April 4, 1961: Western music star Donnell “Spade” Cooley is accused of killing his estranged wife, Ella Mae, in a jealous rage after listening to tape recordings of her phone conversations about what the defense would call “a free love cult.”
I have not had much exposure to the Cooley case, which occurred in Kern County, except that James Ellroy used to talk about it all the time and it is certainly one of the notorious killings of the early 1960s.
The details of the killing are particularly gruesome and part of it was witnessed by the Cooley’s teenage daughter, Melody, so I’m a little reluctant to dredge up all the gory details. A purported affair with Roy Rogers (yes, that Roy Rogers) — which he and others denied -- was also dragged into the courtroom.
It is a nasty, lurid case.