About Never Quite Lost

The roads that led somewhere and now go nowhere. The history that you see out of the corner of your eye. The flicker where past and present collide. The time and the road and the world that is never quite lost.

ALL CHANGE AT YUCCA

The Joshua Motel, now gone although the palms survive.

And so more vestiges of Route 66 quietly disappear, abandoned so long that when they are finally no longer there barely anyone notices.

The Joshua Motel office.

Just south of the well-known MOTEL sign in Yucca, Arizona (all that remains of the Whiting Brothers motel which once stood there) was the Joshua Motel and Sandy’s Café. The Joshua was a small place, just eight rooms, but it had the advantage of being right on Route 66 – at least until Interstate 40 slashed through the middle of Yucca. It was probably built shortly after Route 66 first came through Yucca back in 1952.

The Joshua Motel office to the left and its first two rooms.

Next to the Joshua was Sandy’s Café which seated 38 people. It seems that life was a constant struggle for Sandy’s, its lease seemed to be constantly up for sale. In the 1960s it was modified to also serve as a drive-thru and to drum up trade. But when I-40 opened in the early 1970s it was the end of the road for the Joshua Motel and Sandy’s Café. Traffic rolled onto Kingman or Needles to find a bed or a meal. The motel staggered on for a while; in 1977 it was being marketed with a desperate air and a knock down price as a potential nursing home. When I first saw it, old petrol pumps were being stored in the office.

Sandy’s Cafe. The sign once boasted neon lighting but that was gone long ago.

A little way south, on the other side of Guthrie’s Service Center, stands Yucca’s most famous landmark (although it’s a toss up between that and the Dinesphere), the truck on a stick. It used to have buildings around it, a large roofless block building and an older wooden workshop, not to mention a house with various derelict cars and buses around it.

Ran when parked?

In the spring of 2022 the Joshua Motel and Sandy’s Café were demolished. The neighbouring land around the truck on a pole has been cleared and scraped, leaving the Peterbilt in not so splendid isolation and the entire acreage up for sale. It is, according to the realtor, ‘a great location for RV park, boat shop, restaurant, off road rental, and so much more’. But, although it’s only been on the market for two months, the price has already been dropped by $40,000. And so another little piece of Route 66 history disappears.

Very many thanks go to out to Lara Hartley Roberts for spotting that the motel and café had gone. (See Lara’s wonderful photography at www.flickr.com/photos/redshoesgirl/)

Considering the place had been abandoned for 30 years, the bathrooms had held up quite well.

This garage stood in front of the truck on a pole.

The interior of Sandy’s Cafe.

This garage stood in front of the truck on a pole.

The Joshua was always small, only ever eight units.

THE AXE MURDERER OF TUCUMCARI

18 December 1947 was a cold winter’s morning like any other in Tucumcari. Bertha Eugene Wagnon Kappel had got up at 4.45am to prepare for her shift at the Home Café in the Vorenberg Hotel. (The Vorenberg was a grand hotel in downtown Tucumcari which boasted suites with private baths, a large lobby, dining room and barber shop as well as the Home Café. After the First World War it was owned by Floyd B Redman who built quite a property portfolio over the years. In the 1950s he bought another motel which was managed by a lady called Lillian Leigon; romance blossomed and he presented the motel to her as an engagement present. The motel was the famous Blue Swallow.)

The Vorenberg Hotel. The Home Cafe where Bertha Kappel was employed can be seen at the right.

Bertha had only been working at the Home Café for a couple of months while her husband Gus Adolph did various odd jobs. They had been married in Oklahoma in 1938 but several of the family – Bertha was one of 13 children – had moved to Tucumcari where Adolph also had links. They and their daughter were staying with Bertha’s brother, Roy, and his wife Catalina, in Roy’s home on North 1st Street, although the Kappels had purchased a lot nearby on which they intended to build a rudimentary house. To this end, Bertha had bought some lumber and, after finishing work on 17 December, she visited the lot to inspect progress. She found that the lumber was missing and this set into inexorable motion the events of the next few hours.

Bertha returned to her brother’s house and accused Adolph of selling the materials. He denied it but she discovered that he had, in fact, sold the lumber to a neighbour and, even worse, he hadn’t been paid for it. Bertha told him to get the lumber back within three days or “she would turn him in”. Now, the lumber may have been from a dubious source and Kappel did have a prior conviction for theft, so it might have been a well-aimed threat on her part. The quarrel continued into the evening although Adolph would later claim that the couple had been made up by the time they went to bed.

Even before the lumber incident it doesn’t appear to have been a happy marriage. Bertha had moved to Tucumcari some eight months before while her husband tried to find work in Oregon. When he returned to New Mexico she had sworn out a warrant on him for non-support of their 12-year-old daughter, Mary Frances.

Unsurprisingly next morning, the arguing flared up again when Adolph was slow to accompany Bertha on her walk to work. She left the house without him and when he called out to her to wait, she replied; “You dirty son-of-a-bitch, if you are going with me, come on.” It was an unfortunate choice of words and Bertha probably knew that it was a term that particularly offended her husband.

At around 6am, near an overpass, the body of Bertha Kappel was discovered just three blocks from her brother’s house. She lay in a pool of blood, her head cracked open by three blows from an axe and her left ear almost severed. When she was found, Kappel was taking a nap, having returned home, vomited and then taken two aspirins for a headache and then slept for an hour. When he woke up, he had a hearty breakfast and then went to the Home Café to say that his wife wouldn’t be coming to work that day. He was then arrested close to where Bertha’s body lay.

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Adolph Kappel had a limited mental capacity but he knew enough to get rid of the axe, tossing it onto the roof of a neighbour’s house where it was later found. He signed a confession, saying that he had no recollection of killing his wife but remembered “I was standing over her and I struck a match and seen what I had done.” At his trial, he was charged with first degree murder and the jury took less than an hour to find him guilty. He was sentenced to be executed in New Mexico’s electric chair.

Kappel appealed and was granted a second trial on the grounds that the jury had not been given the option of convicting him of second degree murder. This jury decided that the murder had been conducted in the heat of the moment and was not planned or deliberate. He was once again found guilty but this time the sentence was 90-99 years rather than death. Kappel proved to be a model prisoner – for at least a year…

Gus Adolph Kappel

Assigned to a prison work gang at the penitentiary’s clay pits, on the last day of October 1950, Adolph Kappel made his escape aboard a black mule called Pete (one newspaper reported the beast was called Pegasus which seems a little fanciful). For five days he managed to stay ahead of police and prison guards in freezing cold weather until he was finally captured 35 miles south east of Las Vegas, New Mexico. He gave various reasons for his escape, saying that he had wanted to find out why he hadn’t heard from his daughter and believed that his brother was preventing her from writing to him. He also said he wanted to see his sister-in-law who had been involved in a road accident and then intended on going to Oklahoma to visit his mother and other relatives. But he also told reporters that “I am not the man who killed my wife” and that had he been able to get to Tucumcari he “could have cleaned up the whole mess”. Given that he had signed a confession which formed the basis of his first trial and pleaded guilty to second degree murder at the second trial it’s difficult to see how anyone else might have killed Bertha.

In 1953, Governor Edwin Mechem commuted Kappel’s sentence to a flat 70 years while the Warden commented, perhaps a little tongue in cheek, that Kappel was “now a plumber. He does not have access to a mule”.

Governor Erwin L Mechem who commuted Adolph Kappel’s 90-99 sentence to 70 years.

Adolph Kappel applied for parole at every chance and was denied for many years. When was he released? The short answer; I don’t know. He died in 1978 at the age of 63 and is buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery. However, he was also incarcerated in the Penitentiary of New Mexico which is just 15 miles from Santa Fe but I found that he had won a newspaper competition in 1976 when living in Ojo Caliente near Taos so it appeared he stayed in the area after his release. Perhaps he just had nowhere else to go.

