On Thursday, February 9, 1933, proprietor Henry Zelinger had a bad feeling about the nervous, little, “pasty-faced, middle-aged man,” who had walked into the Colorado Auction House with a suitcase full of tools to sell. Zelinger told him to leave the case and come back on Saturday afternoon when the next auction would be held. What he didn’t say was that he suspected the tools had been stolen, and that as soon as the man left, he would be on the phone to the central police station to arrange for two detectives to be here on Saturday to arrest him.
The man wore a gray suit and checkered cap. He said his name was Gay Rice, and that he lived on Rural Route 2 in Arvada.
Detective John Dea told Zelinger when he called that he and his partner, Detective George Schneider would be glad to come over, since they had wanted to “straighten out a tangle over mortgaged furniture, which a woman had taken to auction house to sell” anyway.
Dea was called Jack by his friends. He had been a Denver Police officer for 26 years, and a detective since 1926. He was highly regarded as a quiet and efficient detective, who worked well with Schneider, a man who in his 21-year career, had found himself on both ends of more lethal violence than perhaps any other member of the department at that time. He had been a detective for 15 years. Dea was tall and reserved; Schneider was short and could be quick-tempered. The two of them working together made a good team.
On Saturday, Dea and Schneider walked in a few minutes before the 2:15 p.m., starting time. It was an especially cold day, and they walked over to a wood-burning stove to warm up. The stove was located in the back of the auction room, a large hall that was separated by a partition from another large room that was used for storage. About 100 people were milling around, waiting for the auction to begin.
Gay Rice slipped quietly through the front door. He had on the same clothes he had worn two days earlier. He was clutching an old paper sack to his chest. He appeared nervous, scanning the crowd too intently and for too long, witnesses said later. They said he seemed skittish — like someone on the run, who was not as far ahead of his pursuers as he would like to be.
He too walked over to warm up at the stove.
Zelinger nodded to the detectives that their man was coming over and they hey stopped him before he got there. With Schneider standing on one side of him and Dea on the other, Schneider cut to the chase, in the no-nonsense delivery he was known for. “Your name isn’t Ray and you don’t live in Arvada. Step through this door, we want to talk to you.” He showed his badge and said, “We’re from the Hall,” referring to the city government office building at 14th and Larimer Streets, where the central police station was also located.
Dea placed his hand on Rice’s shoulder and motioned towards a narrow opening in the partition that led to the storage room. Dea would say later that after seeing the small, nervous man, they thought this would be “just another pinch,” and they were not expecting any trouble from him.
Rice however was so tightly wound, he was on the verge of panic. Unlike the two detectives, he had expected trouble and had not come to the auction house empty-handed. In his pants pocket was a .32-caliber pistol and in the sack he was carrying were six loaded magazines for it, along with two chisels. He also had a box of ammunition in another pocket.
According to later statements made by people with whom he was acquainted, Rice’s grip on reality was tenuous. They suggested that he may have thought that one of two outcomes was about to happen when the detectives confronted him. They were either going to arrest him for the stolen tools, or the two men were not real detectives at all, but henchmen in disguise who had been sent west by a Chicago crime boss to take him back to the Windy City to die.
They walked single-file through the opening in the partition; first Schneider, then Rice, followed by Dea. Suddenly, Rice stopped mid-way and reached into his pocket and took out the pistol and began firing.
He shot Dea first, two times, knocking him to the floor. Schneider spun around, struggling to push past his bulky overcoat to get to the gun he carried in a shoulder holster. He too was shot down before he could clear leather.
Rice went and stood over George Schneider and fired five more times.
Harry Kelly, the auction house bookkeeper, saw it all. “I saw them start for the front of the store. Then the suspect stepped back and pulled his gun. He fired twice, pointblank, at Dea and the officer dropped. Schneider had turned and was tugging at his weapon when the man opened fire at a distance of just a few feet. Schneider didn’t have a chance.”
Rice ejected the spent magazine from the pistol and replaced it with one from the sack.
He started towards the front door, firing towards groups of bystanders. Most of the shots went well over their heads. Some people screamed; others whimpered and at least one man cussed a blue streak at the gunman. Passersby on the sidewalk on Welton Street stopped to look through the plate-glass windows to see what all the screaming and pop, pop, pop noises were about. In his haste to get himself and his two young sons out of the auction house, Henry Zelinger nearly ran into Rice.
