statement had been given voluntarily. Also, the court dismissed the objection to the issue of the "colloquy off the record," stating that during the trial, neither the stenographer, Stanley, or Sheriff Carroll were asked to relate what was said during this "colloquy." In the court's opinion, failure to question any of the witnesses about the substance of the "off the record" conversation rendered it irrelevant.
The Supreme Court found that there was no error in allowing the jury to view the photographs of Cecile's body, stating that the photographs were merely cumulative, that is, adding little or nothing to information already given because the defendant had admitted the killing shown in the photos. It was the opinion of the court that the cumulative nature of the photographs only authorized, but did not require, their rejection as evidence. The court did not feel that these photographs created undue prejudice against Lantzer.
With regard to the refusal of the District Court to give certain instructions to the jury as listed in Pearson's Specifications of Error, the Supreme Court stated that there was insufficient evidence of provocation to require giving an instruction on involuntary manslaughter. The court stated that the only provocation influencing Stanley's conduct at the time of the shooting was Cecile's refusal to go home. The court went on to say that when a jury is correctly instructed on two degrees of murder and finds the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree instead of the second degree, there is no error in failing to instruct, or by incomplete instructions, on manslaughter. Similarly, if a jury was authorized to return a qualified verdict that would be followed by a sentence of life imprisonment, but instead returned an unqualified verdict, there was no error in the court's failure to instruct more fully on voluntary manslaughter, since the unqualified verdict determined that the killing was malicious and premeditated, thereby excluding manslaughter and murder in the second degree.
Finally, the Supreme Court opinion rejected the allegation that the verdict was the result of passion or prejudice on behalf of the jury. With regard to the verdict and judgment being excessive, the opinion stated, "Counsel eloquently argues that the death penalty should not be assessed except for the most unjustifiable and ruthless slayings, and that it is excessive as applied to defendant who is no hardened criminal but a loving husband driven to distraction by brooding over the breaking up of his home and separation from his wife. We must not permit this argument to lead us to assert a power in this court either to interfere with the jury's discretion in assessing the punishment, or to grant a commutation of the sentence. Ordinarily at least, the decision of the jury in the exercise of its statutory duty to return a verdict that determines the punishment for murder in the first degree is not subject to review by the court... If we assume that an exception might be made in those cases in which it appears that an unqualified verdict may have been induced by errors or unfair conduct, we cannot say that this is such a case. The contention that the jury was too harsh in failing to show leniency where it was deserved, though entitled to consideration in connection with an application for commutation, is not a ground for interference by the court."
The Supreme Court appointed Friday, April 19, 1940, as the day on which the execution of Stanley Lantzer was to be carried out.
Time was running out for Stanley Lantzer, but Stanley received the news of the Supreme Court's decision with little outward emotion. During the time he had been in jail Stanley had avidly studied a Bible given to him by his aged mother soon after his arrest. Although Stanley had converted to Judaism while he was married to his first wife Ruth, he had turned once again to Christianity, and relied on the Reverend Young of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church in Brush, Colorado and the Reverend Clifton McGlothan of the Rawlins Baptist Church as his spiritual advisors. Stanley was a model prisoner throughout his incarceration, quiet, cooperative, undemanding. He had formed friendships with many of the guards and with other death row inmates, and passed the time on the cell block in quiet conversation with them.
There was only one remaining hope to save Stanley from the gas chamber -- a commutation of the death sentence by Wyoming Governor Nels Smith. Stanley's brother, Elbert Lantzer, and his sister, Vernice Lewis, worked tirelessly to save Stanley. They were joined in their efforts by Cecile's mother, Mrs. Anna Hagan, and Cecile's brothers and their wives. Many others in Akron and Brush, Colorado, including Cecile's daughter Anna, and Washington County District Court Clerk Minnie Blauser, offered their support as well.
A week prior to Stanley's scheduled execution, his family and friends met with Governor Smith, presenting him with a petition for clemency, backed by twenty-four pages of signatures. In addition, Governor Smith was swamped with letters from Stanley and Cecile's relatives and from countless interested citizens, beseeching him to bestow clemency on Lantzer and spare him from the gas chamber.