John Frederick Kappel whose bound body was found in a Sayre lake in an unsolved homicide.

It is perhaps a little ironic that, with one brother behind bars for homicide, another brother should also meet his end by murder. In September 1963, the youngest Kappel son, John Frederick, was found floating in a pond in Sayre, Oklahoma. This was no natural drowning; John’s hands and feet were tied and he had also suffered a blow on the head before being thrown into the lake to drown. He had previously been working as a union picket for the International Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers Union protesting at the construction site for a grocery store in Elk City. Police stated that his job had nothing to do with his death, although they were bemused at the lack of signs of a struggle as John was a large man – 6’4” and 240lbs as well as being a karate expert – and throwing him in the pond had required lifting him over a barbed wire fence. The case was never solved.

The lower walls are all that remains of the Vorenberg Hotel after a fire in the 1970s. The house where Bertha and Adolph were living with her brother is also long gone.

THE FINAL MYSTERY OF ED’S CAMP

Ed’s Camp looks very much as it did when he passed away well over 40 years ago. That’s because it is clearly out of bounds, please respect that.

Ed’s Camp, east of Oatman, Arizona, at the foot of the Sitgreaves Pass, is fascinating for the man who was the only owner; Lowell ‘Ed’ Edgerton, a man of both enigma and mystery who has left behind him one final puzzle.

Edgerton was born in Michigan in 1894 and headed west as a young man on the advice of his doctor. Edgerton had suffered from tuberculosis which, at the turn of the 20th century, was the leading cause of death in the United States – he claimed exemption from the draft in World War I as a consumptive. Initially moving to southern California, he found the climate of Arizona more to his liking and he would spend the next sixty years of his life in Mohave County.

Little is known about Edgerton’s early years in the West and many of the stories he told throughout the years should probably be taken with a healthy dose of salt. Later he would claim that he had begun to train as a doctor (he did study for a short time at the University of Michigan although that was in engineering) and had, while working for a mining company in Mexico, amputated a man’s leg during the Mexico revolution of 1910-1920. He told stories of how he had owned a mansion in Los Angeles but had lost it in a property deal that went bad. He also claimed that, while tracking a mountain lion, he followed the beast into Nevada and became so engrossed in the hunt that he forgot about his wife and five children and figured there was no point in going back. There’s actually no record of Edgerton ever having been married, let alone having a brood of five children!

When he moved to the Oatman area, he was able to pick up the lease on the tailings dump of the Oatman works, tailings being the by-product of the mineral recovery process, the material left over after the valuable ore has been separated from the uneconomic material. Within months, his operation was making more money than the whole mine and he was then hired by the Tom Reed Mine as foreman of recovery. Around 1919, Edgerton bought a parcel of land at Little Meadows in the foothills of the Black Mountains in north west Arizona. The site had been known to Europeans since 1776 when Father Francisco Garcés, a Spanish missionary and explorer, paused here on his expedition across the south west of America, while it became a staging posting for future treks, including that of Lieutenant Beale. The attraction of Little Meadows was that it had that commodity which could be worth as much as gold: water.

The Kactus Kafe was the first building that Ed put up on the site.

Initially, like so many who rushed to the area at this time, Edgerton’s intention was to make his fortune through a gold strike. With his older brother, Tibor, he took on a number of mining jobs until he realised that he could make a steady (and easier) living catering to travellers and miners than digging into the mountains. His trading post was little more than an open space with a tin roof – he later said that, with the inauguration of Route 66 in 1926, traffic became so busy so quickly that he never had time to add walls! As Tibor returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to open a tea rooms, Edgerton added the Kactus Kafe (this time a proper building) and a gas station and called the place ‘Ed’s Camp’.

At first Ed’s Camp had no tourist cabins or rooms. Instead, travellers could pitch a tent or sleep in their cars. For those who wanted a little luxury and had a little more cash, there was a screened porch where they might sleep on a cot. Just as NR Dunton did at Cool Springs, Ed charged for water on a per bucket basis although that fee was waived if people paid to stay. As the place grew, a grocery store and souvenir shop were added and Ed’s Camp became a stop for Pickwick Stage Lines, a coach company that would become part of the Greyhound bus empire.

One of the surviving cabins.

But Ed Edgerton was far more than just a store and gas station attendant. Over the years, he studied the rocks of Arizona and became an expert geologist who could identify any Mohave County rock and say, to within a few miles, from where it had come. He proudly told people how he had met Marie Curie, the French-Polish physicist – a claim which is quite possible as Curie toured the United States in both 1921 and 1929.

Edgerton owned and mined a rare earth mine from which he extracted ore that was shipped to a variety of companies, providing some thirty different minerals that were used in alloy steels, electronic components, ceramics, plastics, atomic devices and even cosmetics. He even, if only briefly, had a mineral named after him, although Edgertonite, an oxide of oxide of iron, yttrium uranium, calcium, columbium, tantalum, zirconium, tin, and other minerals  was quickly renamed Yttrotantalite when it was realised it had already been discovered in Sweden in 1802. It is, however, quite likely that Edgerton was the first man to find Yttrotantalite in the United States and he would say that he had provided the material for the first atomic bomb. Truth or fiction? We shall probably never know.

Edgerton credited Yttrotantalite with saving his life. According to him, on 17th April 1957, doctors told him he had cancer. They gave him thirty days to live unless he had major surgery. Edgerton declined the operation and returned to Ed’s Camp where he decided he would treat himself. The story changed in some details on each retelling, but this is probably the most comprehensive description to survive: “I put on two suits of heavy woollen underclothes and put these swatches [of Yttrotantalite] in between, all around, and then I put three big electric pads around that. I cooked myself for about seventy-two hours at one hundred and thirty degrees. I didn’t eat anything, I drank warm water. At the end of seventy hours stuff began to loosen inside me … Rotten goddamn stuff, it couldn’t take the heat. I commenced to bleed internally and for up to ninety hours I bled inside – rotten blood first and then fresh blood – and then that quit.

After that, Ed Edgerton nursed himself back to health on a diet of goat’s milk, raw eggs and avocadoes. Two months later, his doctor declared there was no sign of cancer in his body and it was a miracle. Although it’s tempting to believe that it would be difficult for anyone to survive such extremes of temperature for so long, not to mention four days of internal bleeding, Edgerton believed that he had cured a cancer and instead of having just a month left on this planet, he lived for another thirty years. He claimed that he was studied intensively by the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fort Whipple, near Prescott, although there are no records of Edgerton having been a patient until he died there in 1978. He also told people he had worked with one of the foremost cancer experts in the world – although he declined to name the scientist – as well as claiming that he could predict where in a person’s body a cancer might be just by the colour of their hair.

It would be tempting to dismiss Ed Edgerton as a crazy old desert rat, telling tall tales in the best tradition of a hermit. But Edgerton was far from that. While some of his stories may have been embellished – and others, quite frankly, tongue-in-cheek fabrications created to entertain visitors – he was much respected in the fields of geology and mineralogy, despite his lack of formal training. He took on consultancy work for companies, taught in the local college and wrote and presented papers on minerals. Edgerton was certainly not a hermit although much about his life remained a mystery. In 1948 he ran for the office of state senator in Mohave County on a Republican ticket (although he was beaten by the Democratic candidate, C Clyde Bollinger) and he trained to be a census enumerator for the 1960 US Census, a job his father had also done in Michigan sixty years earlier.

