“You better pray that I don’t get out because I’ll kill you if I do.” said Bobby Gene Garcia to my grandfather, District Judge J. V Gallegos, both times he stood before him in court.
Bobby Gene Garcia was convicted for murder in the first degree, for the murder of Josie Baker, his sister-in-law, and Jerry Wignall, a Tucumcari Police Sergeant.
Years following this 1966 Tucumcari double murder, the story takes on some interesting twists and connections. After a little further research on the murderer, I discovered a connection between Bobby Gene Garcia and Leonard Peltier, well-known American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, convicted in the 1970’s of having murdered two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. Peltier’s case became rather famous and controversial after the irregularities in his extradition and trial came to light, and his supporters consider him a political prisoner.
However, I want to step back and focus on the Tucumcari story. In the fall of 1966 is when it started. In my grandfather’s notes he tells about his experience with Bobby Gene Garcia, while he was District Judge in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
—Here are my grandfather’s notes on the story around the Bobby Gene Garcia murders.—
Bobby Gene was about 20 years old and in jail on car theft, at the request of District Attorney Victor Breen. Breen didn’t have strong case…but he didn’t want to dismiss the case against Bobby Gene just yet either. I asked him why he wouldn’t dismiss it, and he turned to me and said, ”I need to have something over his head so he will behave.”
Garcia was released with instructions to come back in a week and report to the Court. If he had not violated any laws during that time, he could continue without bond.
On the day he was designated to appear in my chambers, he walked in and had both hands in his coat pockets and appeared very nervous. I told him, “You can have another week without posting bond.” He quickly left my chambers.
I learned that after leaving my office, Bobby Gene went to city hall and asked Sergeant Wignall if he would release his brother who was in jail. Sargent Wignall refused and told Bobby Gene, “Only the Court has the authority to release your brother.” That is when Garcia shot Wignall, who later died.
We later found out that Bobby Gene had also killed his sister-in-law that same day. Garcia was convicted of murder in the first degree in both cases, in two different trials. In both trials Garcia told me that I had better pray he didn’t get out because he would kill me if he did.
Several months passed and we had learned Garcia did escape from the New Mexico State Penitentiary. Not long after that, Victor Breen came up to me and asked if I was wearing a gun. I told him, “I’m not carrying a knife or a gun.” Breen told me, “Well, I’m carrying gun!”
The next day Breen came into my office and told me that while he was stopped at a red light some youngsters had set off some fire crackers near his car. “I jumped two feet out of my seat!” he said. “Ha! Did you have to change your underwear?” I asked him jokingly.
After reading my grandfather’s story, I gathered up a variety of news stories for more details. That led me to more stories about Bobby Gene Garcia after Tucumcari and eventually his death in 1980.
According to 1966 news reports, including one from the Amarillo Globe News (Image: New Mexico Officers Grab Gunman, Nov. 10, 1966), back in Tucumcari, Garcia was apparently “in a rage” when he made that visit to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Josie Baker. Bobby shot Josie in the head and twice in the chest at her mother’s house.
Later that day, Garcia went to the police station radio room in an attempt to free his brother, Albert from jail. He stuck the shotgun over a half-door and pointed it at City Police Sergeant Jerry Wignall and demanded his brother be released. Garcia then went into the room and made individuals in radio the room stand against the wall. He told Wignall to get the keys to the jail, when Wignall leaned over Garcia shot him. Wignall later died.
Garcia then turned to Mrs. Simpson, a city police dispatcher, who was also in the room. He told her to get the keys. Mrs. Simpson told Garcia that his brother, Albert, had been transferred to county jail. Garcia fled the police station, with Mrs. Simpson as his hostage in tow.
Ralph Murry, Mrs. Simpson’s son, who was in the radio room at the time, shouted over the police radio “Jerry’s shot and my mother’s been taken hostage!”
As Garcia left with Mrs. Simpson down the street, Officer Crespin followed and fired at Garcia and Garcia fired back. Crespin was wounded from the gunfire.
Garcia continued with Mrs. Simpson as his hostage. About 3 blocks further down the street, is where he entered the downtown drugstore.
Soon after, Sheriff Moncus and several police officers followed. They told him if he didn’t let Mrs. Simpson go they would shoot him. Eventually Garcia put down his gun and said, “Sheriff, you can take me.”
Following this double murder, Garcia continued to make the news. Garcia was originally sentenced to be executed in New Mexico, but when the State Legislature abolished the death penalty in the late 1960s, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. In 1967, was Garcia’s first escape from the New Mexico State Pen. Then in 1969, Garcia had been moved from New Mexico to a maximum security prison in Marion, Ill. for the safety of the guards and inmates. According to a news report, while in the New Mexico State Pen, Garcia had repeatedly attacked several inmates and prison guards and could not be grouped with other prisoners, and in that situation, the State was not able to provide rehabilitation programs (Image: “Transfer of Garcia Approved, Clovis News-Journal, October 16, 1969).
Then in early 1971, he was returned to the New Mexico State Pen, and three months later escaped again. In that escape, Garcia was on the run for about a week until he was caught. In the news, Garcia tells of his “vacation” (Image: “Capture in South Valley Ends Garcia’s Freedom”, Albuquerque Journal, May 17, 1971).
Garcia was transferred in 1973 to the California State Prison at San Quentin. In January 1976, he and another “life termer” escaped from their cells and were found about three hours later under a furniture factor elevator.
In March 1978, Garcia was convicted of a third charge of first degree murder in the death of a fellow inmate in the federal prison in Marion, Ill. (Image: “New Mexican is Convicted”, Albuquerque Journal, Mar. 29, 1978).
Soon after, Garcia found himself in a federal maximum security facility located near Lompoc, California. This is where Garcia met Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement (AIM) activist who was serving two life terms for the 1975 slayings of two FBI agents in South Dakota. On July 20, 1979, Garcia, Peltier and Dallas Thundershield escaped together from the facility (Image: “NM “escape artist” fails recent attempt”, July 1979). Thundershield was shot to death by prison guards. Garcia was quickly captured. Three days after, Peltier was captured.
I discovered a detailed document written about the 1979 escape by one of the former FBI agents on the case. The story was written in a Historical Committee Column from a publication called “The Grapevine” and linked on “The Heart Society”, a former FBI agents foundation website. The article (“Leonard Peltier’s Prison Escape by Robert J. Ladd”) provides some background on the prison at the time, the escape, and also the prisoners. It even includes some information on what happened after the escape, including the trial and what followed for Bobby Gene Garcia.
In December 1979, Peltier was found guilty on escape as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm. Garcia was found guilty on escape. Garcia and Peltier both received consecutive five-year sentences on escape.
A couple months after the trial, in February 1980, Paulette D’ Auteuil married Bobby Gene Garcia while he was in prison (California Marriage index, 1960-1985). On December 13, 1980 Garcia was found in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., hanging from a cell window with a bedsheet tied around his neck. His death was confirmed a suicide (Image: Ex-N.M. Convict’s Death Confirmed, Albuquerque Journal, May 26, 1981). Paulette was listed on his death certificate as his wife (Bobby Gene Garcia Death Certificate). A quick Google search can easily find that Paulette more recently has spoken about about the life and case of Leonard Peltier and has been active in the National Jericho movement.
In 2017, the Office of the Pardon Attorney announced that President Barack Obama had denied Peltier’s application for clemency. Peltier is currently in prison in the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida.