Clovis murder investigation dramatized on radio

By Don McAlavy: Curry historian

A crime solved in 1941 by Jack Hull, veteran Clovis newspaper reporter and editor, was dramatized at 8 p.m. MST on Nov. 2, 1941, on the national NBC radio program “The Big Story,” sponsored by the Pall Mall Cigarette Co.

The story was called to the attention of the program sponsor several weeks before the program aired by former CNJ reporter, John Nail, who had worked for Jack Hull.

The crime was the deaths of two young men, whose mangled bodies were discovered on the Santa Fe Railroad tracks south of Clovis on Aug. 2, 1941.

An investigation by local officers and railroad detectives uncovered nothing to create suspicion in anyone’s mind. So a coroner’s verdict of “accidental death” was returned, and the case was officially closed.

Hull, however, had noticed that the feet from the bodies had been severed at approximately the same distance from the ankle joints, and that one arm was missing from each body, severed at approximately the same place. He speculated that the bodies had been placed across the tracks in approximately the same positions.

Conducting his own investigation, he made a canvas of a section of town that had had shootings and fights, and uncovered the fact that the two dead men were half of a quartet of men from Wichita Falls, Texas, who had attended a dance the night before.

He got in touch with Wichita Falls officers and requested that if the other two men returned to that city, they be jailed for investigation. Hull then called Capt. Roy Vermillion, head of the crime division of the New Mexico State Police, and enlisted his aid.

When the Wichita Falls officers reported apprehending the missing men, Vermillion returned them to New Mexico. He and Hull grilled them, finally obtaining a confession from one of them that the fourth member of the group had killed his two companions by stabbing them to death, and had placed their bodies on the tracks to eliminate traces of the crime.

The 18-year-old was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to the penitentiary for five years. E. T. Hensley, district attorney at that time, conducted the prosecution.

Hull and his friends were listening to the NBC broadcast. As his story concluded and the commercial came on, the beloved newspaperman who had endeared himself to thousands of people across New Mexico and West Texas chuckled and remarked, “Well, those fellows kinda jazzed the story up a bit, and it will take a week to sober up after all those drinks they had me imbibing.”

Hull, contrary to movie and pulp magazines popular concept of an editor, falls out of character on the drinking. Hull just plain didn’t and never had been a gin-slinger.

Hundreds of people phoned and sent him telegrams.

“The publicity it gave Hull and the CNJ, and Clovis is incalculable,” said Charles Fischer, manager of the paper.

Hull, whose energetic pursuit of news when he was a working reporter earned for him a wide reputation as a crusading newspaper man. He was still using the photographic equipment and files of negatives he used while he was publishing a paper, having been one of the first local editors in this section of the country to realize the value of pictures in illustration of hometown stories.

The sponsor of the NBC radio program sent Hull $500. Hull died in 1962.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com