Thanks in part to the natural springs and in part of the improvements that Edgerton made over the years to the water flow, Ed’s Camp truly became an oasis in the desert. Late into his seventies, Edgerton kept Kingman supplied with pears, as well as growing apricots, tomatoes, quinces, strawberries, peppers, corn and grapevines. His pomegranates were so good that they won four ribbons at the Arizona State Fair! He even managed to keep alive a huge saguaro cactus which stood for years just by the gas pumps. It eventually attained an impressive height and several arms before dying around thirty years ago.

On 7th September 1978 Ed Edgerton died at the age of 83, not as he would have surely wished at the place he had called home for most of his life, but in the VA Hospital in Fort Whipple. His obituary mentioned only that he was a ‘retired miner’ but Lowell Edgerton was so much more than that. Today Ed’s Camp is gently decaying although the rigid enforcement of those NO TRESPASSING signs mean that he would still recognise the place. The gas pumps and cactus are long gone but the makeshift trading post and the café remain, while you can catch a glimpse from Route 66 of the basic tourist cabins he built. Squint hard at the hillside opposite and you might just make out the few remaining white stones that once spelled out Ed’s Camp. Now it seems a bleak spot in the desert but for much of the last century it was paradise for Ed Edgerton.

But Lowell Leighton Edgerton leaves behind one last mystery. Just where is his final resting place?

The Findagrave web site has him listed being buried in the Mountain View cemetery in Kingman, which would seem logical. So just a few weeks ago I took a walk around to see if I could find his grave. When I had no luck, I wondered whether it was unmarked, so I sought the assistance of the cemetery staff. They were very helpful and hauled out large leatherbound ledgers which list all of Mountain View’s ‘residents’. Finally they looked up and said, “He’s not here.”

As Ed died in a VA hospital I considered whether he would been buried by the Veterans Administration in Prescott. But, after combing through VA records for all of its Arizona cemeteries and burials, I drew a blank. I widened it to a nationwide search (although it seemed supremely unlikely he had been taken back to his home state of Michigan) and the end result? He wasn’t there.

Wherever Lowell Edgerton was laid to rest, he’s keeping it to himself – and I think he would rather have liked that.

These cabins were the height of luxury at Ed’s Camp!
In front of Ed’s Camp once stood the gas pumps and a saguaro cactus.

THE RAPID DECLINE OF THE MINNETONKA

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Of the many abandoned trading posts along the various alignments of Route 66, perhaps one of the most poignant is the Minnetonka Trading Post to the east of Winslow, Arizona, because its decline has been so rapid and so relatively recent.

Because it sits on a short piece of Route 66 that was dead ended when Interstate 40 bypassed Winslow in 1979, it’s frequently missed by tourists travelling the Mother Road and, even if they did stop by, they might well think “Just another old derelict building”. But little more than 15 years ago the Minnetonka was still a thriving place where cowboys drank their wages and wedding breakfasts and wakes were held. But that seems like a long time ago…

No-one is too sure when the Minnetonka was built. The Motley Design Group, in its Historic Resource Survey of Arizona, published in 2012, believes it to have been built in 1939 which seems quite a reasonable suggestion. Little is known about the early owners, but perhaps an advert that appeared in the Winslow Mail in February 1952 might give a clue to who was then running the Minnetonka.

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In its life, the Minnetonka has been trading post, post office, feed store, curio shop and bar.

It advertised for sale a ‘curio store, service station and café between Flagstaff and Winslow’, including 320 acres of land. Prospective buyers were to apply to the Minnetonka Trading Post where they would have found Phillip and Louise Hesch in residence. Mrs Hesch had been, in what she probably hoped was now a past life, Mrs Earl Marion Cundiff and, in 1926 she and her then husband had owned that barren 320 acres known as Two Guns when Cundiff was shot dead by Harry ‘Indian’ Miller. Her character was suggested to be less than pristine when, during the trial, it was alleged she had had affairs with several men and, indeed, it was reported that during the proceedings she had taken up with one of the defence witnesses who took poison over the whole sorry episode (he survived).

Phillip and Louise Hersh at Two Guns.

Louise Hesch (her real name was Mary Evelyn but she always used the name Louise) remarried, this time to a mechanic called Fred Hayes, but the marriage didn’t last and in December 1934 (still only 29) she married Phillip E Hesch, her third and final husband. Although the pair ran Two Guns and the second incarnation of its famous zoo for a number of years, perhaps they finally decided on a change due to the the rerouting of Route 66 and the place’s isolation and so, by 1951, they were running the Minnetonka. After an attempt to sell it in 1956, they leased it two years later to sisters Irene B Scott and Hazel Weaver Jordan who had also run a store close to Two Guns. Within a year the sisters had moved out of the Minnetonka to take over a florist in Winslow.

By now the Hesches had started a coffee shop called La Siesta on East 2nd Street in Winslow, so were still keen to sell the Minnetonka. This they did in the autumn of 1962, selling the place lock, stock and liquor license to Mr and Mrs Robert Shaw. The Shaws operated the Minnetonka until September 1971 when Bob Shaw died, aged just 49. His widow, Patricia, kept hold of the Minnetonka and, with her second husband, Harvey Rogers, they ran it through the 1980s.

In 1991, it was bought by Julia (‘Julie’) Johnson who brought new life to the old place. The roof was replaced and the interior remodelled, complete with a raunchy picture of a naked lady on the petrified wood wall! A small rodeo arena was carved out behind the building and the Minnetonka played host to a number of events, including the annual ‘Bull Sunday’, part of Winslow’s Heritage Days. Despite being on a cut off piece of road, its proximity to I-40, Highway 87 and many ranches made it a favourite of local cowboys. Occasionally it would be flooded when the Cottonwood Wash broke its banks, but even that never seemed to worry Julie.

But, on 23 June 2007, aged only 56 years, Julie passed away and the Minnetonka Trading Post died with her. The place was put up for sale and, back in 2009, someone could have acquired quite the going concern for $100,000, complete with its unique petrified wood façade, all of the bar appliances (including the original plank-cedar bar top), handmade southwestern furniture and an Arizona Series 6 liquor license allowing it to sell liquor, beer and wine both in the bar and to take away.

There were no takers. Perhaps anyone interested was scared off by the rumours of pollutions from the elderly underground fuel tanks out front. Those were removed in 2010 and replaced by compacted soil. A year later, the Minnetonka was back on the market but at a reduced price. It still stands empty.

Now the Minnetonka doesn’t look like quite such a promising concern. The glass behind the security grills is long gone and two large holes disfigure the façade, perhaps vandalism, perhaps deterioration, perhaps to liberate some of the petrified wood. Who knows? If anyone knows what happened to the big wooden bar and the handmade furniture, they’re not saying even. In fact, no-one is saying anything any more at the Minnetonka Trading Post.

The door to the bar.
The Minnetonka when it was up for sale in 2010. Back there it would have taken little work to open the doors again.
The interior, all the bar fixings gone.
The rear of the trading post.
One of the ornamental grilles, almost hanging in midair.
The petrified wood wall.

CHARLEY DIAZ, MAN OF GRANTS

An early incarnation of Charley’s garage.

Away from the satellite dishes wrapped with copies of Native American basket paintings and the tourist trap of a drive through Route 66 arch, travellers heading west through Grants could be forgiven for thinking there is little of interest in the wide open sandy lots on each side of the road, home to the odd struggling business and a gas station.

But on the north side of Route 66 are some abandoned buildings which many people fly past, unaware that they represent what a town like Grants was all about – what, in fact, the American dream is all about. It was here a young man carved out a business for himself and for his family, where that man had the foresight to take advantage of his surroundings and to create a business which prospered for decades. This is where Charley Diaz had his eponymous radiator shop.  

The Diaz service station in the 1940s. Note the gas pumps.

