The Pacheco Brothers: A Gruesome Crime

Below is a photograph of Lewis (left) and John (right) Pacheco. I suspect it is a combination of their police booking photos from February 28, 1934. They had been arrested for one of the most gruesome crimes in Larimer County history.

Lewis Pacheco (L), John Pacheco (R). February 28, 1934

John Pacheco, 22, and Louis Pacheco, a 37-year old ex-convict, were hired by Clifford and Violet Smith to thin sugar beets on the Smith farm near Wellington, Colorado. At some point, Clifford Smith and the Pacheco brothers had an argument about a missing calf and some money Louis Pacheco believed Smith owed him for some earlier corn cutting. Louis wanted his money and both brothers were concerned that Smith would turn them in for cattle rustling, still a major western crime in 1934.

The Pachecos showed up at the Smith house around 7:00 pm on the evening of February 27, 1934. They may have expected to find the house empty, since the Smiths and their live-in farm hand, 16-year old Bobby Griffin, were scheduled to attend an event that night at the school house in Wellington. Due to a cold, Griffin was left at home alone, where he was found by the Pachecos.

Stories differ about what happened next but, at some point, the brothers shot and killed Bobby Griffin, maybe when he tried to escape. While waiting for the Smiths to return, the Pachecos ransacked the house, looking for $50 that Smith was believed to have hidden in his home.

Around 9:00 pm, the Smiths returned home and knew something was wrong. Court records described what happened this way:

“Mrs. Smith observed someone in the house, called to Bobby and received no response. She then requested her husband not to go in, this request was unheeded, and Smith entering the house, found the two defendants in the kitchen, standing about six inches apart with guns in their hands.” In a minute or two a shot was heard and Clifford Smith was dead.

According to Mrs. Smith’s testimony at the trial, “She heard a shot and the defendants, who were recognized by her, came out of the house, and shot her. . . . [Fearing] further violence, she feigned death, and was carried into the house.” Mrs. Smith went on to describe “an attack on her person.”

The brothers poured coal oil over the three bodies and John Pacheco threw a match into the oil, starting a fire that they hoped would destroy any evidence. Then the brothers left for their home in Wellington.

According to John Pacheco’s testimony, he didn’t go all the way home, but went back to check on the fire. John found the fire out and Mrs. Smith gone. As soon as the brothers had left, she had got up, extinguished the flames, and escaped out a window. John told Louis that Mrs. Smith was gone and they needed to “beat it.”

The next day, February 28th, the brothers were apprehended while hiding in a local hay stack. The police (some of them shown below) were concerned that a lynch mob was forming. So, instead of taking the prisoners to the Larimer County jail, they transported them to Denver.

From left to right: Thomas O’Brien (patrolman), Fred Blumenthal (Fort Collins police chief), John Pacheco, George Saunders (sheriff), Lewis Pacheco, Charles Russell (deputy sheriff)

While they weren’t lynched, justice was still swift. The trail began on March 25, 1934, with, you have to imagine, Violet Smith as the main prosecution witness. The trial was short and the brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death within five days. After their appeals were exhausted, the brothers were executed in adjacent chairs in the Colorado gas chamber on May 31, 1935.

Their execution ended the Smith-Griffin murders, called by the local newspapers the “bloodiest killings ever to mar the pages of Wellington history.”