‘Dark Highway’ author DAngelo
to speak in New Castle, Ky.
Her new book explores mysterious death from 1936
NEW CASTLE, Ky. (October 2016) – To this day, no one knows exactly what happened on a dark road in Henry County on the night of Nov. 6, 1936. The result was the untimely death of Verna Garr Taylor, a beautiful widow, whose story has just been told in a book called “Dark Highway” by Ann DAngelo.
DAngelo first heard about the Taylor-Denhardt case in 2007 “when an article appeared in a local magazine,” she said. “I was intrigued with the story and must have stored it away in my memory for future reference.”
'Dark Highway' author Ann DAngelo
As a result of six years of intense research, DAngelo will present a program at The Bookstore at The Berry Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27. The program is free and open to the public. The Berry Center is located at 129 S. Main St. in New Castle.
• For more information on the Oct. 27 program, contact The Berry Center at (502) 845-9200.
In late 2009 when another Kentucky politician, Steve Nunn, was accused of murdering his ex-fiancée, DAngelo said this jogged her memory of the previous Taylor-Denhardt case from the 1930s. The following year she “began researching and making notes.”
DAngelo said that from the first, “I was completely hooked by the characters and all of the possible angles and theories in the story. It just would not let me go until I found answers.”
The book tells the story of the trial of former Kentucky Lt. Gov. and Brig. Gen. Henry Denhardt, who was accused of murdering his fiancée, Taylor.
Taylor ran a laundry business in Oldham County, and when the murder occurred, the case was not only a local sensation but made national headlines since the public was riveted by the details of the death of a beautiful woman supposedly at the hands of a prominent political figure. The most accepted version of the story was that when Taylor spurned Denhardt, he chased her down a dark highway and shot her in the heart with a .45 caliber revolver.
“Almost overnight, he had become the man Kentuckians loved to hate, and the newspapers of the time obliged by painting him in the worst possible light,” writes DAngelo in her Introduction to “Dark Highway.” Since the day it happened, the focus of the story had been on the downfall of Denhardt, DAngelo goes on to write. But she “discovered that Verna Garr Taylor was just as remarkable a person as Denhardt” and a “very unusual woman for the 1930s.”
Katie Ellis, Managing Director for The Berry Center, said DAngelo “reached out to The Berry Center while researching her book a couple of years ago. Our archivist, Michele Guthrie, worked closely with her at this time and shared information with her.”
“It’s a fascinating story that directly impacted Henry, Oldham, and Shelby counties and was one of the first national news sensations covered in Time and Life magazines, as well as The New York Times and London Times,” said Virginia Berry Aguilar, Bookstore Outreach Coordinator for The Bookstore at The Berry Center.
The story debuted in the New York Times on Nov. 8, 1936, two days after Taylor’s death. In the preceding year, newspapers from coast to coast reported the latest news about the case.
The Taylor-Denhardt case “is truly an amazing story, filled with strong characters and a compelling, tragic storyline,” said DAngelo. “It’s hard to believe that some of the occurrences really took place.”
DAngelo, who was born in Louisville and currently lives in Finchville in Shelby County, said she conducted a lot of careful documentation with endnotes in the book so that “the reader would know I wasn’t inventing the facts as presented. Taylor’s death was a mystery that baffled investigators, and Denhardt’s death before the second trial left questions unanswered and issues unresolved.”
She has spent 20 years as an attorney, an experience that was “invaluable in understanding the legal chess game played by the attorneys in both cases,” DAngelo said. “Because of my legal background, I started with a blank slate. I was determined not to assume Denhardt’s guilt but to gather the evidence and see where it would lead.”
Denhardt went on trial in April 1937 and the jury deadlocked 7-5 for acquittal; a mistrial was then declared. On Sept. 21, 1937, Denhardt was in Shelbyville with his attorney, Rodes K. Myers, preparing for his retrial. Less than 12 hours before jury selection was to begin, Roy, Jack, and E.S. Garr waited outside the Armstrong Hotel, where Denhardt was staying, to avenge the murder of their sister.
DAngelo relied on court transcripts from the case for details for her book. “The Denhardt trial transcript is crucial in understanding why the jury could not reach a verdict in New Castle,” she said. This transcript and the examining trial transcript of the Garr brothers, “give a deeper understanding of the personalities of the characters and the roles they played in the tragedy.”
The trial transcript is in the possession of the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. The files of John M. Berry Sr. of New Castle, who was part of the defense team, are also included. At DAngelo’s request, a copy of the trial transcript was placed in the Kentucky State Archives in Frankfort.
DAngelo said she feels readers can relate to the story and characters because many of the issues raised in the plot are ones seen in daily newscasts today, such as domestic violence, the sure of firearms to settle disputes, the treatment of the wealthy and powerful in America’s court system, and the failure of the legal system to address wrongs.
But after all these years the case still remains a mystery, and individuals are still as obsessed with it as they were when it first occurred. Taylor’s death “was a mystery that baffled investigators, and Denhardt’s death before the second trial left questions unanswered,” said DAngelo.
“I believe people today can still relate to the story and the characters.”
“Dark Highway” can be purchased at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Poor Richard’s Books in Frankfort and online at www.ButlerBooks.com.
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