was the name given to Theodore Edward Coneys (November 10,
1882–May 16, 1967), an American drifter that committed a murder in 1941
and subsequently occupied the attic of the victim's home for nine
Theodore Coneys was born November 10, 1882 in
Petersburg, Illinois to T. H. Coneys, a Canadian immigrant that owned a
hardware store in Petersburg, and his wife. Some time after the elder
Coneys passed away in 1888, Mrs. Coneys and her son moved to Denver,
Coneys suffered from poor health and had been told by
doctors not to expect to see his 18th birthday, so he did not finish
high school. As an adult, he worked in advertising and as a salesman but
spent much of his adult life homeless.
Coneys resented the way he was treated by others for
his frail condition, later expressing that he wanted a place where he
could be alone and free from the judgment of others.
In September of 1941, 59-year-old Theodore Coneys
intended to ask former acquaintance Philip Peters for a handout at his
home on Moncrieff Place in Denver, Colorado.
Coneys broke into the house in Peters' absence to
steal food and money. In the ceiling of a closet, Coneys found a small
trapdoor that led to a narrow attic cubbyhole and decided to occupy the
small space without Peters' knowledge. Coneys lived in Peters' house
undiscovered for about five weeks.
On October 17, 1941, Coneys thought he heard Peters
leave the house, but Peters was only taking a nap. Coneys came upon
Peters in the kitchen and panicked, then picked up a heavy iron stove
shaker and bludgeoned the 73-year-old Peters to death. Coneys then
returned to the attic cubbyhole.
Peters' body was discovered later the same day after
a neighbor, concerned Peters had not come by for dinner, called the
police. The police found all of the home's doors and windows locked, and
there was no other sign of forced entry. They noted the trapdoor but
believed a normal-sized person could not fit through it.
Peters' wife, who had been in the hospital
recuperating from a broken hip during and prior to Coneys' occupation of
the attic, returned to live in the house with a housekeeper. Both women
would often hear strange sounds in the house. The housekeeper resigned
after becoming convinced the house was haunted and Mrs. Peters moved to
western Colorado to live with her son.
Coneys remained in the vacant house with the
occasional signs of his occupation written off as an apparition or local
pranksters. Police continued to make routine checks, when on July 30,
1942, one of them heard a lock click on the second floor. Running
upstairs, the police caught the sight of Coneys' legs as he was going
through the trapdoor. He was taken into police custody and confessed to
Local newspapers dubbed him the famous "Denver Spider
Man of Moncrieff Place". Coneys was tried and convicted, then sentenced
to life imprisonment at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City,
Death and afterward
Theodore Coneys died on May 16, 1967 at the Colorado
State Penitentiary prison hospital.
Two episodes of popular American television shows
appear to have been inspired by the Denver Spiderman story, the CSI: Las
Vegas episode "Stalker" and The Simpsons episode "The Ziff Who Came to
Lowall, Gene (1946). "1942: the spider man", in
Casey, Lee: Denver Murders. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. OCLC
Sifakis, Carl (1982). The Encyclopedia of
American Crime. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8317-2767-5. OCLC
The Spider Man
The year was 1899 and Phillip
Peters had just started his career at the railroad office. He and his
bride had purchased a new bungalow on a quiet street in Denver's middle
North Side. There was music coming from the little house. A slender
youth paused to peer through the curtains of the parlor window. He
carried a mandolin and the hurried excursion from the street car had
made him cough. Several couples were busy strumming at the strings of
mandolins. The watching youth knew they were waiting for him to show
them how to twitch gay chords, as he could do so well.
The Mandolin Club was in full
swing, waiting for its maestro to show up for the newest lesson. The
maestro was 17. Physicians from Illinois to Colorado had told him his
hopes of seeing 18 were practically nil. As he looked through the
window, his thoughts were of the hatred he felt towards Phil Peters for
his success and expectancy of life. He stepped up on the porch and rang
There were many nights in the
autumn of 1899, when the ailing youth with long slender fingers and
feverish eyes was the only guest, when the Peters had asked him to dine
with them. He told them he had not finished high school, that his
mother wouldn't let him get a job and how he was probably going to die
soon anyway. He told them about his boyhood in Illinois and how his
father died when he was an infant. He talked about wanting to swing a
bat and play ball but it was bad for his heart, how he hated people for
staring and laughing at him and that he wanted to live off by himself
where he couldn't hear people mock him.