Others also took an interest in Stanley's plight and strove to call it to the attention of the general public. Wyoming Eagle reporter Alice Kenney interviewed Stanley at the Wyoming State Penitentiary early in April 1940 while he was awaiting the Governor's decision on clemency. During the interview Stanley stated, "Two marriages of mine were smashed by drinking and dancing. It's about time I changed my way of living. Something had to happen -- I believe it was a supreme revelation that turned me to the Lord." (Interestingly, Stanley was not the partner doing the drinking and dancing in either marriage, although he assumed the responsibility for the effects of his wives' behavior.)
When offered a new pack of cigarettes, Stanley smiled and said: "I could hardly smoke and read the Bible, could I?"
When Kenney asked Stanley about his philosophy of life now that death was so near, he replied, "We all have to die sometime and I don't suppose it makes any difference just when we go...We all make mistakes -- I made mine. Only some have to pay so much more for theirs than others do."
Kenney then inquired what Stanley would do if he were to be released. Stanley appeared to be shocked at the prospect, then after a moment's reflection, he said, "Why - I'd have to follow what I've learned I guess. I couldn't give up the Lord now that I've found him. No, I'll never do that...I used to read as much of all of it [Old and New Testament] as I could, but now that the time is drawing so short I can't concentrate like I used to and I read in the New Testament. I hope to be able to finish it."
Throughout the interview Stanley was able to manage an occasional smile and could laugh and joke nervously once in awhile. Kenney described him as seeming detached, humble and unassuming. At the end of the interview, Kenney took her leave by wishing Stanley "Lots of luck!" Stanley grasped the irony of the comment and smiled wryly, replying, "Thanks! I'll need all I can get."
Although Wyoming had executed an unprecedented number of men during the 1930's and had meted out very severe sentences to other wrong-doers during the Depression years, it appeared that with the coming of a new decade the extremely harsh attitude toward Wyoming's prisoners might be abating. On April 3, the Wyoming Eagle ran an article announcing that the Wyoming pardon board, in executive session, had commuted the sentences of a number of inmates of the Wyoming penitentiary. Many felt that the actions of the pardon board might signal a favorable climate for Stanley's appeal which would influence the Governor to bestow clemency.
By April 17, 1940, with Stanley Lantzer 's execution only two days away, Governor Smith had yet to come to a decision regarding clemency. A front page story in the Wyoming Eagle on that date reported Governor Smith as saying, "There are a few technical points I want to clear up before I decide the Lantzer case. I am going to confer with the Attorney General [Ewing T. Kerr] as soon as I get to Cheyenne and I'll announce my decision tomorrow." The following day the Eagle reported that Governor Smith had decided to delay announcing his decision for another day because he needed rest after having a tooth extracted. Responding to the tension, Stanley spent the day kneeling in prayer in his cell on death row. Stanley's friends and relatives had visited him for the last time on April 9th and were not planning to return to see him prior to the execution.
Finally, approximately ten hours before the scheduled execution, Governor Smith announced that he had decided to deny clemency, and the execution of Stanley Lantzer would go forward as scheduled. Governor Smith stated, "I have carefully examined the record in this case, as well as the decision of the Supreme Court, and will say that nothing was offered at the hearing in my office which was not presented at the trial of Mr. Lantzer and considered by the Supreme Court in the appeal.
"It would serve no useful purpose for me to reiterate the evidence submitted at the trial. Suffice to say, Mr. Lantzer was not justified in taking the life of his wife. The evidence is strongly persuasive, if not conclusive, that Mr. Lantzer planned the murder of his wife for at least a day or two before the shooting. The case is not lacking in premeditation. No complaint is made that Mr. Lantzer did not receive a fair trial, but it is urged that the jury was too harsh in its verdict. I seriously question the propriety of the chief executive interfering with the verdict of the jury and the decision of the Supreme Court unless something is brought to his attention which would tend to mitigate the circumstances of the case.
I approach the matter with a sense of grave responsibility to render a decision in accordance with justice and in keeping with the principals (sic) established by all three branches of government. Each department has its functions to perform. Every remedy has been exhausted by Mr. Lantzer in the judiciary of this state and the question now is -- should the chief executive interfere with this function?
