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The Whiting Brothers gas station and the murder scene in Gallup

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

The story-related picture this week is of an old Whiting Brothers service station located in West Gallup, New Mexico at 3120 W. Historic Highway 66. It turns out that the house Dianne Brown sought refuge after the shooting in Gallup was not in Gamerco, as stated in my book, but instead was south of the Puerco River and west of the Gallup wastewater treatment plant.

One drawback to writing a true crime book, or a historical novel, is the possibility of getting facts wrong. Try as you might, it seems that there is always something important that eludes you. I knew that the weakest link in my story would be the incidents in Gallup. That is because I never could find a witness who was in Gallup that night, which left me to rely on newspaper reports and two reliable written sources to glean information for my book. I had an article and two daily columns written by the managing editor of the local newspaper, Theodore Rushton. He happened to be with a Gallup police sergeant 50 years ago when the call came out about a woman being shot, and he went with the police to the Serna house. He also, later went to the area around the abandoned mine where the murder had been committed and stayed there until they discovered Jim Brown’s body. His writings included the names of individuals and the details of what they had done.

The second written source I had, was the written report by special investigator Fred Garcia from the New Mexico State Police. He investigated the New Mexico part of this crime spree, and he, too, had many very great details. But neither of these sources provided an address or specific location for the Serna home where Dianne found help. They provided hints, both saying she had walked nearly two miles to a farmhouse, and the investigator even said he was told the house was behind a Whiting Brothers gas station.

I found the Serna home in a Gallup City Directory published a few years after this incident; they lived at 205 Rosita Street in Gamerco. Because Gamerco is approximately two miles from the Mentmore area and had a Whiting Brothers gas station back in 1971, I felt reasonably assured that I had pinpointed the right location. But, alas, I was wrong.

After my book was published, a friend announced it on a “Remembering Gallup” Facebook group, and before long I was contacted by a retired railroad engineer named Patrick Lynch. Pat was a neighbor to the Sernas in 1971 and he pointed out to me that the Serna family didn’t move to Gamerco until a few years after these murders. He was very helpful in pinpointing where they lived on February 5, 1971, and in providing specific information about that evening.

The true location of the Serna house was south of the Puerco River and west of the Gallup wastewater treatment plant. That means Dianne walked mostly southeast, and not east as I had earlier assumed, and she would have crossed the dry bed of the Puerco River to get to the Serna’s home. For the responding police, getting to the Serna residence by car was not easy, since the start of construction of the Interstate 40 bypass of Gallup. In 1971, the interstate had been completed from Defiance (where the cars were funneled onto Route 66 west of Gallup), to the area of the Munoz overpass, which is where Highway 666 would eventually cross over the interstate. Because of the new construction, the Serna and Lynch residences had been cut off from Highway 66 and the pathway to their house was a circuitous maze.

The Sernas didn’t have a telephone, so Tom Serna had to drive to the Whiting Brothers gas station located at 3120 W. Historic Highway 66 to summon help. There he telephoned the Gallup police and then waited to escort them up the small dirt road that wound around to his house. The building that was the Whiting Brothers station still is standing along the old Route 66; it later became the Gallup Store and Thriftway gas station. Driving by today you can still see a “Smoke Shop” sign and it is immediately east of the Budget Inn, which at one time was a Whiting Brothers Motor Hotel.

To get to the Serna home from the gas station, you were required to take a dirt road which passed between the Whiting Brothers station and a Chevron gas station immediately east of that, The Chevron is no longer there, and one can see the building has been converted into the Paramont Liquor Store and Lounge. The dirt road that ran north between the two gas stations curved to the east, behind the Chevron station, then back left and crossed the Santa Fe railroad tracks. After crossing the tracks, it curved to the east and then curved back left to go straight north where it went through an underpass to cross beneath the freeway, and then turned left again towards the Serna’s house.

The Serna’s adobe home was located just south of a large riding arena that had been built by Gene Chalk, who owned the Dairy Queen in town. The house can easily be found today by searching for 870 Arena Road in Gallup, NM on Google Maps. That shows up on a close-up satellite view as a mobile home, which is now immediately east of the square adobe house where the Sernas once lived.

Even though the location Dianne Brown went to after the shooting is not as described correctly in the book, this new information on the Serna residence doesn’t change the story as far as the events that surrounded Diane Browns’ frantic rush to find assistance and her subsequent trip to the hospital.

Pat Lynch also went up to the area of the murder the next day following the murder, with his mother and older brother. They were present when one of the two Sheriff’s Deputies, who were searching in the area, found the missing slain patrolman’s service revolver. Because of information I received from Pat Lynch, I can now pinpoint where the murder actually took place. It was much further south than I originally anticipated. Earlier news reports kept referring to the Mentmore/Dilco Mine. There were other abandoned coal mines in the area, and the one near to where James Brown was shot is only about a half mile north of the Puerco River bridge, just east of Mentmore Road. It is very close to a mountain bike trailhead off of Mentmore Road called the High Desert Trail System, New Mexico - American Trails.

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