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Historical Perspectives

Solving the mystery of Marksheffel Road

The name of Marksheffel Road is baffling. Was there once a “Mark Sheffel” whose first and last name somehow became a single word?The answer is no, but there was a man named “Marksheffel.”His first name was Albert, and he was born in Manhattan, Kan., in 1881. His father emigrated from Saxony, Germany, in 1866.By 1907, Albert had moved to Colorado Springs, where he managed a bicycle shop.As a child, Albert had been fascinated by bicycles, but the arrival of gasoline-powered vehicles in Colorado Springs changed Albert’s life forever.The blonde, blue-eyed Albert was soon managing an automobile parts store, the Western Automobile & Supply Co. His fascination with cars led Albert to buy a Ford racing car with a 40 horsepower, six-cylinder engine.On Sept. 16, 1907, Albert invited eight friends to join him in a night of revelry. They climbed into Albert’s racing car and headed for the Elks Lodge in Colorado City, where they did some drinking.Then they piled back into Albert’s car and headed downhill on Colorado Avenue at high speed.A patrolman saw Albert’s car flash by “a mile a minute” with men hanging out on all sides.The car zipped by and hit a set of streetcar tracks, overturning into the intersection of Huerfano Street and sending the men flying. Three died instantly and a fourth died later. Albert walked away without a scratch.He was arrested within hours and charged with manslaughter and speeding in what may have been the first drunk-driving prosecution involving fatalities in the West.The crash received front-page newspaper coverage as far away as California and inspired the nation’s first drunk-driving laws.The Gazette published a special edition and vilified Albert as a “speed lunatic of an extremely dangerous type, one of the wild-eyed variety who takes a ‘smart aleck’s’ delight in imperiling their own necks and those of everybody else concerned, either passenger or pedestrian.”At the inquest, Albert said he’d only had one or two drinks that evening and had driven down that hill a hundred times before without the slightest trouble.Besides, he said, the car was not working well that day, so it couldn’t have been going the 75 mph claimed by the patrolman. It was more like 35 mph.The criminal case against Albert dragged on for two years. By the time it went to trial, nobody wanted to convict him.Albert was acquitted when the prosecutor failed to prove that he had been driving the car at the time of the crash. All charges were dismissed.Two weeks later, Albert ran his car over a 5-year-old boy, but the boy, who was described by the Gazette as not badly hurt, was blamed because he darted into traffic.A year after the accident, Albert opened his own automobile dealership, the Marksheffel Motor Co., and sold Chalmers, Dodge, Cadillac and Chevrolet cars.On May 7, 1917, Albert married Zeo Wilkins, a 32-year-old osteopath from Kansas.Zeo was the last of 11 children who had grown up in poverty in Ohio.She was Albert’s third wife. He had divorced the first two. Whether any of his previous marriages produced any children is not known.It was an odd match. Albert is said to have told Zeo, “I don’t love you, but we can be pals.”Maybe he was motivated by the draft that was instituted when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Married men were eligible for a deferment.Before marrying Albert, Zeo had used her skills as an osteopath to meet and marry wealthy men; thereby, accumulating a sizable fortune by bleeding them dry.For example, Zeo married 72-year-old Thomas Cunningham, former mayor of Joplin, Kan., even though he had a common-law wife. Even worse, she married him (or he married her) twice.Zeo isolated Cunningham from his friends, took over $500,000 in cash, sold his bank to his rival and disposed of his real estate holdings. Cunningham filed for divorce, claiming he was Zeo’s slave. The marriage was finally annulled.That’s how Zeo earned her nickname as the “Vampire of Kansas City.”Zeo was also an oil baroness, thanks to her purchase of an oil lease from some Kansas friends. They had already drilled a dry hole in each corner of the lease, so they must have felt like they had really put one over on Zeo.”They thought I was drinking too much and gave me a lease they didn’t think much of for $5,000,” Zeo wrote in her diary.She drilled another well – this time in the lease’s center – and it was a gusher. Her first payout was $195,000.Maybe Albert married Zeo for her money.When Zeo married Albert (her fifth husband), she loaned him $70,000 to expand his garage at the corner of Cascade Avenue and Kiowa Street. At 46,000 square feet, it was already the largest building of its kind in the United States.Albert moved into Zeo’s house at 21 East Willamette Ave., which had been equipped with the best linens, dishes and silver and stocked with the finest wines and champagnes.Zeo bought $40,000 worth of diamonds for herself and 15 diamonds to give away as gifts for her friends. She bought a 400-acre ranch at Turkey Creek, south of Colorado Springs.At its southern end, Marksheffel Road originates in the area of Turkey Creek, so that may be how it got its name.The Cadillac was then Albert’s favorite car, so Zeo bought him nine Cadillacs and at least seven for herself.In 1918, a book entitled “History of Colorado” described Albert as follows:”His life record is indicative of what may be accomplished through persistency of purpose intelligently directed, for by individual effort he has won a place among the foremost business men of Colorado Springs and his activities have made him one of its most substantial citizens.”One of the couple’s favorite activities was driving a Cadillac to Kansas and loading it up with liquor (despite Prohibition).On one trip, they got lost on the Colorado border and were spooked when they saw hundreds of eyes staring at them in the dark. They were in the middle of a herd of antelope.In less than two years, the marriage was on the rocks, as evidenced by Zeo’s 1919 lawsuit against Albert in which she claimed he owed her $27,000.Zeo eventually returned to Kansas City and used her lawyer, Jesse James Jr., to wrangle with Albert over the $70,000 she had loaned him.Jesse was the son of the infamous bandit and a silent film actor and a rider with the Ku Klux Klan – and Zeo’s new paramour.On March 15, 1924, Zeo was found murdered in her home. At the same time, $100,000 in diamonds and bearer bonds were missing.The case was never officially solved, but Laura James, author of “The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son,” thinks Jesse was the perpetrator.In 1928, Albert moved the Marksheffel Motor Co. to 1603 Main Street. Three years later, he partnered with Hugh Sill, and the company name became the Marksheffel & Sill Motor Co. Sill eventually bought out Albert.Albert was appointed to the Colorado State Highway Board in 1935 and reappointed in 1938, but died the same year, on Aug. 17.Over the years, the Marksheffel Motor Co. garage on Cascade Avenue housed the Adams Motor Co. (1950s), Silver State Cadillac and Bill Breck Dodge (mid-1960s). At times, a portion of the building was used as a parking garage.The garage was razed in 1966 to make room for the Penrose Library, which occupies the site today.The clock that once graced the garage’s entrance was moved to Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs.The association of automobiles and the name “Marksheffel” lives on through Marksheffel Auto on North Prospect Street in Colorado Springs.

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