While doubtless there are cases in which the executive department is justified in commuting a sentence where the death penalty has been exacted, I do not feel that this case falls within that category. The petition for the commutation of sentence is denied."
"That's that. It's what I expected." That was the only comment Stanley made when Warden A. S. Roach brought him Governor Smith's telegram announcing that the execution would not be stayed. Stanley then asked that Reverend McGlothlan be sent to him. Roach sent for the minister and then asked Stanley what he would like to have for his last meal. Stanley replied, "I don't want anything in particular. Just the regular prison fare will do." Warden Roach ordered Stanley a special meal anyway, sending the condemned man fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot biscuits, fresh strawberries, ice cream, cake and coffee. Stanley thanked the guard who brought him the meal, but only picked at the food. During the night, while waiting for the hour of his execution, Stanley did not sleep.
Shortly after midnight Warden Roach, Reverend Young, Reverend McGlothlan, and two guards came to conduct Stanley to the gas chamber. Stanley was requested to undress, which he did without assistance. A hood was fitted over his eyes. He was then conducted to the execution chamber wearing only undershorts and the hood. The reason for this attire was to prevent the cyanide gas from becoming trapped in his clothing, consequently endangering those who were to retrieve his body from the gas chamber. After preparing himself for his execution, Stanley bid "So long" to prison guard Bernie Davis, who had guarded Stanley during the death watch. Stanley then walked to the gas chamber with purposeful strides, guided by Roach and the prison guards. Because of the mask, Stanley bumped into the door of the gas chamber as he was about to enter and had to pause for a moment while Warden Roach steadied him. Stanley then stepped into the chamber and was assisted into the chair. He cooperatively placed his arms and legs in position to be strapped, although due to his small stature, his toes barely touched the floor. Once the preparations were complete, Stanley called out to the ministers, "Don't go. Don't leave me!" They replied, "We are here. We will not leave you, brother." Stanley made a wan attempt to smile and then requested Reverend Young to kiss him before he left the chamber. Reverend Young kissed Stanley on the cheek and then stepped out of the gas chamber. Reverend McGlothlan remained a few moments longer, reciting the prayer, "The Lord Will Give Me Strength." At the conclusion of the prayer, the remaining officials stepped out of the gas chamber and Warden Roach closed and locked the door at 12:14 A. M. One minute later, Roach tripped the lever releasing 32 cyanide eggs into the sulfuric acid solution in the pail beneath the wire mesh seat of the chair to which Stanley was strapped. Stanley's lips continued to move in prayer, then as the vapors rose around him, he breathed deeply three times, gulping the vapor into his lungs. His head then fell forward. Two minutes later, Stanley's head jerked backward and he strained against the straps as if trying to stand. By 12:17 A. M. in the early morning of April 19, 1940 Stanley Lantzer was dead.
Witnesses to the execution included Laramie County Sheriff George Carroll, Wyoming Eagle reporters Robert Rhode and Morris Gertz, and Mrs. Robert E. Conine, who insisted that her honorary commission as a deputy sheriff entitled her to witness the execution. After leaving the witness room, Mrs. Conine told reporters that the execution was "The most horrible sight I have ever witnessed.. I'll never do such a thing again. I've certainly had enough." The Wyoming Eagle which hit the stands several hours after the execution, devoted almost the entire front page and many columns on the following pages to the Lantzer execution. One lengthy feature story reported Warden A. S. Roach as stating that he preferred hanging to the gas chamber, finding it more humane because the victim lost consciousness as soon as the trap fell (theoretically), while lethal gas took several minutes to dispatch the victim. A separate story quoting I. W. Dinsmore of Rawlins, author of the bill in the 1935 legislature which resulted in death by lethal gas replacing execution by hanging in Wyoming, as saying, "Lethal gas execution probably can be improved upon...but I'm, sure now that it's the most humane way of taking a life currently known to man." Another story, under the headline GAS CHAMBER IS "PERFECT" TEST REVEALS went on to relate that the chamber used for executing "civilized society's judgment" against Stanley Lantzer had been tested with a live pig. The story explained that the pig gets its first breath of the fumes a few moments later than a man would, because the fumes first rise to the top of the chamber and then billow down to the level of the pig. The Eagle reported that when the lethal vapor reached the pig it gasped, trembled a moment and then was dead.
