Early days at the State Line Bar where you buy a glass of whiskey, a gallon of gas or a postage stamp. [Photo with very kind permission of Joe Sonderman]

The State Line Bar in Glenrio on the New Mexico/Texas border is today an unprepossessing building, but it’s actually one of the oldest commercial buildings in the town, along with the motel behind it and the neighbouring Broyle’s Mobil Gas Station. The State Line Bar was built in 1935 and some thirty eight years later, the bar would be the scene of a tragedy that saw it close forever.

Two men featured prominently in the history of both Glenrio and the bar; in 1939, Homer Ehresman – who would later build the ‘First and Last’ Texas Longhorn Motel – bought and ran the State Line Bar (which had been built by John Wesley Ferguson and boasted Texaco petrol pumps and a small post office on one side which Mrs Ehresman ran) before selling it to Joseph Brownlee. In 1960, the bar was remodelled and became a much plainer building with a concrete block veneer and narrow high windows.

The former Glenrio Post Office which was attached to the State Line Bar.

A few years later it was purchased by Albert Kenneth and Dessie Leach, a couple who had come to Glenrio in the late 1950s and made their living ranching before purchasing the bar. Married in 1945, Albert and Dessie never had children of their own, but they raised a son, Nolan, and a daughter, Margaret, from Dessie’s first marriage to Nolan Terrill. 10th July 1973 was probably much the same as any other day at the bar. No doubt the Leachs were concerned about the interstate which would cut Glenrio off in a few months, while they must also have been aware that any business was a target for criminals. Just a couple of months earlier, the Standard Service Station in Glenrio had been held up in an armed robbery – while hunting for the perpetrator near Vega, police got a little trigger happy with the result that they shot a hole in the door and the transmission of a Mazda pickup belonging to one Gene Putz, an innocent motorist who just happened to be passing.

But business is business and on that morning 58-year-old Dessie was tending the bar on her own. Her only customers had been a couple from Amarillo, passing through in their RV. While the couple chatted to Dessie, a blond young man in blue jeans and a flowered shirt came in and asked the husband to play pool. He then, as she said, ‘made eyes’ at the Amarillo woman and, thinking the young man was trouble, the couple left.

Did Dessie choose the carpet and booths? It’s quite likely.

Some minutes later, in an apartment behind the bar, Cornelia Tapia was getting ready to go to work when she heard a noise. To her horror, she saw Dessie Leach stagger out of the back door of the State Line Bar holding her stomach, her dress covered in blood. Mrs Leach gasped that she had been robbed and shot, although when she collapsed to the ground it was found she had been stabbed, not shot. She died before she could be transported to hospital in Tucumcari.

Her murderer was apprehended just a couple of hours later in Vega, where it was found that, as well as a long sharp knife, he also had two guns in his station wagon. He was covered in blood and, it seems, made little resistance to arrest. John Wayne Lee was 31 and gave his address as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, although he was actually from Tennessee. He never explained why he had stabbed Mrs Leach – she was a small woman and neighbours described her as crippled with arthritis and unable to put up any struggle. In fact, they thought she would probably have simply opened the till and yet Lee stabbed her four times.

The decaying interior of the bar, sun streaming through through narrow windows.

At that time, a new law in New Mexico allowed for homicide during the course of robbery to be charged as a capital offence. Yet Lee was charged with the lesser offence of second degree murder and, on 31st October 1973 he was found guilty. He was sentenced to two consecutive 10-50 year prison terms for the murder and armed robbery which, you could imagine, would have keep him behind bars for some considerable time. How long do you imagine Lee served for the murder of Dessie Leach? I can bet that you’re wrong. For stabbing to death Mrs Leach, John Wayne Lee served less than four years. In May 1977, he was granted parole although that meant he then had to begin his sentence of 10-50 years for armed robbery. How long he served is not on record but if Lee is still alive, he has been a free man for a long time.

Dessie Leach’s death meant the end of the State Line Bar after almost forty years. Her husband moved to San Jon and spent the years until his death in 2004 raising race horses. The State Line Bar is now derelict, a few shreds of the carpet and furniture that Dessie had no doubt picked herself now mouldering away, and the terrible crime that took place here now merely a whisper on the wind.

The State Line Bar, Glenrio, NM. 2018.


  1. So… any photo’s of Dessie exist? And then also it seems that Glenrio must be a bit jinxed….because isn’t the Pontiac parked in front of the gas station just a couple of doors down left there by an owner / gas station attendant that was also murdered in Vega? Isn’t that one of your stories as well?


