ABQjournal: Infamous Crimes in N.M. History


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Sunday, September 19, 1999

Infamous Crimes in N.M. History
Through the century, New Mexico has been the site of high-profile crimes. In some cases, they helped shape the history of the state. In others, they raised the level of consciousness pertaining to an issue:


New Mexico's most famous lawman, Patrick F. Garrett, was gunned down on a road to an Organ mining camp east of Las Cruces by Wayne Brazel over a ranch-lease dispute. Brazel shot Garrett twice, once in the head and once in the chest. Brazel was tried for murder and acquitted.

Garrett, the slayer of Billy the Kid, was also the Doña Ana County sheriff who investigated the disappearance and presumed murders of Col. Albert Jennings Fountain and 8-year-old son Henry in 1896. The prominent Republican and his son disappeared near Chalk Hill between Las Cruces and Alamogordo. Garrett's pursuit of three suspects was dogged, but no one was convicted of the Fountain murders. New Mexico ranchers Oliver Lee and Jim Gilliland were acquitted in the case.

In November 1880, Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County. His job was to hunt down William "Billy the Kid" Bonney. After a two-month search, Garrett arrested Bonney at Stinking Springs near Fort Sumner. Bonney was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1878 murder of Garrett's predecessor. Awaiting execution, Bonney killed two guards in his escape from the Lincoln County jail but was hunted down by Garrett a second time. On July 14, 1881, Garrett shot and killed Bonney at the Maxwell Ranch house near Fort Sumner.


In retaliation for a double cross in which promised weapons were never delivered, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa ordered 500 of his men to raid the small border town of Columbus, N.M. On March 9, 1916, more than 100 of Villa's men were killed during and after the raid while 16 Americans were killed. President Woodrow Wilson called out the Army to pursue Villa. Four men, identified as Villistas, were executed by hanging, and at least one was pardoned, according to newspaper accounts.


On July 3, 1929, a headless body was found in Arthur Manby's home in Taos. Was it Manby, one of the most hated land speculators in northern New Mexico's history, or was it the body of a transient? Neighbors and local police formed a coroner's jury and decided it was Manby's and that he had died of natural causes. An investigator for the New Mexico attorney general later determined foul play was involved, but no one wanted to spend the money for an investigation. Associates of Manby's reported seeing him in Europe months after his death. One of the West's great unsolved mysteries, it became the subject of a book by Frank Waters.


Ovida "Cricket" Coogler disappeared March 30 from downtown Las Cruces. Her body was found in a shallow grave, launching a series of events that changed New Mexico politics and marked the first modern criminal prosecution under the federal civil rights laws. Football player Jerry Nuzum was charged and later acquitted. But three law enforcement officials, Doña Ana Sheriff A.M. "Happy" Apodaca, Deputy Roy Sandman and State Police Chief Hubert Beasley were convicted of torturing a black man to get a confession in the case. The three were each sentenced to one year in federal prison. The state Supreme Court ordered a special grand jury and prosecutors to investigate the case and allegations of corruption. An investigator in the case, former FBI agent Ed Mechem, was elected governor in 1952.


Bud Rice, 54, and Blanche Brown, 81, were shot dead in the Budville Trading Post the night of Nov. 18. U.S. Navy sailor Larry Bunten, visiting family in the area, was arrested the next night at a roadblock and charged with murder. Eighteen days later Bunten was released from jail after evidence became overwhelming that he was with family at the time of the shooting. Billy Ray White then became a suspect, was put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and arrested in Illinois. A year later he was acquitted by a jury in Los Lunas.


State Police Officer Robert Rosenbloom was shot and killed Nov. 8, 1971, during a traffic stop about eight miles west of Albuquerque on I-40. Three suspects in the shooting eluded a police manhunt for almost two weeks, then hijacked TWA flight 106 at Albuquerque's International Airport and flew to Cuba. Cuban authorities arrested the hijackers, Charles Hill, Ralph Goodwin and Michael Finney. Goodwin died in Cuba in 1973. Hill and Finney were released from a Cuban prison in 1980, but chose not to return to the United States to face murder and hijacking charges.

