It was Boone County’s greatest mystery. What were two men doing in suits and a new, black Ford on the southern edge of the Sandhills in 1937? What led to them shoot Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and Constable William Wathen? Who were the two criminals?
Well, today we found out.
“So absolutely, these are the only two people who possibly could have been in that field to shoot these two officers on that day and time,” Nebraska State Attorney General’s Office Chief of Investigators Bill Black said.
Black confirmed the two killers were Charles Doody and Marion Cooley, two career criminals who were planning to rob the bank in Spalding and steal from the clothing store in Albion. But, they were seen west of Albion by Kelly Noble’s uncle, Leonard, who called the sheriff’s office.
“He was going up there every day to doctor this colt’s wire cut. He had noticed the car there for two or three days,” Kelly Noble said.
Doody and Cooley were in suits and driving a brand new, black Ford. Seeing folks like that was not typical in rural Boone County.
“(It would have been) very, very strange because nobody wore a suit, only on Sunday morning,” Noble said.
On their second search trip, Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and Constable William Wathen entered a field south of Noble’s property.
Then the black Ford came over a ridge and confronted them. The suspects shot Smoyer dead and shot Wathen in the hip, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He eventually died from his injuries.
Authorities, led by the Sheriff’s brother, Scout Smoyer, were able to correctly identify the suspects at the time, but they were unable to extradite Cooley and unable to locate Doody.
In the 21st century, Seward County Sheriff Joe Yocum spent years piecing back details of the case and got the big break when Doody’s son reached out to him.
“Based upon his known what his father was capable of, he felt compelled to call me and talk to me about this case.”
The new information completed the timeline and brought to rest an 80-year-old cold case and helped a family and community find closure. Yocum just wishes it could have happened sooner.
“I only wish Scout were here. One of the last things he said to me was, ‘Joe I wasn’t able to solve this case but I hope you guys can do something about this.’ And I said I’ll do what I can. I’ll try.’ And that’s what I did, I just tried.”