In October 1936, several women had been raped in Denver, Colorado, by seemingly the same group of perpetrators, who drove around in hot-wired stolen cars looking for women walking alone. Each car was then abandoned after the attack. Despite all the publicity about the these crimes, Margaret Cyckose, a 22-year-old widowed mother, was walking home from work around 2:00 a.m. on October 17, 1936 when two men pulled up in a car and asked her for directions. The men then jumped out of the car and attacked her, raping and badly injuring her.
The next evening, a car carrying four men picked up two teenage girls and they all attended a party, then returned home unharmed. However, the girls’ parents had notified Denver police, and the driver of that car, Ernest Mattice, was quickly arrested and charged with attempting to corrupt the morals of minors.
Mattice was a divorced man in his early-thirties who was visiting Denver on a business trip. He claimed that the night before this party, he had been in his Denver hotel room asleep. However, the police wanted to have the rape victims take a look at Mattice to see if he may have been one of the men involved in the series of rapes. Only one victim – Margaret Cyckose – identified Mattice as the perpetrator.
Mattice had the alibi that he was in his hotel room on the night of the crimes against Cyckose and a hotel clerk confirmed that he had been in his room at 6:00 a.m. – four hours after the attack – but he had little else to offer in his defense. He was convicted in December 1936, and the judge sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences – a sentence which six of the jurors signed a petition stating was too severe a punishment, and even the victim agreed. When asked if he had anything to say prior to his sentencing, Mattice had replied “I am entirely innocent!”
Two police officers began to doubt Mattice’s guilt soon after his conviction because all the rapes fit the same pattern with regard to using certain stolen cars, and rapes fitting the same pattern continued after Mattice was incarcerated. These officers looked further into Mattice’s alibi and realized he could not have committed the rape of Cyckose, dropped off the car and been back at his hotel room by 6:00 a.m. They investigated other suspects and eventually the true perpetrator, Frank Neill, who looked very similar to Mattice, confessed that he and Earl Arthur Parker had committed the crimes. Neill revealed previously unknown details that were then confirmed by Cyckose. Cyckose immediately picked Neill and Parker out a lineup, stating that she had been previously mistaken in identifying Mattice.
Mattice was pardoned by Governor Teller Ammons and released in June 1937. The State of Colorado granted him $4,000 four years later as compensation for his false arrest, conviction and imprisonment.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.