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Who Goes There?

Last time I had us in Albuquerque’s Old Town, and specifically we were in the Plaza on South Plaza Road at the intersection with Romero. We were also tired and hot, and so figured we would take a break from window shopping and head directly to...Connie’s.


Connie is Connie Fulwyler. She runs Old Town Antiques in, of course, Old Town. If you are in Old Town at any time, you should definitely visit her shop. You can also follow her on the Web and social media. Specifically, she is at:





She is one of those wonderful vendors who is intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and, well, honest. The combination is rare, sadly enough. And her shop is full of excellent stuff--artwork; Native American jewelry, pottery, rugs, rare books, and on and on. It seems like we never visit her without buying something, large or small. This time it was to be a book on the artist Nicolai Fechin that we wanted to give to our son (there’s a long story on that, and David’s connection to Fechin, but I’ll tell it another day). Before that, on previous visits, it was jewelry, Native American fetish carvings, a small 18th century astronomical print which is now on the wall in front of me as I type this.


I am going to write about Connie quite a bit over the next few weeks. But I will not do so right at this moment. That’s because before I can get to her, I have to explain how we met her...which is to say, how she became entwined with our lives...and, equally important, how she became part of our experience with my parents...my Mom and Dad...even though she never met them. In fact, they were no longer living when we sought out her services.


Yet, there is the irony, of course. She did not know them. But she knew their effects...their possessions...possibly better than anyone else. And that, of course, means she came to know them...indirectly...but intimately.


So…how did all this happen? How did it begin? Well, let’s begin the complicated tale…


One day, in or about 2014, Martha and I took a drive up from Albuquerque to Bernalillo, which is a town just north of the city up route 25. Bernalillo has good memories for us. My mother taught in the schools there when I was a boy. Martha and I, meanwhile, went there a lot to go to some of the new restaurants and shops that are starting to appear there.


It’s funny. Bernalillo has had a bad rap for a long time. It was said to be poor and sad. Again, when I was very young, there was a joke you heard: a local radio state was holding a contest. Second prize was a bus trip to Bernalillo. First prize was you didn’t have to go.


But, in recent years, particularly as Albuquerque real estate has begun to get to very pricey, Bernalillo has taken off. We used to go there frequently to eat at the Range Café Bernalillo, which is a very cool place. Again, go if you’re in the area. (Website’s here: http://www.rangecafe.com/)


But on that particular day, we decided to do something a little different. We left Bernalillo and went up 25 a short ways, then went east on 165. This takes you to Placitas, which is an even smaller town (well, technically, it isn’t a town. It is a “census-designated place”) just north of the Sandia Mountains.(1)  It has a mixed population, but it's always had a certain counter-culture cachet.  In the 1960s, it was the site of several Hippie Communes, including one whose informal, unofficial mayor was a charming fellow who called himself Ulysses S. Grant (real name Donald Waskey) and who may have actually believed he was the reincarnation of the former president.(2)


My father knew people who knew people at the Communes, including Ulysses--mostly because Dad was himself a bit of a Hippie in his own way. He drove a VW van which he decorated with peace signs and other such symbols. Must have driven the neighbors mad.


Anyway, he told me stories about the Communes which he’d gotten from his friends. Ulysses S. Grant would ride about on a big white mule (a horse in some versions of the tale), issuing proclamations and settling disputes. He also ran for Governor...as a Republican! (3)


Unfortunately, things went very bad for Grant/Waskey. I gather details are unclear, but apparently there was some kind of quarrel in the Commune in 1970 and he shot two of his neighbors.(4) He, his wife, and their child, a toddler, then vanished.


They remained missing until 1988 when two bodies were found in a burned out house in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. It was a man and woman, shot in the head execution style. Near the house was a barn which was full of marijuana plants. In fact, it was a full-blown grass plantation. An article in a local paper at the time indicated that it was the “largest marijuana growing operation” discovered in Idaho at that time, and authorities guessed that it could have grossed as much as $1.75 million a month...and that was in 1988 dollars.(5) It would be about $4.5 million today.


