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Vengeance Is Mine

The Scandalous Love Triangle That Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud

Bill Neal

Publication Year: 2011

The 1912 Boyce-Sneed feud in West Texas began with a torrid sex scandal at the core of a love triangle, featuring Lena Snyder Sneed, the high-spirited, headstrong wife; Al Boyce, Jr., Lena’s reckless, romantic lover; and John Beal Sneed, Lena’s arrogant, grim, and vindictive husband, who responded to Lena’s plea for a divorce by having her locked up in an insane asylum on grounds of “moral insanity.” The chase was on after Al rescued Lena from the asylum and the lovers fled to Canada. That’s when the killings began. No one who knew the vengeful John Beal Sneed doubted for a moment that he would go after his wife’s lover with lethal intent. Frustrated by Al’s escape to Canada, Sneed assassinated Al’s aged and unarmed father, Colonel Albert Boyce, a wealthy Amarillo banker and former manager of the huge XIT Ranch in the Panhandle during the late nineteenth century, who had been defending his son against Sneed’s legal machinations. Newspaper headlines predicted the upcoming murder trial would be the “greatest legal battle ever fought in Texas Courts.” Sneed’s well-paid legal team first earned him a mistrial. While awaiting his second trial, Sneed ambushed and killed Al Boyce, Jr., who had foolishly returned to Amarillo and was shot in the back, with witnesses present, while walking the main street. Sneed was acquitted in his second trial for killing the father, and later acquitted for the killing of son Al Boyce, Jr., as well—his legal team skillfully invoking the self-help justice of the unwritten law defending one’s marital home. Bill Neal, attorney and writer, tells the full story of this sordid affair with special analysis of the trial tactics that were so carefully crafted to resonate with the jurors of this era and ensure Sneed’s acquittal.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

ALMOST HALF A CENTURY AFTER the Boyce-Sneed feud erupted in bloodshed in 1912, one Texas historian, Lewis Nordyke, decided to write a book about it. But he had to abandon the idea: nobody would talk to him. Another chronicler of Texas feuds, C. L. Sonnichsen, commenting on the reticence of “mind-your-own-business” Westerners—especially Texans—to discuss local feuds, wrote in 1951 that it was “too soon to talk about the...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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The Three Families: Settling in Antebellum Texas

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pp. 1-22

BY HAPPENSTANCE, the Sneed, Boyce, and Snyder families all settled in the same place, a wild and sparsely populated area a few miles north of Austin around the central Texas village of Georgetown. The three families were bedrock Texans, all arriving before the Civil War—some even before statehood in 1845. During those early years, the families shared the same struggles and hardships in that harsh, dangerous, and unforgiving frontier where there was the constant threat of Indian depredations. They also shared many of...

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A Secret Too Big to Keep: “Let the Old Men Settle It”

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pp. 23-28

FAMILIAR FOLKLORE has it that the husband is always the last to know. John Beal Sneed may not have been the last to discover his wife’s affair, but he certainly wasn’t the first. By the early fall of 1911, the intensity of the affair had become so heated that some family members and even some of the neighbors had become aware of it. Unlike Al Boyce and Lena Snyder Sneed, they all fully appreciated its gravity and how explosive that powder keg was in 1911 Texas...

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A Man with a Plan: Escape, Flight, and Pursuit

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pp. 29-43

AT FIRST IT MUST HAVE SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE for John Beal Sneed to concoct any one plan that would accomplish all of his goals. Revenge had to be exacted—not only against Lena but also against Al. Both had publicly humiliated him. His battered hubris had to be assuaged; his honor in that Victorian society had to be restored. And he had to do all of that while publicly portraying himself in some heroic role. In 1911 Texas society he could kill Al, even waylay...

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The Gathering Storm: The Killings Begin

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pp. 44-55

WHILE THE WINNIPEG PRESS was whetting the voyeuristic appetite of its readers with blow-by-blow accounts of John Beal Sneed’s windmill-tilting tactics with the Canadian immigration officials, the Fort Worth press carried an entirely different kind of story—different, but one that was equally fascinating to its subscribers. Colonel Boyce and his wife had come to Fort Worth to testify before the...

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To the Courts: From Guns to Gavels

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pp. 56-70

AS THE STORY OF THE BLOODY Boyce-Sneed feud continued to unfold for more than two years—more melodramatic than any modern soap opera—lurid newspaper accounts of a scandalous romance, the stalking, the killings, and the sensational murder trials titillated readers all across America and Canada (where the press continued to take an unusually condescending and voyeuristic interest). Every twist of the tale seemed even more unbelievable than the...

