Memories Of A Tragic Case Tried In A Las Cruces Courtroom
Commentary: Sitting in the upstairs courtroom of our modest brick Las Cruces Municipal Courthouse reminds me of sitting there in 1975, a young reporter covering a federal kidnaping case.
Back then, this was the U.S. Courthouse. Now, morning shadows from the massive Federal Courthouse across Church St. darken Muni Court.
U.S. v. Lowe was tried here because it was too hot for Albuquerque.
The Lowes were a prominent ranching family in little Muleshoe, Texas. A lively but troubled soul named Eileen drifted into town and captured young Bob Lowe’s heart, much to his parents’ chagrin. Eventually the young couple were headed for divorce; but Eileen was pregnant.
Or was she? Bob’s parents had their doubts, partly because she’d miscarried not long before. But Eileen insisted she was pregnant.
Friends dropped her at the bus station so she could have her baby in an Oklahoma City hospital. She said they needn’t wait. She waved good-bye, bought a ticket, then boarded the bus West to Albuquerque.
In Albuquerque she went daily to view the newborns in the maternity ward. She liked one, and noted the parents’ information.
Soon after Mrs. N took her baby home, the doorbell rang. “Flower delivery,” Eileen said. “I’ll just set them down inside.” She put down the flowers then pointed a gun at Mrs. N and her mother. (One very embarrassed trial witness was a salesman she’d befriended in an Albuquerque bar. When Eileen said it frightened her to drive long distances alone after rodeos, he helped her buy a gun.)
The women unsuccessfully pleaded with Eileen not to take the baby. They did persuade her to take along some medicine the baby needed.
Eileen returned by bus to Muleshoe. Her friends met her and cooed over her new baby.
Papa Lowe and the preacher had seen a TV report of the Albuquerque kidnaping. They called Albuquerque police and learned that the little toe on the stolen baby’s left foot was crooked. When Eileen was out of the room, they extricated the baby from its footie pajamas to examine the toe. Bingo.
It was a dramatic, sad trial. Eileen’s mother had sold Eileen to a man at 14. Bob was her fourth husband. She cried a lot and appeared to faint once.
As the jury came in, a seasoned FBI agent told me that if jurors avoided looking at the defendant, the verdict was guilty. They did and it was. Eileen was sentenced to a substantial prison term.
A decade later, living in Taiwan, I wrote a novella based on such a kidnaping, but the kidnapper has gotten away with it. “Her” son is now twenty, and she’s a respected citizen, but when a chance incident threatens to expose her, . . .
Telling the bailiff recently about the trial, I wondered what Google would turn up about it. A 2016 article reported that after President Reagan pardoned her, Eileen Lowe moved to Albuquerque, to the dismay of baby John Paul’s parents.
Sitting in that old courtroom, I see ghosts from that trial.
Long familiarity with a town breeds many such ghosts. Long-dead friends’ names on public buildings. Places where one loved, fought, taught, learned, got drunk, or chatted after playing ball. Old men learn to live with ghosts, nodding casually to them, but never letting them take over. They have their place. If I listen, they’re pretty candid in reminding me of my shortcomings.