    • I would imagine that the family has some, but I tried to make contact with her daughter with no success (understandably it’s perhpaps not something she wants to remember). I’m not sure if Glenrio was unduly jinxed or unlucky – its position on the state line with the well-known alcohol sales one side and cheap gas the other made it quite a busy place during its heyday with a lot of traffic. I think a lot of places have these stories, they’re just getting forgotten. And yes, if you search ‘Pontiac’ on the blog, you will find my story on Larry Travis. 🙂


      • Im are going to be spending 2 weeks out there moving kids into college. Would I be able to go inside the bar and look around. Does anyone still live out there who’s alive and knew my grandmother Dessie???


      • Kishla, I went to school with your Mom, Margaret. We were cheerleaders together her senior year and my freshman year.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I first drove through Glenrio in 1968 on my first drive west from Atlanta. I was amazed by the little town and still find it interesting today especially the abandoned Texaco station that sits at the end of the ramp off I-40. It’s a place I would love to restore 🤠


  3. Loved Mrs. Leach. She had a China set in her kitchen that was do beautiful. We would trick or treat the bar. They were wonderful. Loved Glenrio. The closest phone to our ranch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Raised on the caprock SW of Glenrio, beyond Mike Moser’s ranch. Have ridden horseback to Glenrio just to drink a cold beer. My dad, Hugh, had a water witch one time who used a willow branch for his wand. Nothing would do but the very choicest willow trees which HAPPENED to grow near Glenrio! — Don Fortenberry, now 85.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We farmed at Friona and I believe the State Line Bar is where my Dad went to buy Whiskey to make Hot Toddies with…not sure…but I do remember the State Line Bar

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The State Line Bar is where I got my first taste of wine and beer. My parents ran a Fina Station down the street.
    We moved to Vega to avoid the never ending bus rides back and forth to school.
    Growing up in Vega it was common for people to head for state line for adult beverages because on the Texas side Oldham County is dry.


  7. I lived in Glenrio in the early 70s. My dad run the gas station and then Homer Ehresman moved us to Indee to manage the store and gas station. I use to go with my dad to the state line bar. He taught me to shoot pool there. I was in 9th and 10th grade when we lived there
    My mom worked at the restaurant on the state line
    She worked with a wonderful woman who’s name I believe was Charlotte. My dad name was Mel Davis my mom was Alice. I wonder if anyone remembers us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Leased the first and last stop in Texas from 1961 til 1967. Hoer Ehresman owned the motel and had a curio shop inside the cafe. We were open 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. I remember Mike Moser, Kenneth and Dessie Leach (she waited tables at the cafe and weighed about 80 lbs.), Joe Brownlee, The Sassers and all the ranchers around Glenrio.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am the eldest grandchild and was 15 when my grandmother was murdered. I have many fond memories of her and Kenneth. She was the sweetest little, Grandma Dessie. We’d go to the bar as kids and she and Kenneth would spoil us with soda pops (that was a real treat) and they’d let us play pool before the bar opened. I did not know until this article that he served less than four years for brutally murdering her and causing so much pain to the family and friends that loved her.


    • Thank you so very much for your post, Inola, and for adding a little bit more to the story. To me, it’s very important that these stories of what happened to people like your grandma aren’t lost. I am so sorry she was taken from you so wickedly.


  10. Thank you for writing this article. I also knew Kenneth and Dessie and they were fine people. John Wayne Lee was pardoned by the Govenor after serving less than four years for the brutal crime although I believe he was pardoned across the board. I don’t think he did any more jail time. The last I heard he lives in Knoxville, TN.


      • John Wayne Lee (murderer) would be 78 if he is still living. There are two John Wayne Lee’s living in Knoxville, TN and I was able to determine one is in his 70’s. The other guy I couldn’t verify his age. The correct age and name plus living in the home town of the murderer is probably a good indicator he is the right guy.


  11. I lived in Glenrio until the age of 6. My dad’s family lived there for many years. I have the fondest memories. Remember when Barbara Smith was the post mistress, the bar; which was by the post office, could go in to buy sodas. My brother used to help Kenneth Leach at the bar, cleaning. Hw was only 12. My mother Minnie Angel worked with Mrs,Brownlee. We lived behind the post office, which is still standing. Teresa (Angel) Ebell.

    Liked by 1 person

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