Murders in Denver’s Red Light District

Murders in Denver’s Red Light District

Back in Denver’s early days, Market Street was the only road that could make Colfax blush.
So wicked that was it renamed two times. Finally, the civic leaders settled on Market, reflecting the “fresh produce” sold by vendors. But Market Street, or as citizens of the time coined it, The Row, was where civilized society dared not tread.
From simple three room shacks to elaborate brothels for the same rich and powerful admonishing its existence, Market Street’s reputation as Denver’s red light district attracted prospectors stumbling in from the Rockies mines, tourists making their way across the High Plains or new residents looking for a fresh start.
Fortunes were made and lost off the sweat and tears of women who worked in the flesh market to make ends meet. Choices were limited for women in the Old West. Even with Colorado passing women’s suffrage legislation in 1893 options led to marriage, being a schoolmarm or ladies of ill repute.
Working on The Row was dangerous. Fear of robbery by a John was a constant threat, unless women had the protection of a pimp or madam, who also exploited the conditions by a large cut and ensuring a lifetime of servitude.
The life span for women working The Row were not long. No hard statistics are available but, suicide was common way of getting out of the business. But for three months in 1894, a hundred years before the Rockies made Coors Field their home, the women of Market Street had to contend with a threat stalking them on The Row.
On a late October night in 1894, Denver Police officer Tony Saunders went to check on his new wife, Marie Contassoit. The two had known each other for 7 months and reportedly married for only a week.
Marie was considered one of the most beautiful ladies working on The Row.
Reasons behind the courtship and marriage are not known. Maybe Saunders felt he could make a good woman out of her or perhaps Marie felt being the wife of a police officer would mean more protection from the dangers of her business. Or they just fell in love.
As Saunders made his way downstairs from his second-floor bedroom, he opened her bedroom door and saw Marie, in her nightclothes lying across the bed with her head against the wall and feet hanging over.
Saunders called out to her but received no response. Nervous, he approached her, reaching out and gently jostled her feet, they were stiff and cold to the touch. His heart sank as he realized that his wife was dead.
Panicked Saunders ran out of the house for help. In a Rocky Mountain News article that reported the murder, he found the front door unlocked with the key missing. When he hit the sidewalk he blew his police whistle and several officers walking the beat ran to 1925 Market Street. What they found inside was shocking. Marie’s face face was swollen and purpled; her left eye was black; near the nose on the left cheek was a slight contusion and another was found close to the left nostril. Her tongue was protruded almost cut in half with splatters of blood outside of her nose.
The officers scoured the scene for clues. Among Marie’s belongings they found a piece of rope lying close to her. They also found that Marie’s stockings looked as if they had been pulled off her legs quickly. On the floor not far from the bed a shiny quarter lay on the carpet.
The most obvious evidence of strangulation came when the surgeon found several blackish-red patches in the windpipe area.
There was no denying it, the Denver Strangler claimed a second victim in as many months.
Nervous Denverites had images of White Chapel’s Jack the Ripper wandering the Row.
An army of police officers and detectives converged onto the scene. They canvassed the area, desperate to solve the case before The Strangler struck agaub . Tensions were high on The Row and Residents of Market Street slept with pistols under their pillows. Desperate to look like they were making progress the police began making arrests.
The first suspect they approached was Telluride miner John Callaghan since he had a run-in a few days earlier accusing Marie of stealing $160 but formal charges were not brought against her.
Soon after, two others were to taken to the city jail to join Callaghan. Charles Chaloup and Richard Demady were both picked up and charged with vagrancy and suspicion. Charle s Chaloup was under suspicion simply because he was living with Marie’s sister.
While Chaloup’s connection to the case was thin at best, interest in Richard Demady stemmed from his status as lead suspect in another murder.
Six weeks earlier, Lena Tapper was found dead in a similar state as Marie Contassoit.
She had been strangled the night before but this time, a piece of her clothing was tied around her throat to prevent any chance for resuscitation.
Lena and Richard Demady had been living together for years and people on the Row considered them married are as close as you can get.
Demady called the police after discovering her body around noon that day. He was arrested soon after, along with his siblings Edmond and Emilie Demady.
The family looked to be players on The Row with Edmond owning several properties between 19th and 20th and Market Street, including Lena’s crib on 1911 Market Street and renting cribs to women so they can do their freelance work.
In a statement following his arrest Richard Demady said that he spe nt much of the morning running errands, attending a parade and searching for a dog that went missing. He left to do his “chores” without checking in on Lena and when he returned home to wake her up, he noticed the front door was unlocked and after groping his way through the dark room he found her now, cold, lifeless hand hanging off of the bed.
There were signs of a struggle between the killer and Lena. Her face and head were unrecognizable from blood and bruises.
The biggest difference between Lena and Marie’s murders were in the condition of the body following the killing.
While Marie’s murder was gruesome, Lena Tapper’s fight for life was downright terrifying.
The assailant attacked her from behind, grasped Lena by the throat and slowly strangled her to death. She was struck with some heavy instrument over her right eye, crushing it and fracturing the skull.
On the morning of Tapper’s murder an unidentified saloonkeeper said he saw a man leave her house around dawn. The witness claimed that he had been seen in the neighborhood several times. Some speculate that he had a grudge against Tapper because she robbed him and the mystery man was looking to even the score.
Two months later, the third victim, Kika Oyama, was found in her home at 1957 Market Street. The 19-year-old Japanese lady of the night came to Denver by way of Chicago and had only been in Denver for about a year.
When the officers arrived on scene her body was still warm. A rough towel was near her on the bed with marks of the cloth on her neck. The front door was locked but the doors leading into the backyard were wide open. Detectives found freshly made footprints in the alley pointing to 19th Street.
The police rounded-up eight suspects, including Kika’s roommate, Ina Oyama (no relation) who claimed to have seen her alive hours before the killing and returned to the house late at night to discover her dead.