Bystander Robert Nolan cursed at the gunman, loud enough for Rice to hear him and fire three shots in his direction, splintering a wooden cabinet next to where Nolan was standing in the storage room. Nolan ran back into the auction room, and helped lead more than a dozen people to safety in the alley.
Zelinger ran next door to call the police. Harry Silverberg, an employee at an auto parking station next door, had already called the central station telling the operator to send “plenty of cops with guns.”
Another bystander, Alfred Stephens, waved his hat to get Rice’s attention and yelled, “Stop that shooting, you fool!” Rice’s reply was to fire at Stephens.
Passerby W.S. Bookwalter, 74, was shot in the face as he peered through a window. Another passerby, Charles Lewis, 75, was shot in the abdomen and died the next day at Denver General Hospital.
One bullet tore through the automobile that a city employee, Lucille Williams, had just parked across the street. It was this bullet that struck an unknown pedestrian, who, after removing the bullet from his own arm, ran away, not to be heard from again.
Mrs. A. J. Woolly had just parked her car across the street when the shooting started. After hiding behind it, she got up and ran to the Great Western Hat Company next door. Auction attendee W. J. Burke raced toward the door to escape the shooting, but stumbled in the doorway. A volley whistled over his head as he scrambled to his feet and made good his escape.
By this time, Rice had shot dry six of his seven magazines. He slammed the last one into the magazine well, and jacked a live round in the chamber, and turned his attention back towards Dea and Schneider.
Dea was laying on his side, unable to stand. He held his .45-caliber revolver unsteadily in his hand, clenching his teeth against the pain from the gunshot wounds to his shoulder and abdomen. He fought to stay conscious and keep his mind clear.
Seeing Rice coming towards him, Dea knew he had one last chance to save himself and the lives of the people around him. He propped his right elbow onto the floor, steadied himself, and slowly squeezed off three rounds. All of them missed, striking the pane-glass windows behind Rice.
Desperately close to passing out, Dea fired one last round. He and Rice fired at the same instant. Rice’s round went high, into the ceiling. Dea’s found its target, however, striking Rice just above the forehead, ending the fight.
Patrolmen Jack Carbey and F. E. Mosher burst through the front door with their guns drawn. Mosher ran over to Rice and kicked his gun away. He was still breathing. Carbey ran over to Dea. “I think I got him,” the detective said.
Dea was carried outside and taken by police car to Denver General. Detective Haze stood guard over Rice and his gun. A deputy coroner, B. B. Jaffa, who had hurried to the store after hearing about the shooting, pronounced Schneider dead. He had been shot seven times and died almost immediately.
George Philip Schneider was 53 years old, and left behind a wife, Katherine, two daughters, Eva, 25, and Charline, 19, and the family dog he had affectionately named Fuzzy. The family lived at 2660 York St. The house still stands there today.
He was buried at Fairmount Cemetery.
At the hospital, an operation was performed on Dea and doctors found a bullet had pierced his bowels and now threatened his life. He told investigators:
“George Schneider and I went into the Colorado Auction House to check on the stolen tools and look at the man that had them and wanted the auction house to sell them. We went up to him in the back part of the place and told him we were detectives and wanted to look at the tools he was trying to sell and to talk to him.
“We started walking with him and he suddenly pulled a gun and shot me. We didn’t expect it, and didn’t think he was a fellow that thought he was a tough guy and carried a gun. Maybe he was figuring on sticking up the place after the auction.
“As I fell, I saw George reach for his gun, but his hand never got to the holster. After shooting me, the man started shooting at George, emptying his gun on him. When George fell I knew he was dead and all the time I tried to keep my head clear so I could get to my gun. I kept telling myself I had to get to my gun, but my head was swimming something awful.
“Finally, I managed to get my gun out of the holster. The man was standing on the floor, up from a little, firing out into the street. Then he turned and fired some more at George and me. I fired four shots at him and I’m awfully glad to know I hit him.
Dea then closed his eyes and whispered, “Captain, I don’t feel well,” and lapsed into unconsciousness. He died at 6:25 p.m. His wife Mary and their youngest son John, 16, were by his side.