Charley was born in 1914 and married Dorela Cordova in 1935. He worked for the Red Ball Garage and the Chevrolet dealership in Grants and, during the Second World War, as a mechanic at Fort Wingate. During this time he saved enough money to buy a small piece of land and it was there, in 1943, that he opened a service station with Dorela keeping the gas pump books. Born Carlos, he was always known as Charley although the spelling wandered around a little. Most histories spell it as ‘Charley’, but Mr Diaz signed his World War II draft card as ‘Charlie’, while he would spell it both ways on his garage over the years, settling for ‘Charlie’ when he started his radiator shop.

Charley and his maternal grandfather, Joseph Capelli, an Italian stonemason who had emigrated to the USA in 1904, built a garage and a house out of local material – not, in this case, adobe, but the harder wearing and lighter pumice. (Capelli was a noted craftsman and was responsible for many of the early houses in Grants). At the time that Charley first opened the doors to his service station, the area was undergoing a remarkable boom. The soil was ideal for growing root crops and Grants became the carrot capital of the world, while it’s estimated that, between 1940 and 1950, the population of Grants increased by 270%.

Charley and his son Joe in around 1954. The gas pumps have disappeared and the familiar name has yet to appear.
The Star Cafe shortly after opening in 1949.

Following the death of his wife in childbirth and his son drowning a few weeks later, Charley’s great uncle, Salome Saiz, came to live with the family in Grants with the newborn baby and his teenage daughter. Charley gave him the opportunity to build a business and Salome constructed the Star Café, a small building to the east of the garage, in 1949. By 1950, uranium mining had overtaken carrots as Grants’ main industry and the Star Café happened to be near a bus stop where men waited to go to the uranium mines. When Salome sold the place, the new owner, the appropriately named Mr Moon, came up with the idea of offering these workers pre-packaged sandwiches to take to their job. While we take for granted that we can buy a readymade sandwich anywhere, this was quite a revolutionary move. The Star later became the Star Drive-In and Moon would run it until he was beaten and robbed one night, something that rather put him off the restaurant business although the Star would stay open in new hands until 1985.

By the mid-1950s Charley had removed the gas pumps from the front of his garage, unable to compete with the new filling stations at the west end of town. It turned out to be a blessing; Route 66 was widened through Gallup in 1956. It was around now that he decided to specialise, concentrating on radiator servicing. Radiators on contemporary cars frequently became clogged by hard water and so Charley moved into undertaking most of the radiator work for local businesses. (He would offer them a 25% discount if the garage removed the radiator from a car and delivered it to him; the garage passed the charge onto the customer and everyone – in the motor trade at least! – was happy). He also capitalised on the local boom in uranium mining, contracting to local mining companies, a job which often required working through the night so a truck could be ready for use the following day. Being on the side of Route 66, he also found a healthy trade in fixing the cars of tourists whose vehicles had overheated and was at one point, it’s believed, the only radiator shop between Albuquerque and Gallup, a distance of over 120 miles.

Charley in front of the shop with the name under which it would be known for decades.

Things were going well for Charley, so well in fact that, in 1959, he could buy Dorela a brand-new Chevrolet Impala. She would barely have time to run it in before suddenly dying of a stroke three months later.  She was just 43. The Impala sat in front of the Diaz house until 2015. But Charley soldiered on, supported by his family and by the need to look after his son Joe. In the late 1980s, with Charley now in his 70s, someone made an offer to lease the shop which he accepted. But the new lessee proved to be inefficient and Charley evicted him and carried on working for the next few years, dying of a heart attack in 1995. He was 80.

Charley Diaz was a man who worked hard to better himself and to improve life for both him and his family. But he still retained a touching faith in people as his son Joe, told John Murphey of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Programme in 2010. One winter’s night a man knocked on the garage door. He said that his car had broken down and he had no money for repairs, but would work off the debt. Charley told him he didn’t need any help but told him to get a sandwich and then sleep in the garage overnight and they’d talk about a job in the morning. Joe was horrified – he thought the stranger would rob them blind and steal all their tools. But his father was adamant that the man could sleep on the premises. The next day he tried the man out. Joe Bounds would work for him for the next 33 years.

Charlie’s Radiator Service has stood empty for over 25 years and, while now on the National Register of Historic Places, is deteriorating.
The Star Cafe was used as a tyre shop after it closed in 1985 but has been boarded up for some years.
Charlie’s Radiator Service, one of the businesses that made Grants and Route 66.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MOONLIGHT MOTEL

The Moonlight Motel shortly after it opened in 1952.

 The Moonlight Motel opened in 1952 and, to all intents and purposes, it was a well-equipped place to stay, but just like a thousand other motels. But it was to have a curious history, for, just a few months after it opened, the Moonlight Motel was at the centre of a fascinating story.

Ernest Whitworth Marland served as Oklahoma’s governor from 1935-1939.

In the early years of the 20th century, a fabulously wealthy oilman and his wife decided to adopt the son and daughter of the wife’s sister. Eventually Ernest Whitworth and Virginia Marland adopted the pair and Lyde (Lydie) and George Roberts grew up with the best of everything. Mrs Marland died in 1926 and two years later Ernest Marland annulled the adoption in order to marry 28-year-old Lydie. In 1934 Marland was elected as the 10th Governor of Oklahoma but, after one term the couple returned to Ponca City where, Marland having lost his fortune in a hostile takeover of his company by JP Morgan, they had to sell their huge mansion and move into a small cottage on the estate. EW Marland died in 1941 and Lydie became something of a recluse.

Lydie Marland, the disappearing socialite.

Then, in 1953, she got into her green 1949 Studebaker convertible and disappeared. It was a mystery of the time – the Saturday Evening Post ran a story called ‘Where is Lydie Marland?’ – although she continued to pay the bills on the cottage. Where was she? Well, for three or four months she lived in unit #1 of the Moonlight Motel in Independence. There she even asked to help owner Chester Andes’ wife with cleaning because, as she said, she’d never had a job before. And then one day she was gone. A year later the Andes realised who their guest had been. 22 years later she returned to Ponca City and lived in the cottage until she died in 1987.

Raithby Roosevelt Husted, kidnapped by the FBI. Allegedly.

In 1966, the Moonlight hit the headlines again after Raithby Roosevelt Husted made a statement in room #9 that three months earlier the FBI had kidnapped him, put him into a padded cell and drugged him after he had given them evidence against the Minutemen. While giving evidence in a firearms trials against Minutemen members he admitted his statement had been false. Husted appears to have been something of a fantasist who wanted to be a spy, even taking correspondence courses on how to become a criminal investigator.

But that wasn’t the last time the Moonlight would court notoriety. For many years the Moonlight was owned by property developer Paul O Johnson who, despite owning five motels, claimed not to have a bank account. Johnson had a reputation for litigation, failing to keep up maintenance on his properties and would eventually be sentenced to a jail term for filing a false claim. As the 1970s rolled around, the motel slid downhill, becoming the regular scene of drug busts. Then the owner had the grand idea to start showing adult movies with a day rate of $10. A month later the place was raided and the manager, Steven Ballew, charged with showing indecent films – and he was showing them 24 hours a day. The case was dismissed due to incorrect search and seizure procedures.

There was little subtlety in the Moonlight’s advertising. It ran countless ads like this in the local newspaper.

Some months later the motel started showing X-rated films again and, almost a year to the day since the first raid, officers descended on the motel again, arresting the new manager. This time they had all their ducks in a row, two plain clothes officers had even rented a room beforehand to watch some naughty movies. A case went to court to ascertain whether one film, ‘The Opening of Misty Beethoven’ was obscene. Apparently, it was. The problem was that each film had to be judged as obscene individually – and the Moonlight had as many as 30 films available every day. Independence prosecutor Charles Sandage threatened to file charges every day against the motel.

Where the adult movie centre of Independence stood is now a hardware store. You can make your own jokes up!