So Who Did it?
That was the question on everyone’s mind and while the Denver police were good at rounding up suspects of killed Lena, Marie and Oyama an effor that would prove fleeting.
One theory for Kika is that she was killed over a sum of $33, but nothing ever came of this.
Some progress was made in Marie Contassoit’s case in January 1895, when two Frenchmen were arrested for her murder. He husband, Officer Saunders was one of the arresting officers in the case, though any closure he may have felt from the arrest was short lived.
Reports of the arrest were beamed via telegraph to the West and East coast newspapers The New York Times who ran a blurb, but it seems the case stalled as the two Frenchmen were never tired of the murder..
The best prospect for any kind of prosecution was in convicting Richard Demady of murder.
Demady’s day in court came late May 1895 but the evidence presented during the 18-day trial was mostly circumstantial.
After only a three-hour deliberation the jury found Demady not guilty of killing Lena Tapper and with that the embers of bringing anyone connected to any of the three cases was put out.
Some speculated that Demady paid off the jury, though no evidence of that exists. After one of the more sensational and expensive trials for Denver, at that time, came back with a verdict of Not Guilty the Denver Police had no other suspects for the three strangled on The Row.
Daily life on The Row eventually returned to normal, at least normal for that part of town and the anxiety stirred from the Denver Strangler murders faded into folklore status, then three years later a “fourth” victim was tied to the string of killings.
On October 8, 1898, Mrs. Julius Voight was found dead in her apartment on 2020 Champa, five blocks away from Market. She was found strangled, eyes bulging out of her socket, her tongue stuck far out, black and swollen, and the veins on her face showed in black lines of clotted blood under the blue skin.
Voight’s killer also tied a knot in the towel around her neck, much like the fate for Lena Tapper.
Voight’s connection to the stranger cases was an odd one. During the height of the 1894 murders, Voight was brought in as a police consultant for the cases. She claimed that her clairvoyant powers revealed the Denver Stranger to her. Despite the fact that she never delivered a suspect to the police she met the same grisly fate as the three young women on Market street.
The connection between each of these cases are loosely tied, but considering the method and locations of each murder warrants speculation. The killers

One More Theory

One more theory I’ve pieced together from my research is related to the Rocky Mountain News story about jury tampering. It’s not too crazy to think Demandy had the means to use money to get away with murder but what if it went beyond that.
What if he or his siblings killed Marie and Kika to help create a hysteria that a serial killer was roaming the Row? Other damming evidence include pillowcases buried in a hamper with blood and evidence of blood on clothes that belonged to him.
Circumstantial evidence from 120 years ago wouldn’t be enough to prove guilt in this day and age but what about Demady’s family business? Richard Demady was able to afford a $5,000 bond, which is roughly $133,000 in this day and age.
Edmond owned several properties and their sister was a noted Madam on The Row so it’s easy to point that they had a hand in the flesh business on Market Street.
Another questionable piece of evidence was printed in the Rocky when it was revealed Demady had correspondence with another woman in ABQ and brought up the idea he may be moving away from Denver.
Then there’s Officer Saunders and his brief marriage to Marie Contassoit. It’s peculiar that anyone would murder a policeman’s wife, especially committing the act one floor below from where he was sleeping. Is it that much of a stretch to think that Saunders was paid off and became a credible witness in the murder of Marie because who would question a police officer’s word, especially in that era.
Regardless of theory, the facts behind the murders of four women remain swirled in a fog of mystery.

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