And, of course, after much research, the bodies were identified as those of Waskey and his wife. I gather the killers were never identified and I have no idea what happened to the son. Let’s hope for the best. (6)


But, all of that is prologue. So let’s shift back, now, to that day in 2014, when Martha and I were just wasting time...and we thought, “What The Heck? And took the road, almost at random...Placitas.


Which is where things would get interesting.


More to come.



About the photos: Several today. First, here are a number images from various newspaper stories about Waskey/Grant, his curious life, and his even more curious death.


Second, as an alternative to this rather grim story, here’s a picture of Martha looking delightful with a furrry friend during our 2017 trip to China.




Footnotes:


1. There is also another Placitas, New Mexico, but it is way to the south in Doña Ana County. Not to be confused.  


2. For details of the Placitas communes, I rely on the following: “Flashbacks: Voices from the epicenter of ’60s communes, which flourished like wildflowers in the hills of New Mexico,” by Charles C. Poling, photos by Lisa Law, New Mexico Magazine, Mar. 08, 2013, Updated Sep. 28, 2021, https://www.newmexicomagazine.org/blog/post/new-mexico-hippie-communes/ and “The Hippies of Placitas,” by Harper Sullivan, My Strange New Mexico, 2021-11-24, https://mystrangenewmexico.com/2021/11/24/the-hippies-of-placitas/.


3. Details on Grant/Waskey are maddeningly unclear. My two primary sources on the man are “Peace, love … and murder,” by Ron Franscell, https://ronfranscell.com/2020/09/03/hippies/, and “ The Hippies of Placitas, Part II, by Harper Sullivan, My Strange New Mexico, 2020-12-08, https://mystrangenewmexico.com/2020/12/08/the-hippies-of-placitas-part-ii/. The problem is that the two sources do not agree on many details. For instance, Franscell says that Waskey had a toddler son at the time of the Placitas murders. Sullivan says it was a daughter. However, a Friday, March 10, 1972 article in the Albuquerque Journal, “Campaign Is Not The Same Without Grant,” by Eric McCrossen, says it was a boy, so let’s go with that.


4. The story I personally heard several years later was that there was some battle over turf in regards to soft drugs vs. hard. Supposedly, Waskey did use and grow marijuana. In fact, one nickname I heard for him was “Johnny Pot Seed.” However, he opposed hard drug use, and both heroin and cocaine were moving into the communes at about that time. So, perhaps something came out of those circumstances. But, frankly, no one knows, and no one probably ever will. See “Possible fire victim may be accused killer,” Kalispell Daily InterLake, 20 Dec 1988, Kalispell, Montana


5. “Police Pursue Fugitive Rancher,” Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho, December 20, 1988.


6. As I say, I’ve not been able to find anything about the “toddler” son since I began this piece. However, let’s assume that he was three when the family fled New Mexico in 1970. That means he would have been 19 when the family moved to the Idaho ranch in 1986. But, while news reports after the murders indicated that the couple came to the ranch in that year, they make no reference to their teenage son being with them...and surely someone would have noticed. (See the Times-News article referenced in Footnote 3).


Moreover, the son would have been 21 when the murders occurred at the ranch. But, if the son had been living with his parents, there would have been some sign of his presence at the ranch--clothing, personal items, etc. But news reports do not describe any such thing, and there don’t seem to be any witness accounts of a third person living in the house before 1988.


Finally, after the murders, news reports only mention the bodies of Waskey and his wife. There is no reference to the remains of a twenty-something adult.


Let’s hope, therefore, that at some point in the early 1970s, the couple realized they could not be on the run and have a child with them at the same time. Perhaps, then, he was taken in by other relatives or adopted. I further hope that today he is a happy, successful adult somewhere, unaware of the sad fate of his biological parents.





Copyright©2024 Michael Jay Tucker


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