Monday, December 3, 2007

Cabby slayer in 1960 case got death penalty

Roy Dan Bussey

47 years ago, a 26-year-old drifter fired a .38-caliber slug into the head of a cabby, 24, the married father of one.


Thousands of fares have passed through the doors of Pueblo taxicabs between the last slaying of a cabby in 1960 and the most recent one a month ago.

Six suspects are in custody in connection with the Oct. 30 shooting death of Pueblo taxi driver David Chance, 51. Their fates are in limbo, and will be determined in district court.

But the fate of the last man to kill a cab driver here is well documented. John Bizup Jr. was executed in the gas chamber at the Colorado State Penitentiary at the age of 30 on Aug. 14, 1964. He was the last Pueblo offender to be executed in Colorado, and the state has executed just two killers since then.

Bizup was convicted of first-degree murder for the March 25, 1960, shooting that killed 24-year-old Roy Dan Bussey.

Bussey was the husband of a young bride, Sue, and the father of a 14-month-old son, Ray. Bussey moved to Pueblo from Sayre, Okla., five years before his death. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Bussey, and a brother, Robert, all lived in Pueblo when he was slain.

For less than a month Bussey had worked part-time as a cab driver when he wasn't at his full-time job as an estimator for the Southern Colorado Power Company.

Before leaving his home at 2212 Rice St. on the Friday morning of his death, Bussey handed over $55 from his paycheck to his wife. He kept $35 for himself.

Bussey picked up the lethal fare outside The Pueblo Chieftain and Star-Journal building at 8:07 p.m. on that fateful night. Bizup told the driver he was bound for Pueblo Memorial Airport.

Along the way they picked up a second fare, David Tafoya, 27, at the Union Bus Stop and dropped him off at his home in the 800 block of East Second Street. Bizup would later admit that sinister ideas entered his mind at that moment.

“I didn't think about it until we let out the other passenger,” Bizup told a reporter from The Pueblo Chieftain in an exclusive interview following his arrest. “Then I decided to rob him.”

Later, evidence would prove that the robbery was premeditated.

On the way to the airport while traveling on Colorado 96, Bizup made his intentions known to Bussey. Bizup fired a shot into the floorboard of the cab to show he was serious.

“(Bussey) told me, ‘You can take my money. I won't give you any trouble,’ ” Bizup recounted to a Chieftain reporter. “But I didn't know what to think. I was more scared than anything.”

Bizup took Bussey's pink billfold, which Bizup said contained $22. Then he took his life.

Bizup ordered Bussey to turn off the highway onto 27th Lane. They traveled another block before Bizup blasted Bussey once in the back of the head with a .38-caliber handgun.

He dumped Bussey's body and drove the cab back to town. Bizup ditched the taxi in the 1700 block of East Seventh Street, then walked Downtown, where he rented a room.

Meanwhile, residents of the area east of Pueblo where Bussey had been killed discovered his body face-down beside the road within an hour of his death. Police and sheriff's deputies were notified, and the hunt for a suspect began.

News clippings from the era describe yeoman's police work that kept investigators up and on duty for more than 36 hours in the wake of the killing.

While cops searched for the faceless killer, the subject of their manhunt was squandering the dead cabby's money in theaters and taverns Downtown. Occasionally during the night of the murder, police passed through a tavern in the 600 block of North Main Street, where Bizup boozed until 1 a.m.

Bussey's brother Robert, speaking on behalf of his brother's widow, told the newspaper, “She'd like to ask Bizup if he had a good ball” with the money he'd stolen from her dead husband.

“Every time anybody looked at me I thought they were going to grab me,” Bizup told the reporter. “It seemed everybody was staring at me as I walked down the street.”

Nobody was on to Bizup yet, but it wouldn't be long before his secret unraveled.

Two days after the killing, police interviewed a recently paroled ex-con and determined he was innocent of the crime. On the same day, three Pueblo boys discovered a key piece of evidence.

Under Dry Creek Bridge, they recovered a suitcase containing Bizup's picture and ammunition matching the kind used to kill Bussey. Bizup later admitted that he had hid the suitcase under the bridge hours before his crime with the intention of claiming it after the robbery. Trouble was, he couldn't find the bridge where he'd stashed the luggage.

The young heroes were 14-year-old Daniel LeFebre, his 12-year-old brother, Charles LeFebre, and their 13-year-old cousin, Bill LeFebre. After Bizup's arrest, the boys who made the discovery each received a $10 reward paid from the personal pockets of Sheriff John Krutka and his deputies.

On the third day after the shooting, Bizup began to feel the heat. Armed with the weapon he'd used to kill Bussey, he decided to hitchhike out of town.

A nondescript car pulled over and let in Bizup on U.S. 50 near Santa Fe Drive. Unbeknownst to Bizup, the car's driver was sheriff's Deputy Ted Nicolet, a four-year veteran of the department who'd changed careers after managing Salvation Army stores in Greeley, Boulder and Pueblo.

They hadn't been riding together long before Nicolet's badge and gun gave him away as a law officer. At a stop sign, Bizup fled the car. Nicolet followed and radioed for help.

