Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The Castle Rock Murders
The cliff had a sheer drop of 175 feet. Eight-year-old Donald Mattas stared in terror as his friend, Milo Flindt, 11, struggled on the lip of the cliff with an older boy, a stranger with devil-eyes. The gravelly rocks were wet from a thunderstorm that had blown through minutes before and Donald was afraid Milo would slip and fall from the ledge. But that didn’t happen – something far worse did. The older boy suddenly gave Milo a mighty shove and he disappeared. Donald heard him screaming as he fell.
Then the stranger with fiendish eyes turned toward Donald.
The young boy was paralyzed with fear. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. The stranger moved toward him. He grabbed Donald by the arms and twisted him toward the ledge. Then he gave a savage thrust and Donald hurtled into space. He was so frightened he never made a sound as he fell.
Castle Rock, as it came to be known by white settlers, was once a stopping-off place for the Arapahoe and Cheyenne. For centuries, these tribes wandered the plains and foothills beneath the Rocky Mountains, hunting buffalo and antelope and deer. Later, on the buttes beneath Castle Rock, a strange ore called rhyolite was discovered by the settlers. They established a quarry to mine the precious stone and it was soon in demand for the exterior of expensive homes and businesses. Because of the precious ore, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway ran tracks through the now-incorporated town. All the while, that magnificent, huge, dangerous mountain called Castle Rock stood brooding in the background.
On Sunday, April 12, 1943, headlines of western newspapers read: “Rommel Continuing Retreats. Axis Force Compressed into Coffin Corner of Tunisia for Knockout.” Americans, some only slightly older than the teen who pushed the two boys off the cliff, were dying by the thousands in Europe and the Pacific and other parts of the globe. Because of the war, the hellish murders of Donald Mattas and Milo Flindt didn’t get the media coverage it might have in a more peaceful era.
Earlier in the day, Milo and Donald, using tokens they called slugs, boarded the Denver to Golden Interurban tramway to attend a motion picture film in Golden. When they got to the theater, the movie they wanted to see wasn’t playing so the boys decided to explore nearby Castle Rock. Even though local parents continually warned their children about going up on the mountain, hiking to the top was a rite of passage for local kids.
As Donald and Milo neared the summit, three older boys suddenly appeared, blocking the trail. They were William “Lucky” Wymer, 16, his brother Arthur Wymer, 14, and Robert Lavasseur, 14. To use the terminology of the day, the three were “juvenile delinquents.” After their latest scrape with the law, a Denver court had ordered them to remain in that city. On Saturday, they ignored the court order and hitched a ride to Golden. There they stole enough money to pay for a hotel room where they spent the night before heading for Castle Rock.
“I’ll take your watch,” Lucky said to Donald as Arthur and Robert crowded menacingly around. The eight-year-old pulled off the watch and handed it to the bully. Then Lucky turned to Milo. His dark eyes glowed with power as he demanded that the boy give his shoes to Arthur. Milo hesitated, then dutifully took them off.
By now Donald and Milo were thoroughly intimidated by the three older toughs. But Donald mustered the courage to ask, “Can Milo wear my galoshes?” When William nodded, the younger boy gave his friend his overshoes and Milo pulled them over his bare feet. Then Lucky took two dimes and some tram slugs from Milo.
Donald and Milo turned to flee back down the trail, but William blocked their path. “Go on up to the top,” he said. “We’ll be following you.” Reluctantly, the younger boys started back up the mountain.
Arthur and Robert declined to go further, telling Lucky that they were tired. But the older boy followed Donald and Milo to the ledge. Suddenly Lucky grabbed Milo. After a brief struggle, William shoved his victim out into space. Then he grabbed Donald and threw him off the ledge. In a later confession to police, William said, “Sure I pushed them. I planned to push them off when I got to the top because dead men tell no tales.”
After the murders, the three boys walked back down the trail. They were exhilarated. They sorted out their loot and laughed about the fear they saw on the faces of their victims. Along the way, they ran into seven more young boys coming up Castle Rock. Lucky extorted money from the boys by pretending that his father owned the mountain. He charged them ten cents a head to go to the top.
Later in the day, Lucky, Arthur, and Robert took in a movie in Golden. Afterwards, they went back to the same hotel they’d stayed in the night before. This time they had no money, so they stole food and liquor and broke into a room. They were arrested after the hotel manager discovered them. While they were in jail, Lucky confessed to the murders.
In a poignant twist, Milo somehow lived for up to twelve hours after his fall. Two local boys saw him lying injured on the rocks beneath the mountain and even spoke with him. Milo told the boys he was dying and asked them to get help. They didn’t. They later told police that they thought they would be blamed for killing him if they told anyone.
Arthur Wymer and Robert Lavasseur were placed back in juvenile detention in Denver. William “Lucky” Wymer was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He was tried as an adult, but because of his age he didn’t face capital punishment. His attorneys produced several psychiatrists who swore that he was insane and unaware of his actions when he murdered the boys. The jury didn’t buy it and on July 3, 1943, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor.
Three years later, Lucky and two other convicted murderers attempted to escape from prison by digging into the sewer system and crawling to freedom. They were caught and placed in solitary confinement.
From there, William Wymer is lost to history. If anyone has information about his later life or what happened to Arthur Wymer and Robert Lavasseur, I’d like to hear from you.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 6:07 AM