ON a warm August morning in 1937, Sam Levin – an Orthodox Jew “highly respected in both Jewish and Gentile circles” — drove his truck to a pawnshop in Cheyenne, Wyo., paid $3 for an “old style” Herrington Richardson revolver, drove back to his modest house on 20th St., and picked up his 16-year-old daughter Sally.
Father and daughter then drove to the outskirts of town, a forsaken stretch of prairie bordered by railroad tracks. The two exited the truck. It is unknown whether they faced one another. Levin pointed the pistol at Sally’s left temple and fired. When the girl fell to the ground, he put another bullet into her breast.
He then turned the gun on himself. The first bullet lodged in his jaw, the second grazed his scalp. He drew a knife from his pocket and stabbed himself twice in the chest, but ribs protected his heart.
Two men nearby, digging for worms for a planned fishing trip, rushed to the bloody scene.
Levin was conscious, lying on the ground in front of his truck, his daughter — unconscious but gasping — by his side.
“There’s been a murder and suicide,” he told the men. “Call the police! Call somebody!”
An ambulance was called.
Levin ultimately survived his self-inflicted wounds. Sally was dead less than an hour later.
IN the Cheyenne of the late 1930s — an out-of-the-way and ordinarily sleepy cowboy town where front page news often included such events as horses being struck by lightning — the Levin “death pact” immediately created momentous shock waves.
By the evening of the murder, the front page of the Wyoming State Tribune screamed out the news: “Cheyenne father kills daughter, 17, and then shoots and stabs himself.”
Actually, they got Sally’s age wrong. She was some two weeks shy of her 17th birthday.
As Levin began to recover from his wounds in Cheyenne’s Memorial Hospital, and began to talk, details emerged. The next day, Aug. 17, 1937, the Wyoming Eagle revealed: “Death pact bared in Levin ‘mercy’ slaying.”
The subhead elaborated: “Father, near death, says insanity drove both to agreement.”
Not surprisingly, the story hit the wires, spreading to newspapers across the country, the 1937 equivalent of going viral.
Update: Sally Levin's new gravestone is unveiled in Cheyenne, Wyoming by Chris Leppek (October 4, 2013)