There was also the obligatory detailed report Lantzer's execution, however, this report was sensational journalism with a difference. At the time of Stanley's trial the press had enjoyed a heyday, calling him "the wife-slayer," publishing photos of his youngest son Jackie with stories about how Jackie hated his father for killing Cecile, and capitalizing in every way possible on the seamy and sensational details of the case. However, as the trial progressed there was a perceptible softening in the nature of the stories about Stanley, and after the unqualified verdict was announced, the press appeared almost as surprised as others directly associated with the case. During the months of the appeals and the days just prior to the execution, the press took a clearly sympathetic turn. There were no stories extolling Cecile's virtues as a wife and mother, although she was frequently referred to as Stanley's "pretty, young wife." However, many stories appeared which focused on Stanley's spotless background prior to the killing and his religious rebirth during his incarceration. On the day of Stanley's death, the story of his execution reported the facts, but refrained from much editorializing. The story, written by Wyoming Eagle reporters and execution witnesses Robert Rhode and Morris Gertz, was accompanied by a boxed editorial on page one with the headline YOU AND I KILLED A MAN.
YOU AND I KILLED A MAN
This isn't going to be a pretty story.
Your breakfast may not taste so pleasant after you read it. Your thoughts today might not be on your work and your sleep tonight may not be so comfortable.
But it's a story you should read and ponder. It tells what happens when the people of the state of Wyoming - you and I - invoke the ancient code, a life for a life. Stanley Lantzer killed his wife. He thought she had been unfaithful. She refused to live with him. His love for her turned into passion. He bought a gun, he pleaded with her to return to him, he threatened her. She was adamant. He shot her.
Then he gave himself up to officers. The law, with due formality, convicted him of first degree murder. He was sentenced to die. The state supreme court upheld that sentence and Gov. Nels H. Smith refused to change the court's decision.
So early this morning Stanley Lantzer walked into a little steel chamber, sat down and breathed deeply of hydrogen cyanide gas. A few minutes later he was dead. You and I had killed him.
Read the Wyoming Eagle's eye-witness account by Robert Rhode and Morris D. Gertz, of how the people of Wyoming put a man to death. Think it over and ask yourself if it's the best way a civilized people can devise to punish one crime and discourage others. - IB.
The clearly sympathetic nature of the editorial and the articles on Stanley's execution, Roach's objection to the gas chamber, and the effects of the execution on Stanley's parents and children suggest that public sentiment was less than whole-heartedly behind the execution of Stanley Lantzer. The story of Governor Smith's denial of clemency appeared in the same edition of the Wyoming Eagle, but was reported in a straight forward style accompanied by no editorial comment other than the mention that Smith's denial of clemency had cleared the way for the execution.
On April 20, 1940, the day following Stanley's execution, the Wyoming Eagle came off the press with the following banner headline, MINISTER TAKING BODY OF LANTZER HOME SAYS HE'LL TELL MOTHER SON WAS BRAVE. An accompanying feature story on page one related that the clergyman accompanying Lantzer's body home for burial, Reverend Young of the Brush Colorado Pentecostal Church, was "on the saddest mission of his life" but was "proud to take home word to Stanley S. Lantzer's 64 year old mother and 81 year old father that their son had died like a man..."
Below the article on Reverend Young was another article of significance. It was a lengthy feature written by execution witness and reporter Robert Rhode, giving his personal impressions of the execution. The tone was that of horror and abiding disgust. Rhode wrote, in part,
Watching hydrogen cyanide gas creep into a man's lungs to snuff out life is an unreal performance to witness but a vivid stretch of film in one's memory. The picture of the ethereal like clouds of white gas - a strange thing to be so deadly - rising to Stanley S. Lantzer's bearded face can never be erased from my consciousness though I shall never give up trying...
Discussion in the penitentiary office... ceased as word came that it was time to go.
We moved out single file through the front and south door of the prison. The darkness of two minutes after midnight was only partially dispelled by an almost full moon. Trees just giving life to new buds threw distorted shadows across the walk we followed to the east wall.
