By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
Glass was a mechanic by trade and nearly always employed. But with a growing family, money was tight. Sandra and Leslie shared one of the two bedrooms in the home that their parents bought new but quickly outgrew. Eventually, they would share the bedroom with two more children.
Leslie Ward was smart as a whip and full of the dickens. The kids at school teased him because of his short stature and "girl's name." And when his older sister came to his defense, it only made matters worse. Still, Gursky says, "He was smarter than any of us. He could have been anything."
Leslie was also a kind of larger-than-life character, a performer who entertained anyone who would listen with all sorts of fictional tales about his family and their various adventures. In Leslie's case, the truth was more painful than fiction.
Glass was not a drinking man, but he was a violent one. He abused his wife and his stepchildren as a matter of routine -- especially Leslie, who was increasingly precocious.
"I can remember him [Glass] throwing my mother down and slamming her head on the floor by the hair," says Gursky. "He battered and beat Leslie within an inch of his life."
It's not the sort of thing that goes without notice. But in a small town in the early 1950s, it wasn't the sort of thing anyone made his business.
"I witnessed one of the beatings he [Glass] gave that child, and I will never forgive myself for not stopping him," remembers Bonnie New, Leslie's aunt. "He [Leslie] had been told not to go downtown. But he asked his mom, and she said it was OK.
"Well, he went downtown, and Jake [Glass] saw him, and that's why he got the beating he did. Leslie never told that 'Momma said it was OK.' "
Leslie was both devoted to and forgiving of his mother, which seemed to infuriate his stepfather further. Leslie's mother would sometimes take things from her husband -- once it was a coin collection -- and give them to her son to sell for money. Leslie took the rap for both of them.
Regardless of their home life, Leslie's mother was always impeccably dressed and full of vigor. She and Leslie shared the same gift for storytelling, and both viewed the world as a stage.
Leslie's mother left his stepfather at least twice during his formative years, taking her children to Phoenix and Denver, once having joined a Jehovah's Witnesses church trip. But they always returned home to Greeley again.
The annual Independence Day celebration in Greeley was a big deal. The rodeo went on for days. There was a big barbecue, western dances, and, every year, the carnival came to town. When Leslie was about 13 years old, he left with it.
After nearly a year, he returned home. It wouldn't be for long. The beatings continued, and Leslie became more difficult to handle. Sometimes the police would bring him home after curfew; other times it was petty shoplifting. His own temper was beginning to grow.
In 1959, when she was 16, Leslie's sister, Sandra, ran away from home to escape their stepfather's abuse. Leslie left a few months later, with a failed attempt to enlist in the Army. Brother and sister had never talked about their plans, never said goodbye to each other, or to their mother.
The Army found out that Leslie was only 15, and that was the end of his designs on military service. It was also likely the beginning of what would become a string of aliases and doctored birth dates.
In 1965, two years after they divorced, Jake Glass shot and killed Leslie's mother and then himself in the parking lot of a Denver bowling alley. She was there with a boyfriend, who was wounded in the incident. Leslie's 5-year-old half-brother, Douglas, witnessed the whole scene.
Leslie had never met Douglas and didn't learn of his mother's death for several years. By that time, he was using the name Lawrence Fulton.
Sometime earlier, Sandra Gursky and her family had seen her brother, for the first time in years, on television. He was a contestant on a game show called Who Do You Trust? He was dressed in a hat and cape, recited poetry, and said he lived in Greenwich Village. And he was using the pen name Leslie Irish, a tribute to his Irish mother.
Leslie had adopted a different path, far from the military world he once wanted to join. By this time, he was big into the hippie movement.
Shortly after his TV appearance, Leslie came to visit Gursky, who was living in Cheyenne, Wyo., at the time with her husband and 1-year-old son. The toddler took an immediate liking to Leslie, and especially to the long feather he wore in his wide-brimmed hat. But Gursky noticed something else. Her brother was popping pills constantly, and his unpredictable personality reflected it.
"When we were kids, we were so close because we were both trying to survive the violence," Gursky remembers. "I always believed he was so gifted and that it was all thrown away or destroyed."