Police see case as grave matter back in 1973

By Don McAlvy: CNJ Columnist

Back in 1973 patrolman Gene Dawson of the Clovis Police Department stumbled into a lost-and-found item no one wanted to claim while cruising down an alley. “Tell them they can have the lumber if they don’t want it,” Dawson said. He found a black wooden coffin, the kind that Count Dracula would have felt at home in.

Bill Southard, editor at the Clovis News Journal, in his “Memo From the Editor” wrote the following:

“After he read the story in Sunday’s CNJ about a policeman finding a black coffin abandoned in an alley, Don McAlavy’s suspicions were aroused,” said Southard.

“The moment I read the piece in the paper I wondered if that wasn’t OUR black coffin,” McAlavy said. Sure enough, upon his investigation he found that his old house at 916 W. Fourth had been broken into.

“It was my late father’s house, the old Stone place,” McAlavy told Southard and the police. “The police had even been looking for a body too,” said McAlavy, and he said he thought maybe he would be brought up before a judge and convicted as a grave robber.

This is the rest of the story:

Back on July 16, 1971, the Clovis Theatre Group and The Regent Acting Playhouse combined forces to present “An Evening of Theatre” at the old Country Club in Hillcrest Park.

We had three performances scheduled for that night. The experimental part of the bill would be the presentation of an original drama of mystery called “The Night the Moon Stood Still.” It was going to be scary. It had a black coffin in it. Real scary.

This play, which I thought was the highlight of the evening, was scheduled as the last one that evening. I was on pins and needles. And then the first drama was a one-act piece called “Pardon Our Second Scene.” I didn’t see any hope for that one. It was rather boring in a comical way.

The next one I had to watch was called “The Bathroom Door,” also a one-act piece. It involved what happened in a resort hotel when the one bathroom on the floor is locked and can’t be entered. My wife laughed herself to death. I was real worried about the scary play, which Christie Mendoza and I wrote. It was the first time for each of us as playwrights. Christie wasn’t in the play and neither was I, and that made me nervous. Our director was Bob Lockwood who knew a few things about plays and acting.

The Clovis Theatre Group was a nonprofit one. That is scary right there. I had built that black coffin all by myself, and I was nervous wondering if it would fall apart during the play. It was the major piece of the play and right in the middle of the stage on a platform. The players were Evyonne in the lead role, and Ali and Jack were the lovers who find trouble in an old deserted house. Marjorie and Lanny completed the cast.

I had built a trapdoor in the black coffin opposite the audience, and the person in the coffin could get out without being seen. I really thought that was a good idea. I don’t remember if the audience applauded it or not.

We used that black coffin a lot after we got the Lyceum back in 1983. In one melodrama I wrote, I cut a hole in the top of the black coffin and put in a window so the widow could mourn her sweetheart.

Now the noted black coffin is retired in the basement of the Lyceum. A lot of people that changed costumes in the basement dressing room weren’t entirely excited about it. And that’s the story of the black coffin.

I forgot. We never did find the culprit or culprits that stole that black coffin back in 1973.