Book review: ‘Murder at the Brown Palace: A True Story of Seduction and Betrayal’
August 15, 2013
The Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver is Colorado’s “grand dame,” the state’s second oldest hotel and certainly the most elegant. Built at the end of the 19th century, when refinement and culture were seeping into the Western cities that were formerly only known for their rough-and-tumble frontier personas, the Brown Palace quickly became a destination for the well-to-do in Denver society.
Only a year before famous Titanic passenger the “unsinkable” Molly Brown was a guest at the hotel, the Brown Palace became the epicenter of a doomed romantic triangle that sank the privileged lives of several well-respected socialites. At a time when Denver was determined to shake its “cow town” image, a high-profile murder shone a bright gas-flickering light on the tainted underbelly of the rich and privileged of the blossoming city.
The famed killing of adventurer Tony Von Phul and unlucky bystander George Copeland is documented in the captivating read “Murder at the Brown Palace: A True Story of Seduction and Betrayal,” by former Denver Post editor and columnist Dick Kreck. Carefully researched, “Murder at the Brown Palace” introduces the characters in this real-life drama and carries them along to the culmination of the tragedy, which took place in the Brown Palace’s elegant Marble Bar, where the two men were shot dead by Frank Henwood, rival suitor for the married and “breathtakingly lovely” Isabel Springer.
What followed was an investigation and trial that could measure up to modern criminal dramas, captivating the public’s attention and threatening to become a series of farcical legal proceedings.
Living a life of high-profile and luxurious comfort at the side of her well-situated husband, John Springer, Mrs. Isabel Springer was a woman who enjoyed her comforts — and her admirers. Encouraging the attentions of multiple men was de rigueur for this modern woman of the early 20th century, and the young beauty played the gentlemen off one another to disastrous end.
Kreck paints a vivid portrait of a rather insecure woman obsessed with garnering compliments and assembling her followers, while leading Denver’s cultural scene into the age of excess and indulgence.
Accused murderer Henwood finds himself on the defense, as the era of information and more rapid communication that began to unfold in the 20th century had him tried in the newspapers as well as the court, an early example of the delicate nature of criminal law in our modern world.
Though the gunpowder smell has long faded, and the tragic figures in this tale are gone and nearly forgotten, “Murder at the Brown Palace” brings them boldly and faithfully to life once more, with the legendary hotel playing a part in the soap opera of the century.
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