John T. Hutchings Murder Case

John Towers Hutchings was born in Birmingham, England in 1887. By 1911, he was living in Alamogordo, New Mexico where he married the former Mary Simms. Newspaper reports said he had enlisted in the United States Army and been a driver for General John J. Pershing at one point. He was said to be the General’s chauffeur during the unsuccessful expedition to attempt to capture Pancho Villa. At the time of his death in 1919, Hutchings was a car dealer, garage owner and sometime race driver living in Alamogordo. Hutchings was also said to have previously been a chauffeur for Senator Albert Fall, possibly before the war.

The years after 1910 saw a great increase in the availability and popularity of automobiles and their popularity. A series of road races were organized between El Paso and Phoenix and also from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Many more races were organized in the southwest, as well.

One such race began in El Paso in early November, 1919. One of the drivers was John T. Hutchings in a Buick. On November 2, 1919, as his vehicle neared Lanark, New Mexico (roughly 10 miles west of Anthony, New Mexico) and still only about sixteen miles out of El Paso, driver Hutchings was struck by a bullet that entered his back and lodged near his spine, after passing through the automobile seat . The vehicle was traveling 45 miles an hour at the time. His “mechanician,” then state representative Oliver Milton Lee, said he had heard six shots. Hutchings was rushed back to El Paso where he died from the bullet wound. Lee drove the car back to El Paso, obtained a firearm and returned to the scene with a local judge, W. B. Howe, and the authorities took into custody eight individuals, four women and four men.

One of the men, Major F. M. Scanland, was ultimately charged with the killing of Hutchings, but a newspaper report quoted Scanland as saying that the group was target shooting by the road and that the shooting was accidental.

Major Scanland was originally from Kentucky and had served in Europe in the United States Army during World War I. While there, he had been exposed to poison gas and had been in El Paso at the Army hospital at Fort Bliss for treatment. Scanland said that he and his companions were target shooting with pistols by the side of the road and happened to fire into the Hutchings vehicle as it passed by. He first admitted but later denied that he had fired the fatal shot, saying that they had passed their weapons around between them.

Scanland was tried in El Paso and in March, 1920 he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the killing and sentenced to ten years in prison. Scanland’s counsel filed a motion for a new trial, which motion was denied. His counsel then filed an appeal to the New Mexico supreme court. While the appeal was being considered, Scanland was released on $25,000 bond.

While the supreme court appeal was pending, Scanland was again mentioned in the press, only this time it was to report his death. An article on October 23, 1920 in the El Paso Herald, shown below, stated that Scanland’s remains had been found near Washington, D. C. He had been beaten to death and his body had been concealed in bushes before it was found.

Image credit: El Paso Herald, Oct. 23, 1920

Washington, D. C. police theorized that Scanland had been killed in Alexandria by two unnamed individuals. One individual is said to have threatened Scanland. Newspaper articles also refer to a woman who was mentioned in connection with the case as having been a possible witness in connection with some aspect of it. No mention can be found that anyone was ever charged with the murder of Major Scanland.

A second person who went by the name of “Chalk” Altman, a former undersheriff of Doña Ana County, had also been arrested and charged with first degree murder in March of 1920. No mention of the disposition of such a case can be found in newspaper archives. The supposition is that the Altman case could have been dismissed once the case against Scanland was concluded.

Of the individuals in the story, John Towers Hutchings was buried in Monte Vista Cemetery in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Frank Murphy Scanland was buried in Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Rumors and questions surround the case. Was Hutchings’ death a simple accident? If not, what would have been the motive or motives for it. Who fired the fatal shot? Who killed Major Scanland? Was his murder connected to the Hutchings case or some other situation? Was his murder by someone seeking revenge for Hutchings’ death? If so, who would that have been? What was Scanland doing in Washington? He had recently been discharged from the Army. Was he trying to get reinstated and rejoin the military? The questions remain.

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The Domínguez and Escalante Expedition

Image credit: Albuquerque Journal

Almost 250 years ago, two friars set out from northern New Mexico to find a northern route to a new settlement and the related missions in Monterey, California. The idea of a northern route was to see if there might be a way to avoid the difficulties of the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert.

The expedition was organized in Santa Fe. The two Franciscan friars, Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Father Francisco Atanasio Domínguez were the leaders of the project. They were unsuccessful in reaching California, turned back and returned to Santa Fe the next year. However, their efforts were significant in many ways, including the fact that their maps and observations of natural landmarks were used to guide other explorers who came later to the Four Corners area.

Domínguez was in charge and organized the expedition, engaging the help of Escalante. They began their journey near the end of July, 1776 with provisions, some weapons and other individuals. They first headed north into what is now Colorado. They soon encountered the Yutas (Utes) and persuaded two of them to join the group as guides. Northwest of what is now Durango, Colorado, the party came across some pueblo ruins later given the names of the Domínguez and Escalante Pueblos. They were excavated many years later and found to date back to the Anasazi period as early as about 1100 AD.

They continued heading northwest until they turned west into what is now Utah when they had reached the southern part of what is now known as the Dinosaur National Monument by about the middle of September. They continued west, again encountering more of the Ute band and engaged one of them to act as a guide. However, their providence was not to last. That far north, winter arrives earlier than in the more southerly climates and their newly engaged guide abandoned the group reportedly after witnessing the mistreatment of one of the servants.

Running low on provisions, facing winter and being without a guide, the party voted and agreed to endeavor to return to Santa Fe, continuing south along the Colorado River. Along the way, they were forced to consume the remainder of their livestock. They also killed and ate many of their horses.