Several years later, on a snowy
evening when Phil Peters was leaving work, he brushed shoulders with a
shabby, slender figure. It was the youth, he told Phil how his mother
had lost their money to some men who talked her into selling her
property in Illinois and investing in a mine out here, but they never
saw them or the money again. Peters invited him to dinner and he
relayed that he was in the advertising business downtown and was taking
care of his mother.
The next time Phillip Peters saw
the one-time minstrel was in the spring of 1912. He talked about his
mothers death and that he just kept on living and didn't know what to
do. He never told him about the time he sought to get into the army and
was laughed at. He never talked about being a frail hobo, coughing out
his lungs in a jungle under a
bridge in California, or of the flophouse and shadows where he stayed.
The years came and went for the
once maestro, who drifted from state to state and even tried to comeback
as a salesman in New York, but had given up and returned to Denver in
A neighbor had been preparing
dinners at her house for Phil Peters since his wife had broken her hip
two weeks before and was in the hospital, but this October 1941 night he
had not shown up. The neighbor knew he had not been doing good with his
wife gone and went to see if he was all right, but no one came to the
door when she rang the bell and the house was dark.
She gathered a group of her
neighbors, and they returned to the Peters house. They tried all the
doors but they were locked as well as the window screens. A girl found
one screen loose and pried the window open, and climbed inside. She
entered the dark house and then they heard her shrill screams.
Philip Peters, the kindly 73
year old retired railroad auditor, was found murdered in the bungalow
where he and his wife had lived for half a century. It was not a street
for murder, death should tread with dignity there.
When police arrived they
discovered his body in the downstairs bedroom. He was bloody, half
dressed, barefooted and had been beaten and beaten, long after he was
dead with more than a dozen wounds in his skull. Phil probably never
knew who hit him. They found his watch and money laying on the dresser
which ruled out robbery as a motive. The front door was locked with a
key and further secured with a chain, which could have only been done
from inside the home, and the back door was locked as well. They found
2 cast iron shakers in the kitchen, one with lots of dust collected on
it and the other newly cleaned, as well as a damp towel with blood
stains on it. The police believed the killer to be a giant in size and
blood-crazy, and he or she had vanished without a trace.
January of 1942 was bitter cold
with the temperature below zero for several days. A group of children
hurried by the bungalow and reported seeing a light inside the empty
house and one neighbor reported she had seen a ghost face inside the
shadowy window. The neighborhood gossip said the house was full of "haunts"
But once Mrs. Peters recovered,
she decided to return to the little house that had been her home for
fifty years. One night something startled her and she fell, re-fracturing
her thigh. She did not want to go back to the hospital so a nurse was
her constant companion. Then, one night the nurse reported there were
goings on inside the walls and rattling noises. An investigation
disclosed nothing, but a few days later she reported seeing a spook on
the back stairs that chattered its teeth at her. She immediately
resigned and a caring neighbor stepped in to take care of Mrs. Peters.
Several days later the neighbor
believed she heard a mysterious noise, and without turning on the light
hurried to the kitchen to investigate, where she saw a ghost at the foot
of the stairs. She told investigators it was a filthy, wraith-like
thing that vanished when she screamed and she didn't know where it went.
The police decided to keep a watch on the house and at the insistence of
relatives, Mrs. Peters went to live with her son in Western Colorado.
It was now July 1942 and two men
from the Denver Police Department were stationed on a lookout across the
street from the home.
The sun was getting low as the
postman came down the street making his deliveries. The men had been
watching him when one of them caught a fleeting glimpse of a hobgoblin
face momentarily in the aperture between the curtains of the bungalow.
Elbowing the other man, he too caught the movement in the window,
experienced a little chill at the nape of the neck and in the guts, a
little silly he thought. Ghosts have a way of doing that to you.
