Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Spade Cooley

Spade Speaks Ill

A week into the trial, Cooley was entering the courtroom when he was greeted with a cheerful call of "Hi, Grandpa" from his granddaughter, Debbie, five, who was there with Cooley's son and daughter-in-law. Cooley erupted in tears and rushed toward the courtroom doors. He was subdued by deputies, administered oxygen and again rushed to the hospital.

Cooley was his own star witness when it came time for the defense to make its case.

Spade Cooley cries in court
Spade Cooley cries in court

By all accounts, his version of his wife's death was an odd mixture of lies, fleeting moments of remorse and lurid anecdotes.

Cooley said that on the day of her death, Ella Mae had finally come clean about her various sexual indiscretions.

He said she admitted an affair with Roy Rogers, whom he called "my ex-best friend." He said the movie star would steal out to Willow Springs while Cooley was performing on his Saturday night TV show.

She also admitted her plan to join the sex cult, Cooley said.

When pressed for details, Cooley rambled on about the homosexual menace in America, including among his business partners. Asked how he knew his partners were gay, Cooley replied, "They brought some boys up to my ranch that were completely on the limp-wrist side."

At first, Cooley continued to deny that he hit his wife.

He said, "She went into the shower alone. I didn't push her or shove her. There was a terrible thud."

He insisted he ran to her aid and found her bloody and unconscious.

He said, "I rubbed her wrists, breathed in her mouth, put cold towels on her head, and I prayed."

Prosecutor Nelson asked why his daughter Melody would have made up a horrible story about witnessing the murder.

Cooley calmly claimed Melody was angry at him because he forbade her to date older boys.

Later, Cooley changed his tune, testifying, "Rockets ran through my brain when Ella Mae told me of her desire to join a free-love cult. I must have hurt her terrible."

In his summary, Nelson described the killing as "murder by torture."

He said, "Mr. Cooley is not normal. He is abnormal, has sadistic tendencies and a dual personality. His recollections are convenient memory to Mr. Cooley, but he doesn't recall when things look bad for Mr. Cooley."

The jury agreed. After a month-long trial and 19 hours of deliberation, it convicted Cooley of murder on Aug. 19, 1961.

Against his attorney's recommendation, Cooley then withdrew his insanity plea, and Judge William L. Bradshaw sentenced him to life in prison. He had cheated the gas chamber. Bradshaw said he took the defendant's poor health in consideration in opting against capital punishment.

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