Thursday, March 11, 2010

1950 – The Case of the Glamorous Widow

In 1950, the daily paper regularly reported on the parade of drunks stumbling through Police Judge Joe Berardinelli's courtroom, faithfully naming each one and the fine each earned. Occasional thefts such as the time someone walked off with an expensive fur coat from Hinkel's, as reported by store manager, Dorothy Alexander. But the crime that captured the City's imagination at the beginning of 1950 was the murder trial of Jane Lopez.

A year earlier, the glamorous divorcee Jane Moskin Ortiz, 30, caught the eye of Edward A. “Gee Gee” Lopez, 27, handsome state police officer with a wife and two kids. At the time, Jane was a capitol employee, best known as the attractive secretary for Congressman John Miles. Gee Gee left his wife Dorothy and married Jane in January 1949. From the beginning, their relationship was tumultuous, marked by heavy drinking, profane language and loud arguments.

On the evening of July 22, 1949, the couple were hosting a small party at their home on Carleton Road. Around 10 p.m., an argument broke out between Jane and Gee Gee over some lost car keys. When Gee Gee picked up the phone to make a call, Jane grabbed it and threw it to the floor. Gee Gee began to pack a duffle bag to spend the night at the State Police barracks. Jane was calling him every name in the book. The guests left in a hurry. Last to leave was friend and neighbor, Thelma Baca, with Jane still cursing Gee Gee.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, Thelma – now at home – received a frantic telephone call from Jane, asking Thelma to come right over. Thelma arrived to find the apartment in disarray, Jane in hysterics and Gee Gee's dead body on the bedroom floor, a bullet through the heart. Twenty feet away, Gee Gee's service pistol, a .45 automatic with a pearl handle inset with turquoise, lay on the coffee table in the living room.

With Thelma present, Jane called Preston McGee's funeral home. Paul Walsh, the night attendant, answered Jane's call. She cursed Paul and demanded to speak to Preston McGee. Walsh, listening on the extension, heard Jane tell McGee, “Gee Gee was cleaning his gun and it went off. Will you please come out?”

Jane then called the police. Ivan Head, the on-duty dispatcher for the police, took the call from Jane. Head and Jane were well acquainted. She told Ivan that Gee Gee really did kill himself, referring to Gee Gee twice as an SOB. But she told the attending doctors, W.L. Hamilton and Fred Soldow, that Gee Gee was killed after “we had a fight.”

At a meeting with Loretta Berardinelli McIntyre, an employee of Preston McGee and a lifelong friend of Gee Gee's, Jane said, “He threatened me once too often and the gun went off.” Jane told Loretta that she was in the living room picking up glasses when she heard Gee Gee fall to the floor but heard no shot. “I still didn't think he was hurt,” she told Loretta, “I told him to get off the floor and stop acting like Dodo.” By Dodo she meant Dolores d'Amour, Gee Gee's sister with a reputation for melodrama.

Early the next morning, Jane Lopez, bride of three months, was booked on “suspicion of murder.” Within hours, lawyer A.L. Zinn, a former Supreme Court Justice with a prosperous practice in Santa Fe, appeared before the court to demand a bond to release Jane Jopez, threatening to file a habeas corpus petition. Judge David Carmody approved a $10,000 bond, paid for by Zinn's wife and some of Jane's fellow employees at the State Land Office. That day, Jane went into seclusion at the Little Tesuque home of her attorney.

Meanwhile, DA Bert Prince began quickly interviewing possible witnesses, including 5 year old Linda Ortiz, Jane's daughter by her first husband,long-time Santa Fe mailman Arthur Ortiz. Linda and her two younger brothers were asleep at home at the time of Gee Gee's death but Linda was awakened by the gunshot and came to the living room. All she remembered was her mother in hysterics and, later, Thelma Baca's arrival. Linda was put back to bed before police arrived.

Prince's questioning of the young girl was cut short by her father, Arthur Ortiz, with whom the courts had placed the children while Jane was in custody. He refused the DA any further interviews on the basis that his daughter had been through enough.

The other witness,Thelma Baca, proved elusive as well. Agreeing to give a written statement to the DA, Thelma balked when asked to sign it. Prince immediately arrested her as a material witness and she spent a night in jail until bonded out by family friend Bernabe Romero, popular barber at the DeVargas Hotel.

Thelma's husband, Sgt. Bernard Baca returned home on leave, but was intercepted by police detectives before his train arrived at Lamy where he expected to meet his wife. Although he knew nothing about the case, Sgt. Baca spent the day in police interrogation.