Apparently the figure at the window was also watching the postman.
The two policemen took off
across the street as one was blowing the whistle between his teeth for
assistance. The face at the window had vanished as there shoulders hit
the door and it collapsed. The furniture was swathed in sheets, old
magazines lay on the table, and above the piano a late nineties portrait
was displayed. A frail, sickly-looking youth in a turtle-necked sweater
sat in the foreground holding a mandolin.
The two men began to search the
lower level, with hackles a-bristle and the rooms reeked with a strange
animal smell. More men were arriving as the two headed up the stairs
just in time to see a closet door swinging shut across the room. As one
of the men opened the closet, he saw two bare feet kicking violently.
Above the feet were the lower ends of what appeared to be the most
ragged pair of trousers in the world. The cop made a flying grab for a
pants-leg, but it ripped off in his hand. He grabbed one dangling foot
with both hands and hung on. The closet was so small no one else could
help him. He gave a hearty wrench at the ankle, and it touched off an
ghostly yell of pain in the attic above the closet.
Five minutes later, a scarecrow
of a man, his clothing in tatters and insufferably filthy, his feet bare
and his hair a noisome tangle, lay outstretched on the bedroom floor.
He was unconscious. He had fainted as the struggling officer in the
closet had withdrawn him from the hole in the ceiling. The Police
Captain ordered them to get a doctor and an ambulance as the man was
barely alive, looked liked he was starved.
It was a hole not quite three
times the size of a cigar-box lid. When one of the men attempted to get
himself through he found the hole was not big enough and the room in the
attic was but a few sizes larger than a coffin. A small incandescent
bulb hung from a wire in the rafters and had an overpowering animal
stench in the air. He could make out a bed made of an old ironing board,
tattered magazines lay among the bedding and in the cubicle hung
festoons of spider weds.
Once the man had regained
consciousness, he was taken to police headquarters. There the frail,
starving man told his story as he was plied with food.
"Everything would have been all
right and Phil Peters would have been alive today if he hadn't caught me
robbing the ice box. It was him or me. I thought he had gone out but
he was taking a nap. I hit him with the stove shaker when he tried to
run for help. I don't know if he recognized me. It was nearly 30 years
since he'd seen me last. When it was over, I ran to the attic after I
washed and dried the shaker. I was sitting on the trap door when you
were pounding on it from below that night you found him."
"I was in the neighborhood in
September, 1941 and found the house unlocked and no one home. I went in
and stole some food. I was in bad shape, my lungs were giving me a lot
of trouble and I was at the end of my rope. Fall was coming on and I
couldn't face another winter on the road, I had to have a place to stay.
I didn't know Mrs. Peters was in the hospital. I found the hole in the
closet, climbed through and slept and slept.
Whenever I heard him downstairs,
I kept real still. Then I got bolder and used to shadow him from room
to room. It was sort of a game. It gave me a thrill. It was the first
time in my life I'd ever had anyone at my mercy, but I didn't want to
hurt him. It was miserable hot in the summer and my feet froze in the
dead of winter in that attic, but it was all part of the price I was
willing to pay. I can't tell you why I stuck it out. I guess it was
mostly because it was a world all my own. I used to go down and look
out the windows, and watch the postman come by. Nobody's written to me
in 25 years. Whenever I saw people on the street, I hated them and
would go back to my attic."
This pallid little 5'10", 137
lb. man, now well past sixty, sat in a spacious room on the sunny side
of a forbidding building. There was a high wall outside, a wall along
which men with guns walked. There were bars at the windows and there
were hundreds of books on the shelves around him. He was clean, his
hair cut and he had put on weight. The room was the library at the
Canon City Penitentiary. The long, thin, spidery fingers that once
plucked the strings of a mandolin, was the prison librarian. There was
no hurry as he leisurely reached for books while serving his life
sentence. He was in his new jungle, safe from the onslaught of the
world he hated.
Theodore Edward Coneys, also
known as Matthew Cornish had found his place. He entered the prison on
November 18, 1942 and died at the Prison Hospital on May 16, 1967.