The owner of the Moonlight, Bob Haskell (who conveniently lived outside the jurisdiction of the court as so couldn’t be prosecuted), pitched the whole affair as the Moonlight Motel taking a stand for personal liberties and against obscenity laws. In the end there was no need. In July 1980 a Missouri health official visited to order the motel to be closed for violating health and safety codes but found the place abandoned. A month later the Moonlight Motel burned to the ground. Today a hardware store stands on the site that once hosted a missing socialite, a would-be spy and an adult movie empire.

An early matchbook from the motel.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE APACHE DEATH CAVE

Gladwell Grady ‘Toney’ Richardson. Everything we know about the Apache Death Cave comes from this man.

In 1926 the tiny settlement of Two Guns, Arizona, was rocked by the killing of Earl Cundiff by Harry ‘Indian’ Miller. That episode is well documented but an enduring myth associated with Two Guns is far more nebulous and less easy to prove. That legend concerns the so-called Apache Death Cave.

As the story goes, in 1878, Apaches had raided two Navajo camps, killing everyone but three girls who were kidnapped. Other Navajo warriors attempted to follow the Apaches but were mystified when they appeared to vanish into thin air. Then, while scouting along the edge of Canyon Diablo, they noticed voices from beneath them and warm air coming up from a fissure in the ground. They quickly realised they were above a cave in which the Apaches, their horses and possibly the three Navajo girls were hidden.

Looking across to the famous cave.

They found the mouth of the cave and lit a fire intending to smoke out their enemies. Those who tried to escape were killed and when it was found that the Navajo girls were already dead, it was decided to kill all the Apaches in the cave in revenge. After those trapped in the cave had used all their water in an attempt to put out the flames, they cut the throats of their horses to use the blood to douse the fire. But, as the corpses of their horses piled up against the opening and the Navajo continued to fuel the flames with sagebrush, some forty-two Apaches are said to have died in the cave.

Harry ‘Indian’ Miller – unfairly blamed for the Apache Death Cave story?

Did it happen? At this length of time there is really no way of telling and there is considerable doubt as to how much the tale has been rewritten, exaggerated and embellished. What is clear is that Harry Indian Miller has been unfairly tarnished in many accounts and histories of Route 66 with starting and promulgating the myth of the ‘Apache Death Cave’. While it is true that Miller used the cave as a tourist attraction, he advertised it as ‘Underground Dwellings’ and probably fitted out the cave with suitable stage dressings to entertain visitors. However, there’s no evidence that the cave was ever used as a dwelling, which casts doubt on the idea of it being regular living quarters for the Apache.

A postcard of the Apache caves from the 1930s. Note no mention of death.

All photographs that exist of Two Guns during Miller’s tenure show the attraction advertised as the APACHE CAVES or the MYSTERY CAVE. Many accounts accuse Miller of clearing out the caves and selling Apache skulls but there is one fact which goes against this idea; Miller claimed to have Apache blood (whether full blood or half blood depends on which account you read) and while that claim is perhaps a little tenuous, as such he would have been unlikely to sell the bones of his ancestors. In late 1926, he and his friend and fellow trader Joe Secakuku announced a plan to build a dance floor in the cave, although this never came to pass. It would be forty feet by fifteen feet and for the use and entertainment of not only tourists but local Winslow residents. Had Miller believed – or even known – of the existence of the Death Cave story would he have turned the cave into first a tacky tourist attraction and secondly a dance hall? And even if he had been prepared to compromise his claimed heritage, would Chief Joe, a full blood Hopi, have gone along with the plan?

A later postcard, also with no mention of any death caves.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence towards the story of the Apache Death Cave being an exaggerated and embroidered (if not invented) story is that the facts emanate from one source; Gladwell Grady Richardson.

Thanks to the work of Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian, one Richardson tale has already been debunked. For years, people have spoken in awe of Canyon Diablo, a town on the edge of the canyon from which it took its name and a mile or so from Two Guns.

Originally a railroad camp, Canyon Diablo had a main street called Hell Street, fourteen saloons, ten gambling houses, four brothels and two dance halls, many of which stayed open twenty-four hours a day. It was said to be a lawless and dangerous place with a Boot Hill cemetery which was filled within a year with those who had suffered a violent demise. Six town marshals died in quick succession, the first lasting just four hours, the longest serving surviving a month. It was a place that made Tombstone seem like the most sedentary of suburbs.

There’s only one problem with this picture of Canyon Diablo: It never existed.

It was virtually all the imagination of Gladwell Richardson. In a time where very few documents existed – there is, for example, no record of a Canyon Diablo newspaper in the railroad camp – Richardson somehow magically managed to not only know how many saloons and brothels there were in the town, but was able to name them, too. “Nearly everything you’ve read is fiction,” says George Shaw, an archivist at the Arizona State Railroad Museum. “Never happened.” Richardson was a prolific author of Western stories which he penned under a variety of pseudonyms and it’s all too likely that his ability for conjuring up stories spilled over into his so-called narrative of Canyon Diablo.

Richardson also had a personal connection with Two Guns. He had worked in trading posts since he was a young boy and, in 1950, when his father SI Richardson, bought Two Guns, Gladwell and his wife Millie ran the place for several years and it was while living and working at the trading post that Richardson began writing a small book called Two Guns, Arizona. Published in 1968 and long out of print, this small tome appears to be from where the legend of Canyon Diablo and the embellished story of the cave originate. In his book, Richardson writes of Canyon Diablo; ‘For the brief span of its vicious life, more famous places like Abilene, Virginia City and Tombstone could not hold a candle to the evil of this end-of-the-railroad’s depravity. Murder on the street was common. Holdups were almost hourly occurrences, newcomers being slugged on mere suspicion that they carried valuables.’

The truth was that the town, like most railroad camps, was a place where people worked hard, perhaps had a little too much to drink on a Saturday night, but were too careful of their jobs to participate in much mayhem or murder. However, that doesn’t make for quite such an exciting story! By the time that Richardson wrote his version of history, the town had been gone for almost eighty years, meaning that there would have been very few people who had experienced Canyon Diablo first-hand, and so his account became universally accepted.

Richardson’s book also appears to be the source for the much-repeated story that, during the winter of 1879, the canyon was a hideout for Billy the Kid and his gang. Once again, it’s a great tale but the likelihood of it being true is extremely low. Robert M Uttley in his definitive biography of William H Bonney has The Kid in his home territory of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, throughout the time that Richardson claimed he was hiding stolen horses in the canyon.

Two Guns, Arizona also provides an exciting and entertaining narrative of the events of the Apache Death Cave, containing facts that can be found nowhere else. Indeed, it appears to be the sole history of the events of June 1878 for every subsequent retelling has drawn upon either the facts published in this book or in a longer article which appeared in Big West Magazine in 1967. The author of this piece was Maurice Kildare – and Maurice Kildare was one of Richardson’s many pseudonyms.

Although he was regarded as an expert on Western history – a notion promulgated by his many Western novels and by Richardson himself – Two Guns, Arizona was only one of two works of non-fiction that he wrote in his lifetime. The other was a work which Richardson clearly preferred to forget.

On 23rd April 1923, special officer JS Sullivan of the Arizona Eastern railroad arrested a young man in a boxcar at the Phoenix railroad yards early in the morning. It was a common enough incident and Sullivan had no cause to suspect the man of anything other than vagrancy. But a search at the police station of the man’s meagre possessions uncovered a diary in which the vagrant, who was identified as Gladwell Grady Richardson, had written a vivid first hand narrative of how he had killed a rabbi in a San Francisco hotel and then deserted the navy.

Richardson claimed it was simply a story he had been writing to keep himself amused which might have been more believable had Phoenix officers, upon investigation, not discovered that, on 3rd April 1923, a Rabbi Alfred G Lafee had indeed been beaten to death in the Gates Hotel on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. The details of the slaying corresponded to Richardson’s account in every way.

