The death certificate is hard to read, so let me help. After, Was there an
autopsy? yes. Was there an inquest? yes, Section 23 says:
If death was due to external causes, fill in also the following:
(Check) XXXXXXXXX—Homicide? Date of injury Oct. 6, 1936
Where did the injury occur? Santa Rosa, N.M.
Manner of injury: Shot with pistol
Nature of injury: Bullet wound through both lungs
Like I said, lead poisoning. Cowboy-style. And I am being deliberately flippant?
Yes. Because I know this story, and I don’t care for this man, Jose “Joe”
On the death certificate, it says that Ramirez had been in Santa Rosa, New
Mexico, for at least three years, his occupation, “Labor.” Let’s flesh this out a bit
Ramirez actually worked managing Santa Rosa’s infamous La Casa Blanca, a
house of prostitution located near the east bank of the Pecos. He’d been arrested
several time for “incidents” at the “resort,” but always escaped prosecution.
Rumor had it that he was protected by the law in that area.
On Oct. 6th at noon, two highway patrol officers, at Las Casa Blanca
investigating illegal gambling and stolen whisky, sent Tom Smith of El Paso, the
man who shot Ramirez, to speak to him. Smith carried both a gun and a knife.
Ramirez was upstairs with one of the resort’s residents—“Jane Pontinie,
brunette.” At the trial, she said the two of them were “looking at a catalogue to
select a pair of slippers he had promised” me, when Joe was called out to the
hall. He was shot four times and died almost instantaneously. The patrolmen and
Smith swore Ramirez shot first, but Jane swore he didn’t even have a gun. On
cross-examination, she testified that she and Ramirez were romantically
involved—they lived together—and that she’d only had “three drinks” before the
Smith was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in
the electric chair. He was pardoned a few years later by the lieutenant governor
because was convinced that in this case, there was a “complete miscarriage of
Joe Ramirez had gotten at least one girl pregnant in Santa Rosa. I say girl, but
she was eighteen. This pregnancy was always a murky part of the story for me
because I couldn’t understand how this rough man in his late 30s with a bad
reputation could seduce the daughter of a prominent family.
Somehow, I don’t see seduction. I see something much darker. Her sisters were
known to go out Saturday night and not attend church Sunday morning. Has she
“gone out”, too? Had she become prey? Had she also been promised something
he couldn’t give her? No one alive knows, and we probably never will.
Ramirez’s son—also named Jose—was over a year old and lived in Santa Rosa
with his mother when Joe was shot by Tom Smith. Whenever anyone asked the
son about his father, he’d turn away in disgust, refusing to speak about it.
Whatever he knew, he never told. Jose’s son—also named Jose—was born in
the early 1960s. And our son—not named Jose—was born in the early 1990s.
Oh, and our son’s great-grandmother? It turned out she eventually married a
man named Smith.
“Murder in the Red Light District” is featured in Wild and Woolly Tales of
Guadalupe County, by Daniel Flores (1), published in 2015. Anything extra in the
tale above comes from stories I’ve heard my husband’s family tell, rumor, and