They finally arrived in Santa Fe in early 1777 with the benefit of provisions from the Hopi and other tribes along the way. Artifacts from the expedition include a map by artist and cartographer Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco and Escalante’s journal. Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco is a name that will be familiar to some as he was one of the first people of European descent to reflect Chaco Canyon on a map, which he did in 1774. He was born in 1713 in Spain and died in 1785 in Santa Fe.

Domínguez was born in Mexico City. In 1777 he was recalled to Mexico and served as chaplain of presidios in Nueva Vizcaya. He was at Janos, Sonora, Mexico, in 1800. His exact place of death and date of death, but he died sometime between 1803 and 1805, presumably in Mexico. The Dominguez Pueblo in southwestern Colorado is named for him.

Escalante was born in Spain in 1750 and died in Parral, Mexico, in April 1780, while returning to Mexico City for medical treatment. Escalante namesakes include Escalante Desert, Escalante River, Escalante (town in Utah), Escalante Pueblo (Colorado), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the Escalante Elementary & High schools (Rio Arriba County, New Mexico).

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Colfax County

The area now known as Colfax County was originally part of Taos County, one of the first nine counties created in 1952, when New Mexico became a territory of the United States. In 1859, Mora County was established out of the eastern section of Taos County and then ten years later in 1869, Colfax County was subdivided from Mora.

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Governor Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca

Governor C. de Baca was the second elected governor of the new state of New Mexico. He was the first Hispano elected governor of any state. According to newspaper account however, a serious illness manifested itself during the campaign in which he was elected. His inauguration took place in a local hospital or sanitarium January 1, 1917 and was attended only by a few people. Accounts said that he had been suffering from pernicious anemia. The governor was then transferred to Los Angeles for more aggressive treatment but it failed to produce favorable results and the newly elected governor died on February 18, 1917.

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The Story of “One Nail” Bob Hale

As told by Inspector Hartman of the Colorado stock growers’ association in the Hastings Daily Gazette-Journal (Hastings, Nebraska), 23 Apr 1884:

“One Nail” Bob referred to a cowboy named Bob Hale, in some accounts called Bob Cole, on the John Chisum ranch near Roswell. The cowboy got the nickname from having one fingernail that was nearly two inches long. Hale was described as a desperate and quarrelsome character. Chisum is said to have warned Hale that he would get himself killed if he did not behave himself, but Hale continued in his ways. Hale is said to have had a penchant for getting drunk. When he was drunk, other cowboys stayed away from him which led him to believe that they were afraid of him. Eventually he stopped taking orders from the ranch foreman.

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Thomas Tate “Tom” Tobin

The San Luis Valley of Colorado and New Mexico was once part of the Territory of New Mexico in an early configuration of Taos County. Now most of it is in Colorado, but some still extends into New Mexico. As you can see from the map below, except for the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the entire river once flowed through the New Mexico Territory.

Thomas Tate “Tom” Tobin was born in 1823 in St. Louis, Missouri to Bartholomew Tobin and Sarah Autobees Tobin. Tom and his older half brother Charles Autobees are believed to have left St. Louis and headed west while Tom was still a teenager. They are both said to have been associated with Ceran St. Vrain, one of the founders of Bent’s Fort. Not a lot is known about Charles, but the half brothers worked out of Bent’s Fort for a while, scouting and trading. Eventually they each settled and got married. Charles married Sycamore, an Arapaho native and Tom married Maria Pascuala Bernal, of the Taos area.

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A German Spy in Carrizozo?

The United States had officially entered World War I in early April, 1917 with a declaration of war. One week later, the mayor of Carrizozo, Lincoln County, called for a company of Minute Men to be organized from local citizens to aid in the event of any need. Newspaper articles carried accounts of the war and other related articles about how citizens could contribute, even by maximizing food production on their farms. As occurred in other times of world war, there was a considerable amount of unease and suspicion concerning those of other nationalities.

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Butch Cassidy in New Mexico

A New Mexico priest, Father Stanley Crocchiola, was also greatly interested in New Mexico history. His booklets are somewhat difficult to find today, but he wrote dozens of works dealing with the history of various locations all over the state. According to an article in the Albuquerque Journal of August 14, 1960, his booklet called “The Alma, N. M. Story,” Father Crocchiola writing under the pen name F. Stanley said that in the early years of Anglo settlement in Alma, a number of characters at least passed through the area. He mentions the step father of Billy the Kid, William H. Antrim, the Wild Bunch, the Black Jack (Ketchum) Gang, the Hole in the Wall Gang and also the outlaw known as Butch Cassidy. Though the county boundaries have changed over the years, the former community of Alma is currently located in Catron County in southwestern New Mexico, not far from the current New Mexico – Arizona border, and in the Gila Wilderness. New Mexico and Arizona had been united until 1863 when they were divided into two territories of the United States. They remained separate territories until both became states in 1912.

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Girly Chew Hossencofft

Murder victim Girly Chew Hossencofft was born in Malaysia in 1963. She came to America in the 1990s for a vacation during which she met an individual named Daizien Hossencofft while visiting a theme park. Chew and Hossencofft were married in 1993 and located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Girly Chew Hossencofft was working for a local bank. According to various news accounts, Girly Chew had separated from Hossencofft on more than one occasion and recently filed for divorce, making allegations of domestic violence against him. Subsequently, she disappeared in September, 1999 after failing to come to work at Bank of America where she had been a teller. Friends and coworkers reported her missing and her disappearance was investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department. She was 36 years old at the time.

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