I failed to suppress an involuntary start as I caught sight of a hearse near the gate... all tried to ignore its presence...
We were guided to an iron stairway leading up the outside of a solid concrete building set away from other buildings.. an effort at conversation and laughter bordered on hysteria.. .we found ourselves in a small, barren room built entirely of concrete. The bars over the two small windows were painted red.
Bulging into the room on the south side was the actual gas chamber and I peered through one of the four square windows to get a glimpse of a steel chair with what looked like new leather straps attached to the back, arms and legs.
At 12:12 Lantzer entered.. the silk mask over his eyes was a boon to both him and the witnesses.. One look into his eyes would have been far worse than the sight of his gasping in the clouds of gas.
He evidently had been told the details of his execution, as he moved deliberately.. as though he had rehearsed it.
The door was closed and locked...he moved his hands nervously and tossed his head, once back, then once to each side. His lips moved pronouncing a prayer that human ears beyond the steel circular wall of the gas chamber could not hear.. When he heard the lever trip the sodium cyanide into the acid he sat perfectly motionless for one brief instant.
As the white gas reached his face he took three deep breaths. He seemed to gulp the vapor into his lungs.. His head fell forward and his chin rested on his chest... then his head jerked back [and] dropped down again.. his lips drew back and rasping gasps could be heard through the thick wall.. .he suddenly strained against the straps as though he was trying to stand up. The broad strap across his chest was sunk into his flesh. Someone whispered: "He's going to break that strap." After half a minute he slumped forward in the chair...
I found it hard to convince myself that I had just seen a man die... Later when ammonia and the fan had cleared the chamber of the gas, a red mark was visible across Lantzer 's back where the top of the cold steel chair had pressed... sheets were thrown across the body and it was carried out and down the outside stairway...
The wind still blew across the prison yard and I felt I had no right to look at the pale moon when Lantzer's power of sight was gone.
Stanley Lantzer paid the ultimate price for his crime of passion. There were many in Wyoming and other parts of the Rocky Mountain region who were sickened by his execution and who were of the opinion that the penalty that had been exacted from Stanley was unjust. It appeared that the public's attitude toward capital punishment was gradually changing. After Stanley Lantzer's was put to death no further executions occurred in Wyoming until 1944 when Cleveland Brown Jr. was put to death for a rape and murder committed in Lincoln County. Henry Ruhl, who had killed a Cheyenne man, was put to death the following year. There were no further executions in Wyoming until 1965.
Although Wyoming Governor Nels Smith was unpopular with the electorate for a number of reasons, his denial of clemency in the Lantzer case appears to have been unpopular as well.
Very few expressed support for Smith's decision in the case, and the press was all but silent on the issue. Smith lost his bid for a second term as governor.
It is difficult to know exactly why so many executions occurred in Wyoming during the 1930s. Possibly the state's citizens were unwilling to undertake the cost of keeping a prisoner incarcerated for a life term when economic times were so hard. Perhaps the executions were symbolic of a general public malaise consistent with the deprivation and hopelessness of the years of the Great Depression. Perhaps it was an attempt on the part of the public to impose order in a society which had become severely disordered.
Many unanswered questions still linger about the Lantzer case. Perhaps it will never be known why Lantzer's attorney abandoned his attempts to arrange a sanity hearing for Stanley. It appears obvious from the testimony given by a number of witnesses at the trial, as well as from the testimony of Stanley Lantzer himself, that after returning home to discover that Cecile had abandoned him he began to exhibit symptoms consistent with progressive erosion of responsibility. Modern forensic psychologists now associate such symptoms, ie., memory loss, inability to grasp the realities of various situations, denial, and behavior which is inconsistent with the general demeanor of the individual, with various types of psychological dysfunction often brought about by severe emotional trauma or depression. In addition to memory lapses or "blockage" with regard to particularly stressful incidents, patients suffering from the above symptoms have also been known to engage in various forms of involuntary conduct and/or automatism. There is judicial precedent for the assumption that there might be some states of unconsciousness or clouded consciousness which might exclude responsibility in certain cases. In cases of automatism the individual is in a state capable of action but unconscious of performing a certain action. There is precedent for a defense based on circumstances of automatism, because "the mind does not go with what is being done."
