Skip to main content

The Killing of Coral Hickman

By Priscilla Waggoner

April 13, 2016
     Just before noon on March 14, 1930, three men walked into the Manter Bank in Manter, Kansas. Several minutes later, after brandishing “rifles, shotguns and six-shooters”, John Walker, Andrew Halliday, and Clyde “Shorty” Ray, came back out of the bank carrying roughly $4000 in cash. They then got into a Model A Ford and started up the engine.  The three men had done this before. Walker, 41 and from Joplin, Halliday, 24, and Ray, 22, both of Webb City, Missouri, reportedly had known each other for much of their lives. If they had headed east, they might have lived lives that turned out differently. But they didn’t head east.  They headed west, toward Colorado. And, in so doing, they sealed their fate.

     Several hours and one hundred and twenty miles to the northwest, Sheriff Mayne’s office in Eads, Colorado got a call from Kansas authorities saying the three “bandits” were speeding their way. Deputy Sheriff Coral Hickman was notified and, calling to W. Mosher to join him, jumped into his Durant Coupe and headed southeast, looking to spot the Model A coming toward town. If the call had come just a few minutes later, his life might have turned out differently, as well. But those things didn’t happen. Within about five miles, Hickman spotted the light sedan with three men inside and immediately swung his car around, giving chase and overtaking the car which was “running at a high rate of speed”.  Two miles east of town, the trio, seeing they would either be captured or have to fight it out, slammed their car to a stop and jumped out, firing their guns at Hickman’s car. Hickman jumped out, as well, and returned fire, facing the men and walking toward them as he shot. According to Mosher who witnessed the incident, Hickman had almost made it to the gunmen when he was shot twice in the chest and dropped to the ground. What happened next accounts for some of the ferocity with which the three men were hated by townspeople and officers alike. With Hickman on the ground, Ray shot him four more times, the last bullet piercing his brain. According to one account that cannot be verified, Walker spotted Mosher, who was unarmed, watching some distance away. He allegedly told Mosher that, if he didn’t run, Ray was going to see him standing there and shoot him, too. Mosher supposedly took off but was shot by Ray in the leg, nonetheless. After taking Hickman’s gun, the men climbed back in the Model A and drove off, leaving Hickman face down in the road. The Manter bandits, as they were soon named, continued northwest but got lost on the winding farm roads. Somewhere around Wild Horse, they stopped two twelve year old boys on horseback and asked how to get “on the road to Kit Carson”. The boys, unaware they were talking to bank robbers, gave directions, warning them to “watch out for the turn in the road”. Evidently, their warning was ignored. Tracking the men revealed a place where they missed a turn, crashed through a fence and drove through a pasture before returning to the road.

     By this time, a local operator had notified other towns in the area, and a large posse was formed, including 7 airplanes to aid in the search. The robbers had made it to Cheyenne Wells where they exchanged shots with more deputies, injuring three. They headed back for Kansas.  Over the next 26 hours, Walker, Halliday and Ray stole at least one more car and even fled on foot while a search of massive proportions ensued. More than 200 armed men scoured the area; airplanes flew overhead (although one plane with the Lamar DA aboard got lost and ended up in Baca County); bloodhounds were brought in, and the National Guard stationed in nearby Burlington was mobilized but stopped upon learning the bandits had been captured in an abandoned shack south of Jetmore, Kansas. Supposedly, Walker, Halliday and Ray woke up, discovered they were surrounded by several hundred armed “citizen possemen” and surrendered. The bandits were taken to Johnson County jail where they protested their innocence, even though identified by two witnesses from the bank. Colorado officials immediately announced plans to extradite to Colorado where the robbers would stand trial for murder, punishable by death. In Kansas, the maximum sentence was life in prison with no chance of parole. Even so, Kansas authorities wasted no time in turning the robbers over. First degree murder charges were filed in Eads two days later, and, at 9pm, Colorado police left by a secret route for the Denver jail, certain that, had they been discovered on the road with the men, the men would have been lynched.

     In the weeks that followed, the story was carried in newspapers in California, Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, Nebraska, Texas and a number of other states. Tangential stories continued to make the news, including a report from Missouri where three “bandit ladies” were arrested after it was discovered they were driving Clyde Ray’s car. Mrs. Sadie Walker--wife of John Walker, Goldie Hegworth—girlfriend of Andrew Halliday, and “Brownie” McClain were detained by police for several days under suspicion of aiding and abetting in the robbery, but the women “remained tightlipped” and were eventually released. Meanwhile, the Colorado judicial system swung into action at an unprecedented pace. The case would be heard by Judge S.D. Trimble; Pueblo District Attorney J. Arthur Phelps was assigned chief prosecutor. While questioned by Phelps, Ray stated he alone shot Deputy Hickman, but the others contested his statement. Ray eventually admitted to confessing only to save the lives of the other two. On March 18th, just 4 days after the shooting, the men confessed to the shooting and the robbery in Manter. When asked if they understood the confession would bring the death penalty, Ray answered they did, but “There’s no point in fighting. We have no money for an attorney, and we’re tired of causing problems.” They each then signed their confessions. The court assigned Thomas R. Hoffmire to be defense counsel. Hoffmire surprised all by announcing the men would plead not guilty. The men were brought to Eads, a jury was selected, and on April 7th, less than a month after the crime, the trial began to a packed courtroom.

     Hoffmire, determined to give the best defense he could, moved from the outset of the trial that the confessions be turned over to defense counsel to read. Phelps objected, the judge sustained and said that would only occur if the confessions were admitted as evidence. That, Phelps responded, was not going to happen; he had enough witnesses to identify them as the robbers. That was a clear indication of how the trial was going to go for the men. Defense contested every move the DA made; the judge overruled every objection.
     On April 29th, the men were found guilty—twelve for, none against--and sentenced to hang in Canon City Penitentiary on January 30, 1931. While on death row, Halliday was described as constantly in prayer. Meanwhile, Walker refused to see his mother, 71, not wanting her to know he was sentenced to death. He then instructed his sisters to “tell her I got twenty years” and spent his last months writing numerous letters to his mother that his sisters mailed once a month, hopefully convincing her that her son was still alive.

     The men had requested to be executed together, and, on the morning of January 30th, the three men were led to the gallows. They reportedly flipped a coin to see who would go first, and nooses were slipped around their necks. When the trapdoor dropped, the one thousand one hundred pound weight was too light. As a result, the three men died of strangulation, a process that reportedly took several agonizing minutes. Aside from what occurred during those ten months in ’30 and ‘31, virtually nothing is known about John Walker, Andrew Halliday or Clyde Ray. It’s almost as if, once those shots were fired, they ceased to have a past or identify of any kind outside of the crime. And once they fell from the gallows, it’s as if they ceased to have a future kept alive by being known and remembered by others.  Meanwhile, Coral Hickman is still hailed as a hero in Kiowa County, 85 years later. And the three killers have morphed into one man—the nameless, faceless Manter bandit known only for six shots fired from a gun and 26 hours on the run.

Other News