Clovis’ own unsolved mystery

By David Stevens: CNJ editor

He flashed wads of cash, was quick to speak his mind, and his auto-salvage yard was guarded by a feisty mule.
By all accounts, J.C. Tucker was a colorful character.
That may have been what got him killed.

Tucker, 67, was found dead in his office at Tucker Auto Sales a year ago Saturday. Police said he was shot three times. His left-front pocket was picked clean of the cash he always carried.

One year later, the homicide remains unsolved.

Sheriff Roger Hatcher said there is little physical evidence from the crime scene and investigators are pinning their hopes for an arrest on a $2,500 reward that’s been offered by Curry County Crime Stoppers and friends of the victim.

There’s also hope that the killer’s gun may someday end up in police custody where a crime lab has the ability to match markings on bullets found in Tucker’s body.

Hatcher said the case remains active, but he’s about out of leads.

“Essentially what you do is every so often, you get the file back out, go through everybody’s statements, go through every single piece of evidence, and say, ‘What did we miss. Who did we miss?’

“We’ve taken a couple of statements from different people at different times. You make sure their statements are the same; you look for any inconsistencies. And we have had several times where people will call and say, ‘You need to check out so and so because they had a problem at one time.’ It’s just a matter of following up.”

•••

J.C. Tucker was born to Solomon and Ethel Dennis Tucker on May 17, 1936, in Littlefield, Texas. His father lost the family farm during the Depression, his brother said. “After that, we did whatever we could to survive; mostly farm work,” said J.O. Tucker, 70, who now lives in Owasso, Okla., near Tulsa.

The family’s challenges have never been routine. One brother was killed in a truck wreck in 1978, another was killed by burglars in 1974, J.O. Tucker said. Vic Tucker, who operated a couple of service stations and a hamburger stand, was returning to his home near Post, Texas, with the day’s receipts when he was shot with his own gun, his brother said.

J.C., who moved to Clovis from Lubbock more than 30 years ago, was an entrepreneur with a wide range of interests.
“He had been in business for himself probably since he was in his early 20s,” J.O. Tucker said.

“He was always a go-getter and out trying to hustle business, whatever his occupation was.”

J.C. Tucker sold gas and operated a wrecker service through the years. Most recently, he was renting storage units and selling used auto parts west of Clovis off U.S. Highway 60-84 near Cannon Air Force Base. He sold fireworks during the Fourth of July.

His brother described him as easy going, but serious about business.

“If somebody owed him money and was way past due, he’d bear down on them a little,” J.O. Tucker said.

The auto salvage yard was burglarized a few times. J.C. had a dog to protect the property until it was poisoned. The other after-hours security was handled by a mule.

“Bessie May was her name,” J.O. Tucker said. “He probably had her out there 20 years. If anybody got in that salvage yard, that mule would bite him or kick him.”

•••

Bill McCormick, who drank coffee with J.C. most mornings at Foxy Drive-In, said his friend had a reputation for being tough.

“I thought that was a reputation that wasn’t deserved,” McCormick said. “I’d heard he’d been in a scrape or two through the years, but I think he mellowed out in the last few years.

“Me being around him, it seemed like a lot more people liked him than didn’t like him. If you treated him fair, he treated you fair.”

No one argues that Tucker could be confrontational.
“We had some differences of opinion on fireworks issues,” Hatcher said, “but he was always civilized about it. He didn’t give us any trouble at all. His disagreements were mostly with other people. If we showed up, he was pretty content to sit there and let us do what we needed to do without giving us any advice on how we ought to do it.”

Hatcher suspects Tucker was killed by someone he knew.
“I think somebody shot him because he made them mad … which he’s done in the past, many, many times,” Hatcher said.

•••

Most disputes involving Tucker revolved around business issues.

“He got in hot over some property out there with a neighbor one time. It runs the gamut. Essentially, he’d get involved with somebody in a business deal and then things would go sour,” Hatcher said.

“I’m not saying it was his fault … but he’d dang sure let them know about it. He was not one to sit back and keep his mouth shut about something that happened. The man was not afraid to speak his mind. That’s what I’d be looking for as a motive, rather than just somebody robbed him.”

But officials have not ruled out robbery as a motive.

Hatcher said Tucker carried thousands of dollars in cash in his left-front pocket. “He didn’t mind showing it to people,” the sheriff said. “A lot of people knew that.”

“He probably did carry too much money,” McCormick said. “I might have mentioned once or twice that was not a smart thing, but who am I to tell him how to run his business? I think a lot of the reason (he carried so much cash) was he felt like he made better deals when he had cash on the spot.”

Investigators initially hoped the stolen money might lead them to Tucker’s killer. Hatcher said the front-left pocket of Tucker’s pants was pulled out. The pants were sent to a crime lab where they were tested in hopes of finding DNA and fingerprints that did not belong to Tucker.

But a few weeks ago, those tests were completed and produced no helpful information, Hatcher said.

The sheriff said the killer left few clues.

•••

“People had been in and out of there all day long,” Hatcher said. “It was a very, very difficult crime scene.”

Officials are not sure when Tucker was shot, only that his body was found a few hours after he failed to come home after work. He was found face down on the floor with no obvious signs of a prior struggle. The door to the business was unlocked. No shell casings were found at the scene.

“The bullets removed from the body are compatible with 200 different makes of guns and a half-dozen calibers,” Hatcher said. “We can’t even narrow it down to the caliber or make of the gun.”

Still, the bullets might someday lead to the killer, Hatcher said.

A crime lab in Santa Fe keeps computerized records of markings found on bullets used in crimes, Hatcher said. If the gun used to kill Tucker is ever matched to another crime, lab technicians will alert Curry County officials, Hatcher said.

For now, investigators can do little more than hope for a break. The case has been frustrating for law officers, and for Tucker’s family and friends.

“Whether you liked him or didn’t like him, that doesn’t matter,” McCormick said. “The man was killed in cold blood and it deserves to be solved.”