A defense based on involuntary conduct or automatism relies on medical evidence supported by a very complex diagnosis. It is possible that Stanley Lantzer's actions on that summer morning in 1938, when he shot and killed his wife Cecile, might be attributable to some form of automatism or involuntary conduct brought about as a result of severe depression. However, the absence of any comprehensive psychiatric examination of Stanley Lantzer will prevent any definitive determination on the issue.
Cecile Lantzer did not inspire much loyalty among those who knew her, with the ironic exception of her husband and murderer Stanley Lantzer. She was an unpleasant, unscrupulous manipulative, promiscuous woman. Nevertheless, murder is not an acceptable solution to the problem of faithless spouse. Few would have argued that Cecile's murder should have gone unpunished, yet it is evident that the general public was uncomfortable with many aspects of the case and many considered Lantzer's execution to be a gross miscarriage of justice. Though few felt Stanley should escape some form of punishment, the opinion of the general public appeared to be that, given Stanley's questionable mental stability and the degree of provocation to which Cecile subjected Stanley, execution was an extreme and cruel punishment for Stanley's crime. Prevailing public sentiment, revealed in the flood of letters on Stanley's behalf received by Governor Smith, was that, regardless of the circumstances of the crime, Stanley's greatest character flaw had been -- loving Cecile.
The author is supervisor of reference services, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, and the M. A. from the University of Wyoming. She also currently teaches courses in the history of the American West at the University of Wyoming where she is a Ph.D. candidate in history.
1 Wyoming Eagle, 8/30/38.
2 The following information was taken almost entirely from the trial transcript of State of Wyoming V. Stanley Lantzer provided by the Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
3 Information on Lantzer's marriage to Ruth was obtained from letters written by Ruth and Lantzer 's sister Vernice Lewis to Wyoming Governor Nels Smith in 1940. These letters may be found in the Nels Smith Collection at the American Heritage Center. Copies of these two letters are included at the end of this paper.
4 It was later reported that Cecile had threatened to kill her mother and forced her to move out after Mrs. Hagan had threatened to tell Stanley that Cecile was seeing other men and giving drunken parties while Stanley was working out of town. See letter to Governor Nels Smith from Vernice Lewis referenced in footnote 3.
5 Trial transcript, 92.
6 Trial transcript, 119.
7 Wyoming Eagle, 8/30/38.
8 Trial transcript, 24-25.
9 Testimony given by Laramie County Sheriff George Carroll. See Trial Transcript, 28.
10 Trial transcript, 34.
11 Trial Transcript, 31.
12 Ibid, 29.
13 A copy of Lantzer's statement may be found in the Appendix at the end of this paper.
14 Wyoming Eagle, 8/30/38.
15 Wyoming Eagle, 8/31/38.
16 Trial transcript, 129-130.
17 Wyoming Eagle, 12/9/40.
18 State v. Lantzer, 99 P. 2d 73.
20Wyoming Eagle, 4/19/40.
24 Ibid., 4/20/40.
26 Phil Roberts, et al., eds. Wyoming Almanac (Laramie: Skyline West Press, 1994), 125.
32 See Herschel Prins. Offenders, Deviants, or Patients? (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980) 8-101.
33 Ibid., 22.
34 Ibid., 24.
 Information on Lantzer's marriage to Ruth was obtained from letters written by Ruth and Lantzer's sister Vernice Lewis to Wyoming Governor Nels Smith in 1940. See Nels Smith H. Smith Papers, 1926 - 1943, Accession Number 09880, Box 1, Folder 8, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
 It was later reported that Cecile had threatened to kill her mother and forced her to move out after Mrs. Hagan had threatened to tell Stanley that Cecile was seeing other men and giving drunken parties while Stanley was working out of town. See letter from Vernice Lewis to Governor Nels Smith referenced n. 3.
 Testimony was given during the trial in relation to this excerpt of Stanley's statement which indicates that the exchange between Stanley and Cecile took place soon after they were married and the statements were made in jest during a lover's conversation.)