This is one of the early cases as an assistant D.A. my grandfather, J.V. Gallegos, writes about investigating. The story takes place in late September and early October 1941.
I found a few associated articles in various New Mexico papers, including the Albuquerque Journal on the murder of Maggie (Baca) Wilker. I love gathering the various articles as the investigation progressed and what was reported and then go back and see my grandfather’s story as well. His story is a sort of a “behind the scenes” account of the investigation. He includes more details on interviews, local people he worked with and his personal observations and accounts throughout the investigation, which are my favorite reads.
I like to have images and any other artifacts I can find along with the stories. It makes the story more real to me and gives a better sense of the events. I try to be as accurate as possible, but sometimes I just make some guesses. This is one of those times, at least for now, until I find more details. I pulled an image from some historic archives of the old Tucumcari Steam Laundry, which I am guessing is the laundry building where Maggie’s body was actually discovered. The picture I have (based on perhaps how folks are dressed) was probably taken anywhere from 1915-1920 or so and I think it was located, not far from the railroad depot, at 219 East Turner Avenue in Tucumcari, NM. (Image: Tucumcari Steam Laundry)
Apparently located not too far from the laundry, was the Glenrock Hotel and bar. I found an old image and ad of the Glenrock Hotel dating back to 1907 (Images: Hotel Glenrock and ad). The Glenrock bar was where Maggie was last seen with her assailant. So it seems, the Glenrock had been around for many years by the time this story takes place.
—This is taken from my grandpa’s own story on the Maggie Wilker’s murder case. —
In late September 1941, we were called to an old abandoned laundry where the body of Maggie Wilker had been found. She had been dead for some hours. She was around 50 years old (note from the newspaper reports, she was listed as being 42 years of age). Sheriff Claude Moncus, Deputy Sheriff Hubert Beasley, Chief of Police Jim Durrett, Fred White, Justice of the Peace and myself, acting as Assistant District Attorney, were called to the scene of the crime.
Maggie had been known to drink heavily on occasion and as the weather was bitterly cold, the sheriff and deputy Durrett thought she might have died of exposure.
Sheriff Moncus left and Durrett and I stood there and surveyed the crime scene. Maggie’s purse lay about 10 or 12 feet from her. Looking over the body, the purse laying so far from her, I had a feeling things were not right. It might have been exposure, but I suspected a homicide. I ordered an autopsy.
Dr. A. T. Gordon performed the autopsy. I was present. As he examined her vital organs, he found that she had had two previous heart attacks. There was no evidence in the body cavity of foul play. I requested that the doctor remove her skull. When Dr. Gordon pulled back the skin from her skull a blood clot was revealed. My suspicions were correct!
I drove to the bungalow court that Maggie Wilker had operated, renting rooms for her livelihood. I picked up her son at the court and we drove through town. In town we met Ramon Ortega, who told us that he had not seen Maggie for at least four days. He rented his room from her. (Note: Even though grandfather doesn’t state his name, based on a census from 1940, her son could’ve been Tony Garcia, who was 19 in 1940.)
That day Deputy Hubert Beasley had talked with some children who told him they had seen Ramon Ortega in front of the Glenrock Bar with Maggie the night she was killed. I did not say anything to Ramon about this information.
Ramon Ortega was arrested and taken into custody. He would not admit that he had killed Maggie Wilker. He and three other young men admitted to raping her. He said Maggie had been drinking that night and they had convinced her to go to the old laundry with them. We called the D. A., Turner Hensley, from Portales and he arrived the next morning. That morning Ortega finally admitted to the murder of Maggie Wilker.
Ramon Ortega pled guilty to murder and rape, the other men pled guilty to rape. Ortega was convicted of second degree murder and rape, the other two of rape. All were sentenced to the penitentiary. (Note: In the articles I have found Ortega was only convicted and sentenced for the murder, not rape. ) The other men were sentenced for rape.
Among the investigators , Hubert Beasley was a natural. He would sink his teeth into a case and he wouldn’t let go. I don’t recall any case where we did not find the culprit. We did not always get a conviction, but most of the time we did.
—That was my grandfather’s story on the case. After posting this story, I discovered this case was somewhat “famous” back in day thanks to Tucumcari and Quay County Then and Now. See below.–
My grandfather never mentions in his story about the case, but apparently a version (somewhat dramatically enhanced of course) of this murder investigation made it’s way into 1940s pop culture.
Thanks to Tucumcari and Quay County Then and Now founder/editor Christian Mericle for sharing some great old snapshots from the article and the actual story with me taken from Startling Detective Magazine.
This was a great find and the shots are awesome, as they put a face to some of the real people who were involved in case, including a picture of Maggie. In addition, I found it interesting that the magazine article never mentions a pretty big part of the story, the rape.
There are a few great early versions of the complete “Startling Detective” magazines online (as I have yet to find this one in particular). Check out Internet Archive for some pulp detective fun.