These tactics angered Zinn who threatened lawsuits against the DA and the police. Thereafter Thelma Baca made no further statements to the police or to anyone until the trial.

Zinn moved to disqualify Judge Carmody and maneuvered the trial to take place in Aztec, New Mexico with District Judge Luis Armijo presiding. 60 jurors were called to the courthouse on January 16, 1950 and told that the case involved the death penalty. By then, DA Bert Prince had been joined by Walter Kegel, an assistant attorney general, for the prosecution; A.L. Zinn called upon former Judge H.H. Kiker to assist in Jane's defense. Also in attendance was Santa Fe lawyer Harry Bigbee, hired by Gee Gee's family to help the District attorney prosecute Jane Lopez.

The case was front page news in the Santa Fe New Mexican both at the time of the killing and at the time of the trial. Newsmen faithfully reported Jane Lopez' wardrobe each day of trial (typically modest black or gray). Jane was regularly described as attractive, glamorous, slim and dark eyed and a beauty. The available newspaper photos are too degraded to confirm or refute the descriptions.

The state called more than two dozen witnesses, including Gee Gee's ex-wife, Dorothy. Mother of his two children, Dorothy testified that she and Gee Gee had effected a reconciliation just days before his death and that he was planning to return to her. The state suggested that this was Jane's motive for killing Gee Gee.

State Police Chief Archie White, the first police officer at the scene, testified that it would have been nearly impossible for Gee Gee to have shot himself in the heart with his own weapon. It would have required some hand contortion and would have left abrasions on the hand from the weapon's recoil Gee Gee's hands were unmarked. (Paraffin tests on both Gee Gee and Jane were inconclusive as they were performed more than five days after the shooting.)

Through more than two dozen witnesses, the prosecution painted a picture of a foul-mouthed and quarrelsome woman who had the means, motive and opportunity to kill her husband. The same evidence worked to discount any question of suicide or accidental shooting. After three days, the state rested its case.

On the fourth day, the day that Gee Gee Lopez would have turned 30, Zinn rose for the defense and called only one witness – Jane Lopez. The widow admitted foul language, drinking and quarreling but denied murder. “No, I did not kill him,” a sobbing Jane Lopez told the jury, “I never shot that gun or any gun in my entire life.”

Through tears, Jane described hearing Gee Gee fall in the bedroom, but no gunshot. When she saw his bloody body, she became hysterical and remembered no more. How the pistol got from the bedroom to the coffee table, how bloody T-shirts were found stuffed in a drawer, why she called three people before she called police – Jane could not answer except to say she didn't know.

The jury deliberated less than two hours, then filed back into the courtroom and declared their verdict – not guilty. Jane wept and laughed and embraced her attorneys; the Lopez family was grim, silent and quickly left the courthouse. Court observers claimed that the verdict was predictable. The state's attorneys put on an elaborate case, they said, proving everything except that Jane shot Gee Gee Lopez.

Outside the courthouse, Jane paused for a brief statement to reporters. She planned to leave Santa Fe and live in Washington, D.C. for a time, then move to South America and she hoped to take one or more of her children with her. She vowed never to return to Santa Fe.

3 comments:

melody said...

Im looking for the location of the Old Masonic Cemetary in Santa Fe, NM any ideas on who to call about a list of cemetaries in Santa Fe??

TimeRider said...

Hi Melody

I know I'm terribly late in responding to your comment but I'm surprised anyone reads these posts at all, much less comments on them.

In answer to your question, I found a fascinating account of the Fairview Cemetery (which used to be the Masonic and Oddfellows cemetery) by Connie Sze at newmexicohistory.org. As for a list of cemeteries in Santa Fe, I usually find them in the City Directory. Old directories can be found both at the Santa Fe Public Library and at the New Mexico State Library. The New Mexico History Library on Washington Avenue has the most complete set.
Have fun.

TimeRider said...

Hi Melody

I know I'm terribly late in responding to your comment but I'm surprised anyone reads these posts at all, much less comments on them.

In answer to your question, I found a fascinating account of the Fairview Cemetery (which used to be the Masonic and Oddfellows cemetery) by Connie Sze at newmexicohistory.org. As for a list of cemeteries in Santa Fe, I usually find them in the City Directory. Old directories can be found both at the Santa Fe Public Library and at the New Mexico State Library. The New Mexico History Library on Washington Avenue has the most complete set.
Have fun.