Dark Highway: Love Murder and Revenge in 1930s’ Kentucky - Book Cover
Dark Highway: Love Murder and Revenge in 1930s’ Kentucky - Back Cover

Dark Highway

Love Murder and Revenge
in 1930s’ Kentucky

by Ann DAngelo
“With spellbinding storytelling, Ann DAngelo has recovered from the dust bin of Kentucky history one of the most fascinating — but forgotten — episodes of romance, murder, and revenge in a state known for all three.” Bill Cunningham, Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court

About the Book

Dark Highway: Love Murder and Revenge in 1930s’ Kentucky

On a cold November night in 1936, the body of beautiful LaGrange businesswoman Verna Garr Taylor is found in a ditch along a lonely highway in rural Kentucky. Verna has been shot through the heart, and her fiancé, former state lieutenant governor and brigadier general Henry Denhardt insists she committed suicide. But the evidence points to murder, and General Denhardt quickly becomes the target of investigators. The general’s sensational murder trial draws reporters from all over the country to the Henry County Courthouse in New Castle, Kentucky. News articles on the case are featured in the New York Times, the London Herald, Newsweek, Time, Life, and other national and international publications. When the April 1937 trial ends in a shocking hung jury, Kentuckians including Verna’s three grieving brothers—Jack, Roy, and Doc Garr—wait in grim anticipation for the general to be tried again in September.

During the summer following his trial, the general is never far from the headlines. In July, he is accused of murdering a second woman—Patricia Wilson. The wrongful death suit by Wilson’s family accuses Denhardt of assaulting and pushing her down an elevator shaft at the Seelbach hotel. The general claims he is innocent and files a countersuit. The Wilson lawsuit is still in the court system as the September trial date approaches for Denhardt’s second murder trial. As legal forces gather against him, the general swears he will never be tried again for Verna’s death. His attorneys—John Berry, Clark Otte, and Rodes Myers—work hard to convince him otherwise. They know that prosecutor H.B. Kinsolving is interviewing new witnesses and looking forward to a second opportunity to convict the general.

But General Denhardt was right all along when he said he would not be retried. The end of his murder case is not waiting for him in New Castle, but in the small town of Shelbyville. In Shelbyville, a full harvest moon, the Garr brothers, and the general’s fate will be waiting for him on Main Street in front of the old Armstrong Hotel.

About the Cover

The mysterious figure in the road

Look closely at the cover of Dark Highway and you will see a figure in the distance that appears to be walking on the road. The photograph was taken by professional photographer Vivian Knox-Thompson of Louisville on the evening of November 6, 2015. It is an excellent photograph of the highway where Verna died, but what makes it most amazing is that Vivian and I were alone except for an occasional passing car.

By coincidence, the calendar days of November, 2015 lined up exactly with those in 1936. Verna died on Friday, November 6, 1936, and Vivian took this photograph around dusk on Friday, November 6, 2015. Originally, it was intended as a picture of the highway for this website, but it turned out to be so much more. Vivian set up her camera equipment around 5:00 p.m. We were parked in what had once been George Baker’s driveway where the Denhardt car was parked on the night Verna died. Vivian shot fifty to one hundred photographs of the highway from all angles, pointing her camera in the direction that Verna would have walked seventy-nine years earlier. I watched for cars as Vivian snapped picture after picture. We worked quietly and alone. No curious drivers stopped to ask questions, and we completed the session just as the darkness of a November night closed in around us. I asked Vivian if she could darken the photographs so that newer buildings and overhead wires would not be present. When she did, a dark figure on the highway appeared in two or three of the photographs. Most amazing is that the location of the figure is the approximate place on the highway above where Verna’s body was found in the ditch.

There is no way to explain the photograph. Vivian has been a photographer for many years and has never had anything like this happen. I have always been skeptical of spirit pictures, and I can only say that until it happens to you without a reasonable explanation, you probably remain skeptical. But having been on the highway that evening, I know that it is possible. This much appreciated gift from a spirit has become the cover for Dark Highway: Love Murder and Revenge in 1930s’ Kentucky.

—Ann DAngelo

About the Author

Ann DAngelo

Iam a native Kentuckian and was born in Louisville, Kentucky on December 24, 1953. I grew up on a small farm outside Louisville, and from an early age read incessantly and enjoyed writing stories and poetry. If you’ve read Dark Highway, you can also tell that I have a passion for history and Kentucky stories. I like to say that the ability to tell tall tales is part of the genetic make-up of every native Kentuckian! I spent many happy hours as a child listening to my grandmother and great-aunt spin tales of their early life in Spencer County and what it was like during the Depression. Both were born in the late 1800’s as were several of the characters in Dark Highway. Those old stories from my childhood turned out to be invaluable. They allowed me to understand how the characters in my book would have viewed small-town life during the 1930’s. It was also easy for me to understand Kentucky “lingo.” When Doc Garr referred to distance as a “right smart piece,” I totally understood!

Reading history has always been part of my life so it came as no surprise to my family that I earned an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Louisville. I later attended law school and received my juris doctor from Salmon P. Chase College of Law. It’s hard for me to believe, but twenty years have passed since I took my oath to be a Kentucky attorney and promised never to fight a duel. Over the years I’ve kept that promise, even when it was difficult…

I’m often asked how I became interested in the tragic story of Verna Garr Taylor and Henry Denhardt. In 2007, a local Shelby County magazine published an article commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the shooting of General Denhardt on Main Street in Shelbyville. I remember being intrigued by both the story and the issues in the murder case against Denhardt that were never resolved. I must have stored it away in my mind for future reference because it came rushing back to me in January, 2010. At that time, Kentuckians were avidly following the similarly tragic story of politician Steve Nunn and his ex-fiancee Amanda Ross. But it was the tragedy from 1936 that gripped me in its clutches and would not let me go. On that cold January day, I began my quest to discover how and why Verna Garr Taylor died from a gunshot wound through her heart in 1936. Six years of research and writing followed, and the result is Dark Highway: Love, Murder, and Revenge in 1930s’ Kentucky. I like to say this book has been a gift. I have enjoyed the journey in writing it and met many wonderful people along the way. I even learned that my now-deceased maternal uncle served on the grand jury of the Garr brothers when he was a young man. I’m quite certain he would have been one of the jury members who said, “Let those boys go!”

Like Verna, I am blessed to have two lovely daughters. The eldest is a nurse, and my youngest is a sophomore at Centre College. I remember when the youngest daughter used to make drawings that she was convinced would someday be the cover of my book. Of course, if you’ve read the “About the Cover” section of this website, you know that the front cover eventually selected was another reason to call this book a gift.

I am an animal lover and in my spare time volunteer with WAGS Pet Therapy of Louisville and Hosparus. I enjoy writing, reading, gardening, and spending time with my daughters on my small farm in Shelby County. My current favorite writer of fiction is Greg Iles, and my favorite nonfiction writer is Laura Hillenbrand.

—Ann DAngelo


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