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“The Greatest Legal Battle Ever”: The 1912 Fort Worth Murder Trial of John Beal Sneed

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pp. 71-112

WHAT A TANTALIZING TREAT was in store for trial spectators poised on the edge of their seats breathlessly waiting to witness what had been billed as “The Greatest Legal Battle Ever Fought in Texas Courts”1 featuring those larger-than-life characters they had heard and read so much about—John Beal Sneed, Lena Snyder Sneed, and Al Boyce—who would disgorge all those juicy, intimate details of the scandalous romance and the killing of a Texas pioneer...

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Protecting a Home or Protecting a Killer?: The Conclusion of the 1912 John Beal Sneed Murder Trial

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pp. 113-139

IN SPORTS CONTESTS, there comes a time during most games when the momentum shifts to one of the teams. At that point it is crucial for the other team to reinvigorate, to shift strategies, to seize the initiative and stop that momentum before the game turns into a rout. So it is with most hotly contested jury trials. That crucial point in the Sneed murder trial came when McLean concluded his direct examination of John Beal Sneed. Beal’s virtuoso performance, ...

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The Waiting Game: Ambush at the Death Cottage

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pp. 140-162

JUDGE SWAYNE DECLARED A MISTRIAL in the prosecution of John Beal Sneed for murdering Colonel Boyce on February 29, 1912, and that was the day the waiting game began. Retrial of the murder case was scheduled to begin in the same Fort Worth district court in November 1912—eight months later. It would prove to be a very long eight months indeed. Cone Johnson, in his closing argument for the defense, made a very curious comment: “There has been enough...

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“Because This Is Texas”: The Second Fort Worth Murder Trial of John Beal Sneed

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pp. 163-191

LODGED IN THE POTTER COUNTY JAIL in Amarillo under indictment for the murder of Al Boyce, John Beal Sneed once again petitioned for bail.1 The Amarillo district attorney, H. S. Bishop, opposed it. District Judge J. N. Browning agreed, finding that “proof was evident” that Sneed was guilty of having committed the offense of premeditated murder. As Sneed’s defense lawyers had done only nine months earlier in Fort Worth, they contended that proof was not evident...

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“Making ’em Believe in Ghosts”: The Beech Epting Murder Trial

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pp. 192-207

A MONTH AND THREE DAYS AFTER the Fort Worth jury cleared John Beal Sneed for the killing of Colonel Albert Boyce, he was involved in another murder trial. But he was not the defendant in this one. His cohort, Beech Epting, was on trial for his role in the killing of Al Boyce, Jr. Al Boyce was killed on September 14, 1912, in Amarillo, and a Potter County grand jury had promptly indicted Beal Sneed and Beech Epting, jointly, for murder.1 “Wild Bill”...

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“No Trial for the Dead”: The Vernon Murder Trial of John Beal Sneed

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pp. 208-225

That billing, however, was somewhat misleading. What the packed courtroom witnessed when the curtain parted was less of a solemn, dignified, dispassionate judicial pursuit of truth and justice than . . . well, what would you call it? Part tragedy, part comedy, part farce, part melodrama, part pathos, part bare-knuckle brawl? Whatever you called it, it was well larded with generous helpings of hyperbole, nonsense, and old-fashioned tent-revival-style hallelujahs...

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The John Beal Sneed Wars Continue: Combat in the Courts, Firefights in the Streets

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pp. 226-242

JOHN BEAL SNEED walked out of the Vernon courthouse a free man on February 25, 1913. For almost two years he had soldiered on through physical, mental, and emotional ordeals that would have worn out the body and crushed the spirit of an ordinary man—all the confrontations, the bloodletting, the killing of two human beings, and then being run through the emotional wringer during four murder trials—in three of which his own life hung in the...

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pp. 243-258

WHEN AT THE END of Sneed’s second Fort Worth murder trial the jury shot back a “not guilty” verdict without even bothering to deliberate, much less to read the court’s jury instructions, Judge Swayne was flabbergasted—stunned is perhaps a better word. Both Judge Swayne’s words and his actions during and after the trial clearly demonstrated that he had no doubt—reasonable or otherwise—that John Beal Sneed had intentionally killed Colonel Boyce without...

Appendix One

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pp. 259-266

Appendix Two

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pp. 267-272


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pp. 273-292


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pp. 293-297


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pp. 299-306

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414400
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574413175

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 36 b&w illus. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series