Cold Case in SE Arizona
By BR Chitwood
It was a bold move back in the mid-eighties, but our decision was made to buy an eighty-four-acre spread of desert land in SE Arizona, some thirty-plus miles north of the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta. The land was in what was called Sunizona, Arizona. The property was near the junction of Routes 666 (known as the Devil’s Highway), referred to these days as State Route 91, a north/south highway into Bisbee, AZ and old Mexico, and Route 81, a winding east-west artery that snakes its way to the lovely Chiricahua Mountains, Dos Cabezas and ultimately into Willcox, AZ.
When the land broker first showed us the acres, we noticed many rabbits sleeping under Mesquite bushes among cacti, ironwood trees, and various vegetation. So, we decided to name our ‘Spread’ in honor of those sleeping rodents, ‘The Lazy Rabbit Ranch’. The best way to describe geographically our fenced-in eighty-four acres, it ran west to east at its longest stretch with a large hill of boulders rising in the middle of it all, with a dirt/gravel road twisting its way to the top from another road to the south that led out to Route 91.
We went in search of an area builder whom we felt we could trust to build the house on that rocky hill (there would be a ‘hitch’ in that ‘trust business’ later during the building process, but all was handled satisfactorily).
The builder proceeded to dynamite the hillside and hauled away major portions of the smaller rocks. Some of the bigger boulders were used to enhance the landscaping at the top of the hill…within a year we had a large two-story ranch house complete with a surrounding lawn all around the house, my writing office/library, and the ‘water people’ dug deep to find us an Artesian well of the best tested water we were ever to taste – sweet and pure.
Furnished most comfortably, the views from the forty-odd windows in the house gave 360-degree views of the awesome Sierra Madre Mountains south in Mexico. That view would often interrupt my writing in the library/office. The great views east were of the Chiricahuas, Dos Cabezas, and the Swisshelm Mountains. West, we had the Dragoon Mountains and the Cochise Stronghold. Just thirty minutes driving time took us southeast to Tombstone, the town too tough to die – and on to Sierra Vista and its military complex.
Life was good. Our business in Phoenix was good. I was doing commercials on Phoenix Television stations, film work, and stage plays. We were young, happy, and, like most people, our time was sometime interrupted with petty problems…nothing we could not handle, just, pesky. We thought about establishing an Alpaca farm, perhaps a Picacho Orchard, but a ‘writing idea’ would come along and all other ideas were placed on ‘hold’.
Busy, happy, family, writing, dreaming, all was just a few steps from ‘perfect’.
I started my ‘Bailey Crane Mystery Series – Books 1-6’ at the ranch, and soon, while doing a bit of researching, a local journalist related to me an unsolved crime that occurred two years before we moved to the area. The few details did their gnawing on me. I talked to the only store owner in the area and some of their patrons, and to Cochise County Sheriff’s personnel. Like most writers, I was haunted by the story, took it to bed with me each night until a possible scenario finally hit me.
The ‘crime’ involved a mother and her 14-year old daughter – just one of many children she and her husband produced over time.
The family had lived in this area for some time, an area that was often referred to as ‘The Sulphur Springs Valley’, their place of residence some three miles from the nearest country store where they shopped…the one we shopped and visited while living there.
Up to this point, I have hopefully given the reader some useful minutia regarding the area, but here is the real gist of this post…what the aforementioned journalist related to me, most of it covered in the following ‘Chapter One’ of my novel, Stranger Abduction.
After all these years, this Cochise County, Arizona crime has not been solved. My book offers a possible theory… One living sibling has a blog which has been on line for years urging anyone with information to come forth.
If anyone has information that could help law enforcement solve this ‘Cold Case’, please contact the Cochise County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office.
[Following is Chapter One of Stranger Abduction]
Mama Doris is forty-seven, still chipper and spry after delivering seventeen Paulson children. She is in good shape from all her family activities, her walking, and her exercises. She has a square face, thin lips, a good head of brown hair, and 147 pounds of body weight. She is a pleasant woman but suffers not well the ire and scorn of others. She is much like the land on which she lives, raw and rugged. She loves her children, plays and teases with them, and they know their limits with their mother.
Papa Jim is of medium height, dark hair, and angular face with a predisposition for television movies and sports. He works nights and sleeps away most of his days. Except for minor repairs and maintenance around the house, Papa Jim allows Doris the major portion of child supervision. From most perspectives, Jim’s life is dull and without any fulfillment. However, in his low-key projection he is happy and proud of his family.
At church Jim and Doris Paulson are greeted by another of their children who has moved a short distance down the road from the family home and is growing her own clan. The small church serves the conservative faithful well and gives them the spiritual sustenance they need to begin each new week. In this remote region of Arizona there are not too many people of another persuasion. These workers of the land see the world through a prism of simplicity without contrived political chicanery and complications. Their faith comes easy as they see their lives as gifts from a higher authority.
After church there is lunch and lounging, a quiet biblical acknowledgement of Sunday as a day of rest.
At 1:00 PM, Mama Doris announces that she is going to the store. “Your Papa needs cigarettes and I’m needing to walk off a lot of food.” She asks the youngest child if she would like to go along, but she wants to stay home and play games. Mama then asks Deena, her fourteen-year-old, “You want to go, pretty girl? There might be some ice cream in it for you.” The pretty blonde lass with shoulder-length hair smiles, sprightly raises her brows and is ready to go.
The trip to the RV Grocery store is about three miles and is often walked by family members, not only for the exercise but because they can stop, say hello and visit with the sister who lives along the way.
