"In Cold Storage; Sex and Murder on the Plains" by James W. Hewitt, Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 132 pages
This is an excellent and entertaining book, though some readers may find the subject matter to be macabre. It details the murder of Edwin and Wilma Hoyt, of Culbertson, Nebraska, by Harold Nokes, of McCook, and their dismemberment, the disposal of their body parts into the Harry Strunk Lake in southwestern Nebraska, and the discovery of the body parts, and following investigation and judicial disposition.
Central figures in the case are Harold Nokes’ wife, Ena, who was convicted in the disposal of the body parts, and Kay Hein, whose sexual relationship with the Nokeses was the catalyst for the entire catastrophe.
In the interest of full disclosure as a reviewer, I must admit that of the 50 years I have been a member of the Nebraska Bar, I have known, enjoyed and admired the author of this book for nearly 40 years. And I should further state that I practiced law in McCook from 1965 to 1968 and was familiar with almost all of the characters listed in the book. Finally, the late James Kelley, one of the lawyers who appealed this case, had consulted with me while drafting his Supreme Court Brief.
Nevertheless, as objectively as I can, I have to say that Jim Hewitt did an excellent job of tracing the evidence, legal proceedings and the motives and thought processes of the various parties involved, and of defining unanswered questions for the reader to consider.
There can be no doubt that Kay Hein was “bad news,” and it is clear that her romance with the married Harold Nokes, eventually involved Harold’s wife, Ena, and Hewitt does explain to us some of the details of the threesome.
This reviewer personally knew Edwin and Wilma Hoyt, and knew the Hoyt family to be very fine people, though their daughter, Kay Hein (whom I have met), did seem to spend her life as the center of a great deal of tumult and a certain amount of scandal.
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She was the sort of person whose name was written in graffiti in various public places. And, after a breakup or attempted breakup (perhaps because Harold refused to leave Ena and marry Kay), Harold Nokes was responsible for a number of acts of insult and vandalism, including mailing her a light bulb painted red for her porch and pouring sugar into her gas tank.
The book does an excellent job of analyzing much that would seem impossible to understand, including, finally, the fact that none of the attorneys on either side seemed to expend a great deal of energy on solving and disposing of the case.
Hewitt does, in an orderly manner, show us the investigation, the questionings, the interrogations and the courtroom proceedings, which ended up with Harold Nokes doing consecutive life sentences, Ena spending only two years incarcerated for her part in the disposal of the dismembered remains, and Kay going on her merry way.
To go into much greater detail, other than to say that the heads were never found, might cheat the reader of the fascinating narration and analysis of the author.
The murders occurred in Red Willow County and so the legal proceedings were in the McCook District Court. As one leaves the McCook District Courtroom, one is struck by the view of a magnificent stained glass window, which extends from the third floor to the fourth floor of the courthouse. It is Lady Justice, but her blindfold has been removed, her scales have been cast to the floor, the sword has been drawn; she is ready to do business.
Those of us who disrelish the death penalty will believe that Lady Justice did her job by seeing to it that with two consecutive life sentences, Harold Nokes, now in his mid-80s, will die behind bars. But when it comes to the fact that his wife, Ena, who apparently now lives in Lincoln, spent only two years in incarceration, and that Kay Hein was untouched by the proceedings, one who reads this book carefully will wonder whether perhaps Lady Justice was somehow briefly distracted from her duties.
James Hewitt is to be congratulated for this excellent book, as is Bison Books and University of Nebraska Press, in including it in its series of Law in the American West.