The Gates Hotel where Richardson killed Rabbi Lafee.

Nonetheless, Phoenix officers appear to have believed Richardson’s explanation that the diary was just a story. He stuck so consistently to this that Phoenix Chief of Police, Oscar Roberts, publicly stated that he felt the diary was a figment of the nineteen-year-old deserter’s imagination and he was an unfortunate victim of circumstance. It must have been embarrassing for the police chief when, the following day after this statement, Richardson changed his tune and made a full confession, waiving his right to be extradited to California.

Two days later he told his story before a grand jury. On 3rd April, Richardson had gone ashore from the USS Vigilant to Golden Gate Park where he had met a stranger to whom he referred to his diary as “the Jew”. His diary spoke of the man as “kind of nervous for some unknown cause”; the young Richardson may have been very naïve – or wished to appear so – for he accepted the stranger’s invite to take in a show and then spend the night at a local hotel.

The Gates Hotel today, renamed as the Fusion although basically unchanged on the exterior.

Richardson wrote in his account: “After the show we went to the Gates Hotel but he registered as Mr Lane. About 3.30am I was suddenly awakened by the Jew, my hand fell off the bed coming into contact with a cuspidor. I turned it on its side and emptied it. I swung the cuspidor and struck the Jew on the head. The Jew swung with his fist and hit me on the jaw. I then swung the cuspidor twice in rapid succession. The blood on my hands was bloody. I got up and turned the lights on. As I did my left hand left a print on a wall. The Jew was unconscious. At first I thought he was dead. He was breathing heavily and his head was between the bars of the head of the bedstead. I washed the blood from my arms and hands, put on my clothes, opened the door and walked out. The clerk was there so I lit a cigarette and asked him something about the weather. My voice sounded kind of queer, that was the only emotion I had

Back on the USS Vigilant, Richardson learned two days later that not only was the man a rabbi, but he was now a dead rabbi. He told a couple of people what he had done, a friend called Frank and a woman called Alice with whom he had had dinner two nights later and then he decided to go on the run from Goat Island Naval Training Station. As his diary relates, this action caused him more angst than the murder. In the entry of April 7th, he wrote: “The rabbi is dead. So now in the eyes of the law I am a murderer. Can’t say I feel like one. I’m also a deserter from the navy, that’s what I’m worried about. Wired dad to send $75. Discarded my bright, new uniform yesterday for a pair of overalls, shirt and sweater. I look like a bum now.”

Pleading self-defence as the victim of an ‘unnatural attack’, Richardson went through his story again in front of the grand jury and, on 15th May 1923, that grand jury refused to indict him on a charge of murder, holding that he was justified in defending himself under the circumstances. This should have automatically closed the case but Richardson was referred to the Superior Court which, on 29th June 1923, confirmed the grand jury’s decision and dismissed the charge of murder on the grounds, quite amazingly, of insufficient evidence.

As a deserter, Richardson should have been placed under immediate arrest by a naval guard but, according to contemporary newspaper reports he was allowed to leave the court on his own and voluntarily surrender to a naval assembling station on Yerba Buena island. It’s to be presumed that he did this; although that naval career appears to have ended a few months later, the foreword of Navajo Trader stating that he remained on active duty until 1924 and then was recalled into military service after Pearl Harbour, serving in Arizona, Indiana and the South Pacific. Then again, that same foreword also contains no whisper of his troubles in San Francisco in 1923.

In fact, Richardson appears to have successfully expunged any mention of the murder of Rabbi Lafee from his subsequent life, going on to be an organiser of the Flagstaff Indian Pow Wow and author of almost three hundred works of fiction. The tourists that he did welcome to Two Guns were generally those who were seeking out their favourite author and he continued to run the trading post until 1962 when he sold the business to Ida Ferne Jacobs Rawlinson who, just a year later, sold up to Benjamin F Dreher. Richardson dedicated his book to Dreher; it may have been a genuine desire on Richardson’s part to record the history of the place as he saw it, or it may have been commissioned by Dreher as publicity for the redevelopment of Two Guns. The fact is that book published in 1968 and an article written under one of his many pseudonyms, are the sole source of information on the now much-repeated story. And the first time that anyone had heard of the Apache Death Cave…

Gladwell Grady ‘Toney’ Richardson. Unreliable witness?

THE MAN WHO KILLED THE BEST OF HOUCK

Jim Keeton came from a local police family. The 27-year-old had been married for just ten months.

As you head east, towards Houck, Arizona, there are the remains of several handpainted billboards along the frontage road, sun-bleached and slowly falling to pieces. It was by one of these billboards that one of the more tragic episodes in Houck’s history unfolded on a cold February night in 1971, starting on the road that superseded Route 66 and ending on the old road itself in New Mexico.

That evening police patrol dispatchers received two messages almost at the same time. Both were from Highway Patrolmen in desperate circumstances, but these were separate incidents a couple of miles apart. Just west of Houck on I-40, Patrolman James Lee Keaton stopped a car for a number plate discrepancy. For the 27-year-old officer, who lived in Sanders, it should have been nothing more than a routine traffic stop on his local patch. From a police family – his father Homer had retired the previous year from the Highway Patrol and his brother Dennis was a patrolman in Holbrook – Keeton had served six years in the Army Reserve and had completed a degree in police science in 1968.

Marylou should have been at home that day, her mother was in the hospital giving birth to twin daughters. But fatefully she decided to go to school.

But behind the wheel of the ’68 Pontiac with the gold and vinyl top was 38-year-old Bertram Greenberg. That he was on parole after serving a prison sentence for extortion and had crossed the state line from his home in California might have been enough to warrant a stop, but Greenberg was the subject of an all points bulletin for a very different reason. Issued just hours earlier – and unlikely to have come to the attention yet of Patrolman Keeton – the APB declared Greenberg a suspect in the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Louise ‘Marylou’ Hill in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, on the afternoon of 4th February. A hiker had seen him dragging the body of the young girl into undergrowth and had noted the license plate of his car which was swiftly traced back to relatives of Greenberg.

 

 

Bertram Greenberg, serial rapist and sexual psychopath, was out on parole when he went on a spree that left four people dead.

Greenberg had a history of violence and mental illness that stretched back years. At the age of 23 he had been charged with robbery and battery after a bloodstained car in his garage was linked to an assault on a woman. As soon as he was released from jail he was arraigned on charges of raping a UCLA coed and a West Los Angeles housewife. He served just a year before being released and was swiftly rearrested on charges that he posed as a policeman to lure a woman into his car and rape her. He was once more imprisoned and paroled in 1963. Four year later he was returned to state prison after being convicted of extortion, having blackmailed a woman of whom he took nude photos. During that time he spent time at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, a special institution for mentally disturbed inmates.

 

The house in West Covina where Greenberg lived and from where he began his flight after the murder of Marylou Hill.

After killing Marylou, Greenberg had returned to his home in West Covina where he was visited by his parole officer, Robert Conway. During that visit, Greenberg was telephoned by relatives notifying that the car he was used was being sought by the police. Conway was suspicious enough to ring the police himself and ask why they were looking for the Pontiac. When they told him, he immediately advised them to put out a bulletin for Greenberg. But, by then, Greenberg was on the run.

At 4.14pm the following day, Officer Keeton pulled the Pontiac over on I-40 just west of Houck. A passing motorist saw the officer and another man struggling in the front seat of Keeton’s patrol car but, by the time he was able to turn around and return to the scene, the man was driving off in the Pontiac. Officer Keeton had managed to radio a distress call but he died at the scene, shot with his own service revolver. A few minutes later the Pontiac was stopped by Patrolman Don Allen Beckstead, this time east of Houck. Beckstead was also familiar with the local area as he lived in Houck with his wife and two young sons. Again, this should have been a simple traffic stop but, as Beckstead approached the car, Greenberg pulled out the revolver he had taken from Officer Keeton and fired. Shot in the stomach, Beckstead too managed to radio for help as Greenberg sped away.