Mama Doris and Deena walk hand in hand along the gravel shoulder of the paved state road 181 that joins another state road 191 in their walk west. It is at that juncture the store is located. Mama and her daughter love to walk and their mood is light and carefree. Their conversation consists of much tease and inanity, kicking pebbles here and there in random delight.
They pass sibling Sharon’s house, stop and ask her and family to come to Sunday dinner. Doris and Deena leave in less than five minutes.
Along the way they wave at friends passing by in their cars and vans. There is one brown van with Colorado plates that is parked alongside the road, the doors wide open and two men leaning against the front fender. The two strangers look menacing as Doris and Deena pass. The men stare at them, sip their beers, throw the empty bottles off into the brush and return to the van. The van pulls away, gets back up to speed and disappears over the next rise.
For a quick moment, some dark thoughts come particularly for Doris but pass quickly as the van drives away. Deena is still young and uninformed enough that the van incident does not linger long.
They reach the Highway 191 grocery store, trade pleasantries, buy cigarettes for Papa, a couple of sundry items, and ice cream cones for their consumption on the walk home.
Doris and Deena leave the store as they came, in a happy mood. They walk east and skip along state route 181. A few cars pass and honk their horns, wave, and the mother and daughter wave back.
A short time after walking beyond the big ‘S’ curve on the highway they notice again the brown van that has slowed and given them ogles along with vulgar comments. Again, ominous thoughts are shared between Mama Doris and Deena. This time, the thoughts are slow to pass. Mama Doris particularly dwells on the van and the occupants, joins hands with Deena and they pick up an urgent walking pace. Deena senses, understands her mother’s impulses.
Near Ash Creek Road on State Route 181 the van is parked well off the highway in the gravel, both the driver’s and passenger front doors open with no one visible.
Doris and Deena are still a mile or more away from home. They stop some hundred yards back from the van, Doris’ arm instinctively pulls Deena closer to her. Now, there is real doubt and fright in their eyes. Should they go on or turn and retreat back toward the big ‘S’ curve where there are houses. Here, at this spot, they are vulnerable. There is nothing in sight that offers any eventual hope.
“Mama, what’s going to happen?” Deena’s voice changes to a fearful whine.
“Nothing, honey, whoever they are, and, wherever they are, they’re just wanting to scare us a bit. Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’m with you.”
What Doris cannot tell Deena is that she worries about what she sees on television, about young girls like Deena being molested and hurt badly, or, much worse. ‘What can I do?’ Doris thought, ‘We must keep walking. We can’t just stand here. Maybe the men in the van are just poking around in the desert and will be leaving soon. Maybe we can get past the van and get on home and laugh about all of this.’
“Let’s hurry, honey, take my hand and let’s walk fast. We’re probably just letting our minds make us crazy. Come on, let’s go.”
Doris and Deena cross to the other side of the road, away from the parked van, quicken their pace, their wide and fearful eyes now focused dead straight ahead beyond the brown object of their unease. Once they get beyond the van, they can relax and maybe run to the nearest house and call the sheriff’s office. Doris wants to believe that there is nothing to fear, but there is something palpable running through her that she has never before felt.
Deena is so young, so pretty, and their ‘birds and bees’ talks have calmly outlined the ‘girl’ activities she will have to handle, her periods, the sanitation issues, the boy and girl encounters. She is such a good girl. Please, God, let this be just a good lesson for us. I promise never to walk this road again with any of my children.
Gravel noise of rushing feet behind them, hands grabbing at them, they start to run, screaming madly in their fear. Anxiety is measured by the bulging beats of their temples, and they fight instinctively, flailing out at the men with wild hands and feet. The mother and daughter are being pulled apart by two men who smell of alcohol and cigarettes. Their arms and legs no longer move. Strong arms act as vises as they are lifted from the road shoulder and carried to the van. As they are placed in the van Doris and Deena try to kick out but can find no leverage. Their arms are tightly grasped. They still scream through the warm desert air, words, half-words, mad soulful cries of anguish, pleading, praying to their God but they are not to be heard. The sounds are muted by the breezes rustling in the sagebrush. Tears flow from the tormented eyes of Doris and Deena, their thoughts swirling inside their fear, nearing some catatonic edge of unreality.
Only seconds pass, and no cars are passing on route 181. No nearby houses where someone is watching and calling 911. The two men have yet to speak, only grunts of foul displeasure. Inside the van they place tape over the mouths, bind tightly arms and legs where any movement is impossible. The man called Eddie pulls a small box from the glove compartment, fills a syringe and quickly inject both Doris and Deena in the arms. Then Doris and Deena are pulled deeper into the dark and windowless rear of the van.
All doors are closed and locked. There is tinted glass on the windows so no one can see inside. Conscious of the possibility of traffic, Eddie quickly drives away, going west toward the junction of route 191.
In their small dungeon of despair, Doris and her fourteen-year-old daughter try to move closer to each other but find their efforts wasted by some metal tool box between them. Their eyes make contact in the dim light and there is an overwhelming sadness and tragic reality abiding there.
The two men finally begin to talk.
“What’s the plan, Eddie? Are we going south?” queriess the one who occupies the passenger seat.
“I need to make a phone call first. Don’t you remember the instructions? I’ll let you know when I get it all worked out. One thing, Carl, don’t be messing with the young one. I know your raging ‘appetites’. This could be big for us. Don’t go messing it up. Got me? Loud and clear?”
“Got you! Loud and Clear! No messing around.”
The words drifted back to the dark rear of the van, verbal darts through fragile hearts and minds of the imprisoned ones.
[End of Chapter One: Stranger Abduction]
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