History of helping

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The 1970s might not seem like the wild, wild west, but for residents living on the eastern side of Valencia County, it might as well have been.

For people living in the unincorporated part of the county — a county that stretched all the way to the Arizona state line before Cibola County was created in 1981 — with a sheriff’s department of six, crime was almost a daily occurrence.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: A hat belonging to former New Mexico State Police Officer J.O. Jennings is part of the historic display about the Eastern Valencia County Citizens Patrol. Jennings was a training officer assigned to the EVCCP.

Because there were only a few deputies on duty at any given time, the residents of eastern Valencia County decided to take matters into their own hands.

Working with and under the authority of the sheriff’s department, the Bosque Farms Citizens and Volunteer Deputy Association was formed in 1971.

“This has always been a community with residents willing to help each other, said Bob Courtney, village of Bosque Farms resident.

Courtney wasn’t a volunteer with the association but, thanks to his work with the Bosque Farms Historical Exchange Forum, he discovered the nearly decade-long time frame in which a group of volunteers patrolled the streets of the eastern communities, working to keep people and property safe.

“As far as I can tell, this is part of Bosque Farms’ and the rest of the county’s history that hasn’t really been documented,” he said.

Courtney began researching the association, contacting former members, mayors and police chiefs for information, rosters, pictures and pieces of uniforms long packed away.

“Several people said to me, and now they didn’t do this for the recognition, but they told me they never thought anyone would remember them,” Courtney said. “And that’s a shame. They were all volunteers, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They worked all day, then patrolled at night.

“To me,” he said, “that is the noblest act of volunteerism, when you lay down your life to protect others.”

After nearly a year, in January 1972 the association became a nonprofit group called the Eastern Valencia County Citizens Patrol.

In the eight years of its existence, the citizens patrol worked with three sheriffs, Emiliano Castillo, Nick Sanchez and Lawrence Romero. saw the incorporation of the village of Bosque Farms, served under the village’s first mayor and police chief and weathered two tragedies.

According to old reports, in the late 1960s, eastern Valencia County experienced a burglary rate of almost two break-ins a day.

As the patrol became more of a presence, those reports dropped to a few per week and finally a handful a month.

The 30-plus men and women answered to the county sheriff but paid for their own uniform, badge, gun and ammo. They even drove their own vehicles when out on patrol.

“The volunteers would work all day, come home, put on the badge and uniform and patrol,” Courtney said. “And their families should be commended. So often, they were taken away from their families and they never knew what they would encounter on patrol.”

When the volunteers were out on patrol, they weren’t alone. Thanks to a volunteer network of citizen-band radio operators, the folks on patrol kept in touch with each other and were dispatched where they were needed.

Frequently, the wives of the volunteers monitored the radios while they went about their housework, fielding calls between afternoon ironing and getting supper started.

“They were not only a vital communication link, but essential to the safety of the deputies and the overall success of the organization,” Courtney said.

From 1972 to 1976, Larry Johnson served with the citizens patrol. He heard it was getting started and decided to volunteer.

“I really got to enjoy patrolling,” Johnson said. “I met a lot of people and got to know the community well.”

One of the highlights of going out on patrol was his frequent partner, Bo Diddley, whose real name was Ellas McDaniel.

“Every time he was in town, he would ask for me,” Johnson said, smiling broadly. “He was my man.”

The famed rhythm and blues musician was more that just Johnson’s friend. He was a supporter of the citizens patrol as a whole. Diddley helped with numerous fundraisers for the group and even bought two patrol cars for them, personally delivered from California by two of his band mates, Johnson said.

During his time with the patrol, a lot of things happened, both good and bad, Johnson said. He remembers working closely with the New Mexico State Police, the patrol blending seamlessly with the larger organization.

“We were all working for the common good,” he said. “We respected them and they respected us.”

And like any law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer, Johnson never knew just what he would encounter out in the night.

One evening, he and his partner for the night, Charlie Wasmer, got a call to a house on the North Bosque Loop. A woman had a pistol and was threatening the babysitter. Two children were in the house.

Wasmer went to the door while Johnson stayed outside with a rifle trained on the woman through a window. Wasmer was able to take the gun away from her and no one was hurt during the incident, but Johnson said he will never forget the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing he might have to pull the trigger.

Johnson had fond memories of Wasmer, a plumber by day and officer by night. Wasmer’s death in 1977 devastated Johnson.

“After that, it just wasn’t the same,” he said.

In August 1977, Wasmer, an officer with the village police department by then, and volunteer officer Rick Switzer were driving when a car came around a curve and nearly hit their police vehicle.

The officers, in talking to the driver of the suspect vehicle, learned that she was Ruth Manus, 51, who lived only about 150 yards from where they stopped her.

At about 9 p.m., as the officers continued their investigation of the accident and Manus’ driving habits, her husband, William Manus, 58, approached the group and opened fire with a double-barrel, 12-gauge shotgun.

He hit Wasmer with both barrels, once in the chest and once in the face. The gravely wounded officer managed to shoot the husband and get to his police car and call for help before he died.

Switzer also shot Manus, who survived his wounds and was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault.

“I’ve got to give Bob a lot of credit for undertaking this project,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think anyone would ever do something like this.”

That was a rough year for the volunteer patrol and law enforcement across the county.

Just six months before Wasmer’s shooting, 20-year-old Lollie Tipton was abducted at the Circle K store in Peralta, where she was working the graveyard shift.

Despite a massive manhunt, Tipton could not be found.

Just the month before, in January 1977, Valencia County Sheriff Lawrence Romero had been sworn in to his first term. The newly-elected sheriff was at his wit’s end.

On a hunch from his wife, Hazel, Romero showed a rough composite sketch around a bar near the Circle K. The bartender recognized the man and soon William T. Altum was arrested.

Altum had recently been released from a mental institution after having committed a similar kidnapping and armed robbery in Kansas.

Tipton did not survive her ordeal. Using a map that Altum drew to show where her body was, the police discovered her remains in a culvert in southeast Albuquerque. The young mother had died of a massive skull fracture.

Although not much has been recorded on the history of the patrol, Courtney believes the volunteers help mold the character of Bosque Farms.

“I consider it a privilege and an honor to recognize these folks,” he said.

During his research, Courtney found that while the patrol group was formed out of need, the volunteers were by no means operating alone.

“They were part of a larger, cohesive law enforcement family,” he said.

In the eight years it functioned, the patrol helped agencies such as the Bosque Farms Police Department, New Mexico State Police, Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, and on at least one occasion the FBI and the mounted patrol.

“They didn’t work in isolation. They protected and supported each other,” Courtney said.

But even while they worked together in harmony, there was one thing just for the EVCCP. It’s own exclusive 10 code — 10-101 for coffee.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.