Crossing into New Mexico on Route 66, Greenberg flagged down a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, telling the occupants he had a problem with his generator and that he needed a lift to Gallup. Once in the car, he produced the gun and then ordered them to drive up a dirt road towards an abandoned mine. Realising the peril they were in, James Brown and his wife, Karen Dianne, respectively a law student and school teacher on holiday from Missouri, lunged at the hitchhiker but were unable to disarm him. Greenberg forced Brown to strip to his underpants before sexually molesting his wife. Then he shot Brown in the back of the head before shooting Dianne in the head, too. James Brown died but Dianne was able to escape and would recover.

Aftermath in Gallup. Greenberg was shot down in a hail of bullets and trying to flee his car.

Stealing the yellow VW, Greenberg headed for Grants where he was finally stopped by local police and a barrage of handgun, carbine and shotgun fire at the junction of Highway 117 and I-40. The VW was virtually cut in half and skidded off the road. Greenberg tried to make a run but was cut down by police fire, some nine or ten bullets finding their target in his body and killing him on the spot. It transpired he had tried to stab himself with a pocket knife before the shooting, stabbing himself in the chest and wrist, almost severed his left hand.

 

Back in Arizona, help had arrived for Don Beckstead who was transported to McKinley Hospital in Gallup, New Mexico. Although his wound was extremely grave – a bullet from his fellow patrolman’s gun had punched through his small intestine, destroyed his left kidney and buried itself in the muscles of his back – Beckstead, against the odds, made it through the night and the following day was able to laugh and joke with his wife, Betty, and his boss, Lt Bert Zamborini, telling the latter there was no way he wanted a desk job. Betty spoke of her sorrow for Connie Keeton – the Keetons had been married just ten months – and how they’d all planned to have dinner together the following Wednesday.

Betty Beckstead (left) comforts Dianne Brown, the only survivor of that terrible night.

Beckstead was conscious enough to make a statement saying that he had only stopped Greenberg for an unsafe pass, not realising his colleague had been shot, as well speak briefly to a reporter. A story ran in the Arizona Republic on Sunday 7th February 1971 headlined ‘Wounded officer winning his fight for life’.

But later that day he went into renal failure. Although McKinley was a good hospital, the one thing it didn’t possess was an artificial kidney machine, so Officer Don Beckstead would have to be transported to Albuquerque. He died on the way. He was 28 years old.

A few months after his death, Officer Keeton’s widow, Connie (centre), and family set up a scholarship fund in his memory. Today the Northern Arizona University still awards the James L Keeton Police Science Memorial scholarship.

Both Betty Beckstead and James Keeton’s widow, Connie, would later take up positions as police dispatchers. Betty later said; “I’m pro-police, pro-patrol, so it was natural for me to come and work for the Highway Patrol and I love it. This is what keeps me occupied. Without this job I think I would have ended up in the state hospital.”

There was a poignant little coda to this story. A couple of days after Beckstead’s death, Reverend A.L. Dominy, the chaplain at Port Hueneme Naval Base in California received a package in the mail. Inside was a 15-inch wrench worth only a few dollars that was US Navy property. The writer of the note explained that the wrench had already been posted to his old Seabee outfit but had been returned to him because the unit had been decommissioned. He continued; “I am now a Christian and a highway patrolman and I just have to return this.” The note was signed Don Beckstead.

James L Keeton

Don A Beckstead

End of Watch – Friday 5th February 1971.

Don Allen Beckstead, father of two young boys, had no idea the minor traffic stop he would make would end his life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A WILD HONEYMOON ON ROUTE 66

The only photo thought to exist of Evelyn Mayer Blake and Donald Blake.

On 2nd June 1937, a Plymouth coupe with Ohio plates rolled up to the Lupton Port of Entry, the Arizona border checkpoint made famous in the film of The Grapes of Wrath. Inside were a teenage boy and girl. An inspector noticed that there were gun shells in the car and asked the pair to step out and hand over the gun to which the ammunition belonged. They did so – but then they each produced a pistol with which they threatened the checkpoint staff. Gordon Bartell and his wife, an elderly couple on holiday from Chicago, had the misfortune to be at the inspection station at the same time and soon found they would be continuing their trip to Los Angeles by bus when the teenagers stole their car.

The State Inspection point as the Blakes would have seen it.

When the car was searched, a marriage licence was found and the couple were named as Donald Blake, 16, and Evelyn Mayer, 15, both from Painesville, Ohio. Donald was a slender, cleancut youth who wore glasses, while his new bride was a sullen girl carrying several pounds of puppy fat. For the next two days, the search was concentrated on Arizona where it believed the honeymooners – they had been married in Greeley, Colorado, a few days before – were hiding out on reservation land. However, on 5th June they were caught in Valentine, Nebraska, after holding up a filling station attendant at gunpoint and stealing $80.96. They were still driving the Bartells’ vehicle when it slid off the road into a ditch. Theodore Witt, a passing trucker, went to their help but became suspicious of the pair and called the police instead. While they were being arrested, Evelyn shot at one of the police officers, grazing his hand.

The Cherry County Courthouse where the Blakes pled guilty in front of Judge EL Meyer. This is how it would have looked to the honeymooners; three years later it was remodelled and the tower removed.

Once in custody, the police found that they had four pistols, while Blake was carrying a rabbit’s foot and a billfold containing Evelyn’s picture, on the back of which was written ‘Evelyn Mayer, the girl I love’. Rather hopefully, Donald said; “I’m sorry this happened. I hope they won’t be too tough on us.” But the story had made headlines across the country and it was a misplaced hope.

As the pair confessed to filling station robberies in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska and New Mexico, their families were shocked. “Evelyn is a good girl, she’s a church member, too,” said her mother. “I never dreamed that she would have done such a thing.” As Evelyn had stolen $100 from her mother and taken her father’s car as they left Ohio, one might have thought Mrs Mayer would have an inkling that Evelyn wasn’t quite the perfect daughter…

Their capture and subsequent confessions came as a relief to more than just law enforcement officers. In Bernalillo, New Mexico, one Herbert Campbell had been lanquishing in the county jail, protesting his innocence on a charge of robbing the Phillips gas station at 4th and Marquette in Albuquerque (he’d been arrested when visiting a friend in jail). It wasn’t until the District Attorney received a telegram from the Sheriff in Valentine that identified Donald Blake as the real perpetrator of the crime that Campbell was released. His friend, Walter Duerr, was however the real deal and pled guilty to armed robbery.

The Nebraska State Reformatory for Women in York would be Evelyn’s home for four years.

Five days after their capture, Donald and Evelyn were both sentenced to seven years in the reformatory. It was Evelyn’s 16th birthday. They both applied for parole in 1940 with each family blaming the other. Evelyn, by now 18, told the parole board that Donald was going to run away and she wouldn’t let him go without her. She also blamed that pulp novels and movies about the West were partly responsible for her running away, a tactic also used by Donald at his parole hearing where he said, “At the time I read a lot of trash books, detective stuff. When we ran out of money we had a couple of guns and started to get it the easy way.” Although no mention was ever made in reports of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who had been shot to death just three years before the couple’s wild honeymoon, it seems quite likely that the pair may have taken them as inspiration.

The Nebraska Men’s Reformatory where Donald Blake spent six years.

