Vengeance Is Mine: The Scandalous Love Triangle That Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud

Vengeance Is Mine: The Scandalous Love Triangle That Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud

Vengeance Is Mine: The Scandalous Love Triangle That Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud

Vengeance Is Mine: The Scandalous Love Triangle That Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud


Almost half a century after the Boyce-Sneed feud in West Texas erupted in bloodshed in 1912, two Texas historians attempted to write about the affair. But no one would talk to them. Lewis Nordyke abandoned the idea, and C. L. Sonnichsen, another chronicler of Texas feuds, wrote that it was "too soon to talk about the Boyce-Sneed affair." Not until the 1990s did the whole story emerge, when responded to Lena's plea for a divorce by having her locked up in an insane asylum on grounds of "moral insanity." The chase was on after Al rescued Lena from the asylum and the lovers fled to Canada. That's when the killings began.

No one who knew the vengeful John Beal Sneed doubted for a moment that he would go after his wife's lover with lethal intent. But that was not enough to satisfy the enraged husband's blood lust. Frustrated by Al's escape to Canada, Sneed assassinated Al's aged and unarmed father, Colonel Albert Boyce, a wealthy Amarillo banker who had been the general manager of the huge XIT Ranch in the Panhandle during the late nineteenth century. Colonel Boyce's offense had been his successful effort to derail Sneed's attempt to railroad his son to the penitentiary on trumped-up criminal charges.

Newspaper headlines predicted the upcoming murder trial would be the "greatest legal battle ever fought in Texas Courts." Sneed's well-paid legal team first earned him a mistrial. Before the retrial, Al Boyce, Jr. made a foolish mistake. He returned to Texas. Nothing could have pleased John Beal Sneed more. In the presence of witnesses, he shot Al in the back while he was strolling down the main street of Amarillo. Sneed was acquitted in his second trial for killing the father, and later acquitted for the killing of son Al Boyce, Jr., as well. His legal team skillfully invoked the self-help justice of the unwritten law that sanctioned the slaying by a husband of his wife's lover in order to "protect the home."

Bill Neal, attorney and writer, tells the full story of this sordid affair with special analysis of the trial tactics that were so carefully crafted to resonate with the jurors of that era and ensure Sneed's acquittal. The Sneed affair is a story of the written laws of Texas struggling to gain ascendency over justice administered by Judge Winchester and Judge Lynch, as well as by the self-help justice condoned by the Honor Code's unwritten laws. There is nothing quite like a crime of passion played out during the courtroom drama of a sensational murder trial to illuminate the social history and the contemporary mores of any given society.


Almost half a century after the Boyce-Sneed feud erupted in bloodshed in 1912, one Texas historian, Lewis Nordyke, decided to write a book about it. But he had to abandon the idea: nobody would talk to him. Another chronicler of Texas feuds, C. L. Sonnichsen, commenting on the reticence of “mindyour-own-business” Westerners—especially Texans—to discuss local feuds, wrote in 1951 that it was “too soon to talk about the Boyce-Sneed affair.”

It wasn’t until the taboo of silence was finally breached in 1985 that anyone dared speak its name. the Amarillo High School graduating class of 1935 held its fiftieth class reunion that year, and one graduate, Lillian Blanche Brent, a Sneed family descendant, approached a classmate, Albert Boyce, a Boyce family descendant, extended her hand and said: “Albert, this thing has been going on a long time and neither one of us had a thing to do with it. I think it’s time it ended.” They shook on it.

Still, the story of the Boyce-Sneed feud would simmer beneath the surface for yet another fourteen years before any public mention of the tragedy appeared. Clara Sneed, great-niece of John Beal Sneed, finally persuaded descendants on both sides to open up family archives and share their stories, photographs, and documents, including letters written almost a century earlier by all three of the principals of this star-crossed love triangle as well as by others caught up in the unfolding tragedy. With this treasure trove of feud history, Ms. Sneed was able to cobble together an insightful article describing this classic saga of passion, violence, and revenge; of retribution but never redemption.

From my research of court records and from the lengthy newspaper reports filed daily during the sensational murder trials— reports that quoted much of the testimony of witnesses as well as a detailed description of the trial lawyers and their tactics and . . .

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