John J. Hoover

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John J. Hoover
Born Date of birth missing
Place of birth missing
Died April 28, 1880
Cause of death Lynched by a mob for the murder of Thomas Bennett, a hotel clerk
Resting place Fairplay Cemetery
Occupation Miner, businessman
Spouse(s) Euphrasia Maxey Hoover, later Euphrasia Potter
Children Louisa Hoover (died in infancy)

John J. Hoover was a billiard hall owner hanged by vigilantes on April 28, 1880, for the unprovoked murder of a townsman in Fairplay in Park County in central Colorado.

Little is known of Hoover's background though he was a prospector in the California Gold Rush in the early 1850s and was in 1880 one of the older residents of Fairplay.[1]

The crime

Known for his irascible personality, especially when under the influence of alcohol,[2] Hoover on April 1, 1879, stormed into the Fairplay House Hotel and shot and mortally wounded Thomas M. Bennett,[3] a native of Iowa, who was waiting on customers at the counter. Hoover told Bennett that he was taking charge of the hotel because he owned the building, an untruth. When the dying Bennett was asked what could have provoked Hoover, he replied, "No, no, no, oh, my God, he did it in cold blood."[4]

Hoover declared temporary insanity based on an injury that he had received in an 1871 mining accident in the now ghost town of Oro City, near Leadville in Lake County, Colorado, where he had fallen sixty-five feet down a mineshaft. Hoover told authorities that his injury from the mining accident caused him to engage in "temporary fits of insanity." Three witnesses could attest to his accident, Hoover said, but none could travel to Fairplay at the time of the trial.[4]

With the approval of District Attorney C. W. Burris, Hoover was allowed to change his plea from "Not guilty of murder" to "Guilty of manslaughter.[1] The Colorado Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Thomas M. Bowen gave Hoover an eight-year imprisonment. A year was reduced for his plea of manslaughter, and a second year was credited for time already served while awaiting trial.[4]

The lynching

Hoover was scheduled to be transported to the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, when early one morning ten to twenty irate citizens,[2] who considered the imprisonment too lenient a punishment for such a heinous crime, broke into the jail in the courthouse in Fairplay and hanged Hoover from a second floor window.[4]

Law enforcement officers claimed that they could not find out who was responsible for the crime because the men wore masks and disguised their voices. Hence the actions of the mob went unpunished. Judge Bowen and DA Burris promptly left town, apparently fearful that the mob could pursue them for having participated in meting out such a light sentence in the case. Bowen, like the murder victim Bennett, was an Iowa native. He obtained great wealth in the gold fields of Rio Grande County in southern Colorado. A Republican, Bowen later served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1882 to 1883 and the United States Senate from 1883 to 1889.[4]


Hoover, who had been a Fairplay town alderman, is interred at the Fairplay Cemetery near his infant daughter, Louisa, who died at thirteen months in 1878. In 1883, his wife, the former Euphrasia Maxey, married Chandler Potter, who took her to Honduras, where he was employed by a mining company. Ward Maxey, Hoover's brother-in-law, took over Hoover's billiard parlor and later became a sheep rancher.[4]

The courthouse building where Hoover was hanged, then only six years old, was in 2013 still in use as the location of the Fairplay library.[4]


  1. ^ a b "The Flume, Fairplay, Colorado, November 26, 1885; article is a review of the events of 1879-1880". Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Colorado: The Gold Fields of Colorado". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  3. ^ "Linda Wommack, Review of South Park Perils: Short Ropes & True Tales of Historic Park County, Colorado, Filter Press, 2013, 237 pp"., December 2, 2013. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Laura King Van Dusen, "Crime and Punishment in 1880s Fairplay: People Protest Light Sentencing, Deliver Frontier Justice", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013), ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 89-96.
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