If you’re a Colorado native, you might consider yourself a local history buff thanks to that fourth grade Colorado history course we all know and love. But native or not, there’s a lesser-known side of the Centennial State’s past that’s much darker—and possibly much more interesting. Local author Richard Kreck leads us on a foray into this obscure past of scandals and sins with his latest book, Rich People Behaving Badly.
The former Denver Post editor and columnist has become somewhat of an authority on Colorado history after publishing numerous books on the subject, including Murder at the Brown Palace and Smaldone, a look at a Denver crime family. He says the idea for Rich People Behaving Badly came to him while flipping through newspaper clippings during research for another project.
“Looking at old microfilms, I would come across these cases and I’d think, that’s kind of interesting. So I would make a note to myself or I would throw it in a file. After a while I had 10 or 12 of them piled up,” says Kreck. “I thought, this might make a book.”
The stories he ended up with are anything but rosy. Gertrude Gibson Patterson, the “Flower-Faced Vampire of Denver,” was eventually acquitted after shooting her husband in the back and claiming it was suicide—but newspaper coverage seemed to focus less on the facts of her trial and more on her pleasant appearance. Another chapter of the book details the story of “Diamond Jack” Alterie, a Chicago mobster turned Colorado rancher who was run out of the state for his habit of drunkenly threatening (and sometimes assaulting) people he disagreed with.
Among Kreck’s favorites is the story of Stella Smith, who also killed her husband, but probably had a pretty good reason.
“In modern terms, she was an abused wife, both physically and mentally, until she couldn’t take it anymore and shot and killed him. And then, just to make sure, she shot him again, and then was acquitted because the jury said the guy was such a jerk he deserved to die,” says Kreck.
After years of research on scandals and wrongdoings, Kreck says one thing is certain: Things haven’t changed much.
“I don’t think people behave any differently now than they did back then, it’s just that now we’re more aware of it,” he says. “And we all like peering into other people’s lives.” Even if it isn’t pretty, Kreck’s hope is that his book succeeds in showing the more human side of history.
“One of the things I think we ought to do more is make history fun. Too often it’s just dreary, but these were real people who did real things in their day-to-day lives. It’d be much more interesting if we approached them as humans rather than names and dates,” says Kreck. “Even though you might not like them or what they did, at least you get some understanding of what motivated them.”
Rich People Behaving Badly is available now from Fulcrum Publishing.