At the parole hearing, Donald’s father put the blame squarely on Evelyn, saying that Donald had been doing fine in school until Evelyn, his first girlfriend, had come along, which was conveniently overlooking the fact that Donald had broken into several cars in the months before he went on his mad flight with his bride to be.

Both Donald and Evelyn had their sentences reduced to five and a half years which, with time removed for good behaviour, would see them released in early 1941. That wasn’t soon enough for young Donald. On 10th August 1940 he escaped from the Nebraska Men’s Reformatory, stealing a truck and a .22 calibre revolver. He used the gun to force Ronald Anderson to drive him

Briefly escaping in 1940, Blake carjacked Ronald Anderson and had him drive him to the Hill Hotel in Omaha.

to Omaha and then robbed him of $8.60. However, police later spotted Blake and, thinking he was acting suspiciously, arrested him. As he was taken into custody, a police broadcast came over the radio about the reformatory escape and he was identified. He had been free for just a few hours, but that escape and the armed robbery of Ronald Anderson would add another ten years to his sentence.

Evelyn seemed to have quietly made her parole in 1941 as her husband prepared to serve another decade behind bars. However, it was less than three years later that Blake walked out of the prison – this time legally – and immediately registered for the military, giving his current employer as the Gooch Milling Company in Lincoln, Nebraska. A few months later he enlisted at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, by which time he and Evelyn were divorced.

 

The Gooch Mill in Lincoln, Nebraska, which Blake gave as his workplace on leaving the reformatory

Little is known of Donald and Evelyn in later life. By the time that Evelyn died in 1997, she had also been known as Evelyn Otte and Evelyn Kramer. After his military service, Donald returned to his home town of Painesville where he lived for the rest of his life, marrying twice, both times to women more than ten years older than he and both of whom he outlived, dying in 2009. His wild honeymoon must have been a very distant memory by then.

 

Northern Arizona may have greeted the renegade honeymooners but it would soon regret that.

 

THE LOST GIRL OF ASH FORK

On Valentine’s Day 1982, as people waited expectantly for the mail or for a florist delivery, a Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was looking for a blown out tyre shed by a motorist on Interstate 40 eleven miles outside of Williams, Arizona. It was a cold and frosty morning, the temperature just above freezing when, just 25 feet from the interstate, he came across a girl face down under a tree. He knew immediately she wasn’t just sleeping – not in the cold and wearing only jeans – and just one glance at the decomposition of the body and the damage wreaked by animals on her face and right ear was enough to send him scrambling for his radio. And so began a mystery which haunts the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office to this day.

The section of I-40 from which she was dumped.

The stretch of interstate where the body was found is a long incline and truck drivers would frequently pull over to cool their brakes. It was all too likely to investigating officers that the girl had been dumped from a passing truck; a belt loop on her jeans was broken indicating she had been dragged, while a stopped truck wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. She could have been killed anywhere across the USA.

Detectives nicknamed the girl Sally Valentine because of the day on which she was found.

Sally Valentine’s striped jumper was found near her body.

A red and white striped jumper and a 36C bra was found near the body, but there was no way of identifying the girl from those.

But then Patty Wilkins, a waitress and the daughter of the owner of the Monte Carlo Truck Stop just outside Ash Fork, came forward. Following a description and sketch circulated by police, she said that a girl fitting that profile had come into the truck stop around 3am on the morning of 4th February 1982. She was accompanied by an older man and, while Patty was used to runaways and would notify the police, she saw no reason to so do, thinking the man was a relative while the pretty blonde girl was clean, well cared for and didn’t fit the look of the typical runaway. The girl was suffering from toothache and the man was concerned about her pain, the pair staying in the restaurant for an hour during which Patty gave the girl a junior aspirin that she tucked in her mouth. Other witnesses thought the girl was with two men, but Patty only saw her with a man in a two-tone, brown leather vest and a felt cowboy hat with a large peacock feather on the front.

Patty Wilkins who was possibly the last person to see the victim alive at the Monte Carlo Truck Stop. [Photo courtesy of the Arizona Daily Sun]

When they left, Patty thought no more about the pair until the news of the discovery of the body broke some ten days later. She told police that the girl who’d come into the truck stop was suffering from toothache and indeed an autopsy had discovered that the girl had gone through preparation for a root canal procedure a week before her death. Patty would then identify the jumper and jeans as those worn by the teenager. The girl was buried in Mountain View cemetery, Williams, in an unmarked grave until Patty raised the money – $187 – to give her a headstone. It said simply, Sally Valentine.

The case troubled Sgt Jack Judd who had been involved with it from the start. It concerned him that the young girl had no name, that no-one had come forward to claim her. So, over the next two years he would spend a thousand hours, much of it his spare time, poring over some 1632 FBI computer print outs of missing girls, sending out more than 1650 teletype messages to other law enforcement agencies. And, in July 1984, he found her.

Melody Cutlip before her disappearance in 1980.

Melody Eugenia Cutlip had been reported missing in 1980 by her mother, Edith L Gervais in Istachatta, Florida, when she was just fourteen. When she was found dead, she would have been just a few days past her sixteenth birthday. His initial identification was confirmed by Dr Homer Campbell, an Albuquerque orthodontist who claimed to be an expert in identifying people through their teeth and did so by comparing photos of the victim and Melody Cutlip. It was, even at the time, a controversial and unorthodox technique, and Campbell would subsequently be found to have misidentified other people. But, with the comparison of Melody’s height, weight and characteristics, it seemed to be a slamdunk.

Judd informed Mrs Gervais who refused to believe the news, even when Judd flew to Florida to speak to her directly. “What is out in Arizona, I don’t think is my daughter. I haven’t seen one ounce of proof,” said Mrs Gervais. She pointed out that Melody had never had any dental work of which she knew and that she’d been told the Arizona body had moles, which Melody didn’t. Judd put it down to denial, to not wanting to believe the worst. A stonemason added the name of Melody Cutlip to the Williams headstone.

And then, in 1986, Melody Cutlip came home.

Melody Cutlip after her return from the dead. [Photo by Kyle Danaceau]

Whether through hope or mother’s intuition, Mrs Gervais was right. Now engaged to be married, the 18-year-old had been travelling the country as a crafts saleswoman, according to her employer, Mitch Kilgore of Franklinton, Louisiana. When she visited Florida for some shows, she decided to contact her relatives and they found her working at a crafts show in a Jacksonville mall. She had never been to Ash Fork, never had a root canal and was decidedly not dead.

In 1987, Sally Valentine’s body was exhumed to give investigators a chance to x-ray her skull. Her DNA was entered into the CODIS system, but it has so far failed to make a match with any relatives. No-one has ever come forward to report a teenager missing from their family. Although Melody Cutlip’s family asked to have her name removed from the stone, this was never done and the unknown girl last seen near Ash Fork lies under two names which do not belong to her.

She lived twice as long as people thought, but still died so young.

Sadly, for Melody there was no happy ending. She had settled in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where she worked as a customer service representative for Budget Rent-a-Car and was engaged to Harold Buras. Coming home from work on 11th September 1998 in a storm, her car hit water on I-10 and crashed into an oncoming truck, killing her instantly. She was 32.

On the day the body was discovered in February 1982, Sgt Jack Judd said, “We don’t know who she is.” Almost forty years on, we still don’t know.

UPDATE! On 22 February 2021, the ‘lost girl of Ash Fork’ was positively identified by the Coconino Sheriff’s department as Carolyn Eaton, a 17-year-old runaway from St Louis, Missouri, who had disappeared around Christmas of 1981. Hopefully this will bring closure to her family.

In 2016, Carl Koppelman produced this reconstruction of Sally Valentine. She was indeed described as a very pretty girl who would ‘turn heads’ by Patty Wilkins. And yet no-one has ever missed her.

Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit is still investigating this case as a homicide. Any details can be passed to them on 928-226-5033.