top of page

Actor and Musician 'Spade' CooleyGets Life Sentence for Murdering Wife

Aug. 22, 1961 - Donnell Cooley (right), the musician and actor better known as Spade Cooley, was spared the gas chamber and sentenced to life imprisonment for the first-degree murder of his wife, Ella May, 37. Judge William L. Bradshaw set the penalty for the 50-year-old "King of Western Swing" after the latter had withdrawn an insanity plea. On April 26, Mr. Cooley was indicted for the murder of his wife on April 3 at the couple's home near Willow Springs, California. Mr. Cooley's 14-year-old daughter, Melody, recounted to the jury how she was forced by her father to watch as he beat her mother's head against the floor, stomped on her stomach, then crushed a lit cigarette against her skin to see whether she was dead. Mr. Cooley claimed his wife had been injured falling in the shower. The jury found him guilty after a six-week trial.


bottom of page