John Francis Dea was 57 years old, and was survived by two other sons, Martin, 26 and Joseph, 22. (Joseph would follow his father into law enforcement, joining the department in 1938. He retired as a detective in 1963.) The family lived at 1454 S. Lincoln St. He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge.
Rice died at the hospital too, after refusing to talk to detectives. He was 51 years old.
At the auction house, the acrid smell of gun powder still hung in the air as detectives set about their tasks of investigating the crime scene.
The tally of recovered evidence included seven .32-caliber magazines, half a box of Remington ammunition, 29 spent .32-caliber shell casings, one .45-caliber slug found where Rice had fallen, and the suitcase containing $20 worth of stolen tools that had started the melee.
Rice had used an alias – S. B. Jones of Boulder – to purchase the gun at a Gart Brothers sporting goods store in Denver in December, 1932.
Rice had been living at a boarding house at 332 E. 18th Ave. There, detectives found four suitcases filled with clothes, all believed to have been stolen. The landlord, John Rasmussen, described him as someone who kept to himself and was very quiet. The only mail he received were radio catalogs he ordered.
He had been arrested four months earlier by Patrolmen Walter Rushmore and L. H. Cottrell for carrying a concealed weapon. He was fined $50 by Police Magistrate Pickens.
Seven days later, he was arrested again, carrying two .32-caliber pistols and 25 loaded magazines. He said he wanted to be prepared in case private detectives from Chicago would try to force him back to that city to resume his connections with a Chicago gang. He went before Justice of the Peace James Sabin, and was convicted and sentenced to serve 60 days in county jail.
Today, 85 years later, the precious few pages that remain of case number 09329 can be found in a manila envelope, in a folder marked 1933 in a secured, non-descript room deep inside Denver Police Headquarters. Elsewhere in this same room can be found George Schneider’s name in several other police shootings and homicides.
In 1917, Schneider saved the lives of several officers who were being held at gunpoint by a “rum runner” at the Colorado-Wyoming state line. This was during Prohibition, and Colorado had been dry for two years, but Wyoming was wet. Schneider commandeered an automobile and leaped from its running board onto the gunman.
In 1919, Schneider was partnered with Detective George Klein, head of the bootlegging squad. They were in North Denver investigating a report of someone selling alcohol, when a suspect tried to flee and Klein shot him. Klein was eventually indicted for manslaughter, but found not guilty at a trial. Klein was himself killed by gunmen who waited in ambush for him to return home late one night in West Denver. The shooters were never identified.
With Klein’s death, Schneider took over the bootlegging squad and he and his family became the subjects of repeated threats made by North Denver mobsters.
In 1920, Schneider and other officers went to a house in North Denver to arrest a theft suspect. While they were searching for him, the suspect got the drop on Schneider and held him at gunpoint out of earshot of the other officers. He locked Schneider in a room, but the detective was able to escape. He caught up to the gunman, but not before he had shot and killed Officer James Boggio and a wounded a sergeant. The gunman also wounded Schneider in the leg before Schneider could kill him. He walked with a limp for the remainder of his life.
In 1925, he was attacked by two Fort Logan soldiers whom he had reprimanded for their undue attention given to a young women. One struck him, knocking him against a popcorn wagon. Bleeding profusely, he arrested them and took them to the central station. There, they attacked him again. Schneider clamped his arms around the legs of one of them and lost consciousness. An officer came by in time to prevent the prisoners from escaping.
In 1928, Schneider shot and killed a man in Globeville, when he tried to arrest him for earlier pointing a Civil War-era gun at an officer and pistol whipping a sergeant in Five Points.
In 1930, Schneider and Dea were seriously injured when the car they were traveling in collided with another car.
Unfortunately, tragedy would revisit both the Dea and Schneider families after the auction house shootout.
Dea’s youngest John was killed in a freak motor vehicle accident in 1946. He had just become engaged to be married and was driving home on Speer Boulevard. He ran into the back of a stolen dump truck that had been abandoned in traffic with no lights on. He had served in the US Navy during the war, and after returning home was attending pharmacy classes at 1441 Welton St. – across the street from where his father had been mortally wounded 13 years earlier.
Schneider’s youngest daughter, Charline, died in 1940 from a heart ailment. She was married and had a two-year-old son.
The Colorado Auction House moved from Welton Street sometime between 1943 and 1950, to 1304 E. 22nd Ave.