After a chase Nicolet and Detective Sgt. Raymond Marshall corralled Bizup on a hill along Northern Avenue and arrested him without any trouble. Nicolet marveled at the notion that the armed suspect ran instead of using his .38.

The drifter who'd arrived in town with 30 cents to his name had 87 cents in his pockets when he was arrested.

After initially denying the crime, Bizup confessed. He expressed regret and told police he wished he'd never bought the gun that he used to kill Bussey. Bizup had purchased the weapon six weeks earlier in Oakland.

“I'll never know why I pulled the trigger,” Bizup told a reporter. He claimed he intended to strand Bussey outside the city and steal his cab, but Bizup insisted that he didn't set out with the intention of killing anyone.

Bizup had arrived in Pueblo on the day of the shooting. The road here was long and troubled.

Bizup had grown up in institutions, and quit school in the ninth grade. He was originally from Toledo, Ohio, where his mother had abandoned him when he was 10 years old. At age 11, he was arrested for the first time on a charge of larceny and was sent to reform school. At 13 he violated probation and was incarcerated again.

When he was arrested in Pueblo, Bizup was on parole from Florida, where he'd served three months of a five-year prison term for burglary.

Florida was where Bizup landed after a dishonorable discharge from the Army for “a low IQ.” His words.

He married twice in the late 1950s, but neither union lasted a year.

In December 1959 he drove from Florida to California. Bizup admitted passing bad checks there and leaving the state in a car stolen from his girlfriend. The stolen car ran out of gas in Englewood, and Bizup hitched four rides that got him to Pueblo.

At his trial for killing Bussey, Bizup was a ham. Prosecutor Matt Kikel convinced the jury of six men and six women to find Bizup guilty of first-degree murder and hand down a death sentence on a Saturday afternoon.

Bizup reacted by grinning and uttering the words, “Well, isn't that something?”

“As the death verdict was read, his face twisted into a broad smile,” The Chieftain reported the next day.

Bizup's flippant demeanor changed by the time he reached the jail, and stayed that way. Prison wardens described him as a model inmate during the four years between his conviction and his execution.

While he was awaiting trial, Bizup was the target of several local women's affection. The sheriff denied one infatuated fan's request to visit him at the jail. The accused killer also received a “cheer-up” card from a local woman who signed it simply “a mother.”

Following the trial, Pueblo County commissioners approved a record expenditure of $1,100 for Bizup's defense. His lawyer, future Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Charles Pierce, got $750, while the rest went to a Denver psychiatrist who evaluated Bizup and testified at the trial.

The trial judge, John Marsalis, justified the expense by saying, “It was better to appoint an experienced lawyer, even if his fee is higher than usual.”

Bizup fought to stay alive. Six times he got reprieves before his luck ran out.

Pueblo lawyer Jim Phelps, now retired, handled Bizup's last appeal. Along with Bizup's long-lost mother and sister, Phelps visited Gov. John Love to ask in person for clemency.

“I'll swear that governor gave me an hour and a half to talk about the death penalty and how life in prison was worse punishment,” Phelps said during a recent interview. “Finally, I just ran out of things to say. I thought maybe I got someplace.”

He hadn't. Love allowed the execution to proceed.

Phelps declined the offer to witness the event, and not just because it coincided with his wedding anniversary.

“I didn't want to see an execution,” he said. “I tried to distract myself. Me and my wife went out to a nice dinner and tried to keep our minds off it. But I'll be damned if right at 8 p.m., when they were killing (Bizup), my wife didn't jump up and run to the bathroom to be sick.”

Charles Campbell didn't pass up the chance to watch the execution. The cub reporter, now editor of The Chieftain's editorial page, drew the assignment. A kindly ad salesman offered to drive the neophyte to and from the execution in Canon City. Campbell accepted the gesture.

“Bizup was led into the gas chamber,” Campbell recalled. “He had found religion in the Roman Catholic faith and was clutching a rosary in his fingers. They sat him down, strapped him in, then put a visor over his face. They closed the door and dropped the cyanide tablets into the acid bath.”

Bizup, who'd elected to sip milk and water in lieu of a last meal, was dead in four minutes.

Back at the newsroom, Campbell struggled to find the words that would capture what he'd just seen. A veteran newsman helped him to arrive at a simple opener: “John Bizup Jr. is dead.”

In the days following his arrest, Bizup concluded his interview with another reporter from The Chieftain by stating, “Nobody cares about me.”

Apparently he was right.

Following his execution, his body went unclaimed and he was interred in a pauper's grave at the penitentiary burial grounds south of Canon City.


Anonymous said...

So, it's an act of heroism to find a suitcase under a bridge. Gawd, what bad writing -- and bad thinking -- goes into Pueblo Chieftain new stories.

Anonymous said...

Dont be a hater! It's probably more then you've ever done in your pathetic life! They could have kept the suitcase, like YOU would have. But they turned it in, helping piece together EVIDENCE! Dummy!

Anonymous said...

His name was Roy Don Bussey, not Dan. He was my grandfather. Sadly, I never got to meet him. This bizup deserved a worse death than he received