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Four members of the Vagos motorcycle gang were convicted in 1974 for the mutilation murder of UNM student William Velten. The four, Richard Greer, Ronald Keine, Clarence Smith and Thomas Gladish, spent 17 months on death row. Their case was in the appeals process when Kerry Rodney Lee, an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, confessed to the murder.

Early 1980s

Pamela Sue Barker, alias Michelle Lynn Pearson, was bludgeoned to death in 1981 and her body set afire by her husband, federally protected witness, Marion Albert Pruett. "Mad Dog" Pruett then killed two store clerks in Colorado, a savings and loan clerk in Mississippi and convenience store clerk Bobbie Jean Robertson of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Pruett received life sentences for four of the five murders and was executed earlier this year in Arkansas for the murder of Robertson.

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William Wayne Gilbert committed a series of murders in the 1980s while operating as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Gilbert was convicted and sentenced to die for the murders of newlyweds Kenn and Noel Johnson. He also pleaded guilty to murdering his wife from Las Cruces, Barbara McMullan. Police foiled Gilbert's plans to escape, kidnap his defense attorneys and hold them hostage.

Gilbert told police he also committed other murders but couldn't remember the details. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1986 by Gov. Toney Anaya. He later escaped from the state's maximum security prison near Santa Fe, was captured in California and is serving his sentence out of state.


On Jan. 12, University of New Mexico student Linda Lee Daniels, 22, was kidnapped outside her fiancé's Northeast Heights home. Daniels was taken to a hotel room, drugged and raped, and taken to the Jemez Mountains and killed. Law enforcement officials operating under intense media pressure arrested Johnny Zinn, Wallace Randolph Pierce, Sidney Sliger and James Scartaccini.

Zinn, convicted of 19 charges, was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison; Pierce was sentenced to 66 years after pleading guilty to charges including murder; Sliger pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced to three years; Scartaccini testified against Zinn, received immunity from prosecution and later committed suicide.

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Dena Lynn Gore, 9, was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Terry Clark in July. Her naked body was found in a shallow grave five days after her disappearance on a remote ranch south of Roswell. Clark pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to die. His legal appeals to have the death sentence overturned have bounced up and down New Mexico courts. Earlier this year Clark asked attorneys to withdraw his appeals so the death sentence could be imposed.


On Sept. 20, Tara Calico, 19, disappeared without a trace while riding her bicycle on N.M. 47 in Valencia County. Her parents mailed 80,000 fliers around the country and appeared on "Oprah," "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted," but Calico is still missing.


Four bizarre murder cases grabbed headlines in which the defendants claimed to be mentally ill. In July 1987, Darci Pierce abducted an eight-months pregnant Cindy Ray. Pierce took Ray to the East Mountains and used a key to remove the infant from Ray's womb. Ray died, and the child survived. A jury rejected Pierce's insanity defense, and she was sentenced to life in prison.

A jury also rejected the insanity defense of Judith Neely, who drove her car into a family walking in a Northeast Heights neighborhood, killing 6-year-old Rachel Light and seriously injuring her father. Neely was sentenced to life plus 27 years.

Two other cases ended with the defendants in mental hospitals.

In November 1988, Nancy Feak pleaded guilty to the suffocation deaths of her 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. She was committed for psychiatric treatment.

On Nov. 29, 1988, Nathan Trupp walked into a Northeast Heights bagel shop and fatally shot two men and a woman. He later eluded police and killed two security guards in Southern California. He was found by a California court to be psychotic.


Seven people -- three women, two police officers and two children -- were shot to death at a mobile home park near Española when officers tried to serve court papers on Rick Abeyta. Abeyta was convicted of numerous charges and sentenced to 146 years in prison.

1996 Three employees of a Hollywood Video store were killed during an armed robbery, and the grandparents of one employee were kidnapped and executed in the Sandia Mountains. Shane Harrison was convicted of killing the grandparents and sentenced to 258 years in prison; his girlfriend, Esther Beckley, turned state's evidence and was sentenced to 95 1/2 years in prison. The jury couldn't reach a verdict on the three other murder charges.