The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Fifty years ago: 'Burglar Murders Portales Druggist'

 

August 19, 2018

Courtesy photo

The 1968 Dora schools yearbook featured a sponsorship ad from B&J Drug.

Fifty years ago today, many people in eastern New Mexico were still reeling as the news continued to spread about a murder that had rattled Portales late the evening before.

Elbert Lee Muncy, a beloved pharmacist who had worked for a decade at B and J Drug on the square in Portales, had been killed by multiple gunshots. Officials said he had returned to the pharmacy after hours on a warm Sunday evening and interrupted a robbery in progress.

The 16-inch wide banner headline in the Portales News-Tribune the next afternoon read "Burglar Murders Portales Druggist." Up the road, Clovis News-Journal readers saw, "Druggist in Portales Shot to Death."

Waide Davis of Portales, now 82, was finishing his second term as the young sheriff of Roosevelt County that year. He received a late evening call on Aug. 18, 1968, that there had been a "break-in and maybe a shooting" at the drug store located on the southwest side of the Portales square in what is now Prestige Carpet.

"The call went first to the police department," Davis said, "but back then, anytime it involved a felony, it became the obligation of the sheriff's department."

When Davis arrived, he discovered not only a blood-spattered crime scene, but a victim he had known and loved much of his life.

According to at least one headline, it had been some 70 years since a murder had been committed in Portales. This one became even more riveting when the suspects arrested about 48 hours later were a 19-year-old clerk who worked with Muncy at B and J Drug, and her 21-year-old husband.

Davis still has a thick blue notebook stuffed with yellowed clippings, crime scene photos, even copies of letters that Pearl Diana "Penny" Carlton and Dennis Paul Carlton wrote to each other during the time they were housed in the local jail, then located high atop the Roosevelt County courthouse.

It took three trials to find the duo guilty of second-degree murder, and news of the crime and each of those trials occupied countless newspaper column inches.

Half a century later, there are many who still fondly remember the pharmacist everyone called "Muncy" or "Doc," a small, compassionate man who spent much of his life in Portales, dispensing advice and prescriptions and even veterinary supplies for customers who loved him.

• • •

Elbert Lee Muncy was born on Aug. 27, 1900, in Floydada, Texas, according to the brief obituary that was published in the Portales News-Tribune the day after his death.

Archives from the New Mexico Pharmacy Board show Muncy had "reciprocated his license to New Mexico" on Oct. 31, 1928, meaning he was able to gain a local license without taking a new test.

He worked at New Mexico Drug on south Main Street before moving to B and J Drug sometime in the 1950s.

Davis was a teenager when he first met Elbert Muncy.

"My oldest sister worked with Muncy at New Mexico Drug," Davis recalled. "Muncy had a hangup about milk shakes. He'd get one and nurse it all afternoon. He'd have half of that big old metal can of milkshake left when I would come in and he'd say, 'I think that ol' boy needs some of this. Get up on that stool and have this.'"

Sandra Robinson of Portales said her father, Tom Johnson, hired Muncy away from New Mexico Drug to come work for him at the drug store that he and his partner, Dee Brewer, had founded on the Portales square.

"I was young when my dad hired Muncy," she said. "He was so nice. It was a shock ... oh my God, it was a shock when he was killed.

"It tore my dad up when that happened to Muncy," Robinson said. "That was the most cold-blooded killing. This was Portales. That was horrific."

• • •

Walter Chambliss was 30 when he came to Portales from Texas in 1964 to manage B and J Drug. Muncy was already in his 60s, and the two worked together as pharmacists.

"I considered Muncy a top man, a good man," Chambliss said.

"Muncy was very popular," Chambliss recalled, with a loyal following, especially among older clientele.

"He moved there from New Mexico Drug, as you know," Chambliss said. "He brought a lot of customers with him. Tom Johnson gave Muncy a $100 a month raise in the first few days because of all the business he brought with him."

Chambliss and his wife, Frances, aren't sure where Muncy had his pharmaceutical training, and there was no mention of his formal education in his obituary. Much of it may have come on the job, real-life experiences that took place over decades behind the counter.

"He was a real popular pharmacist," said Marshall Stinnett, longtime publisher of the Portales News-Tribune. "Some people called him 'Doc.' If you went in there sick, he'd try to take care of you, maybe even a little beyond what he should have, but Portales didn't have many doctors then."

Davis said his friend, Muncy, "was a vet and a doctor ... and then he got around to being a pharmacist." Locals were as likely to call on him for help with a sick calf as they were for relief for an ailing toddler.

"The way I felt about Muncy was that he had the benefit of all the doctors in town," Davis said, "and the same way with the vets. They'd call and prescribe things, and he stored every bit. He didn't forget anything. He utilized that knowledge."

• • •

Former Portales High School art teacher Lou Sikes was a child when her mother, Doris Lovelady, became the bookkeeper for B and J Drug. Sikes frequently popped into the business after school or piano lessons. She even wrapped gifts there for Mother's Day and Christmas shoppers.

"I thought the world of Muncy," Sikes said. "He was our doctor away from doctors."

Sikes remembers her 5-foot-11-inch tall mother towering over the much smaller Muncy.

"He was a little bitty guy," she recalled, "skinny and short. He was always laughing ... and picking at me! I was tall and skinny and he worked up in the pharmacy so he could see me coming when I entered the door. He was very funny ... always had a joke."

Sikes also remembers an incredibly sharp man who excelled at anything he tried.

"I still think Muncy was one of the smartest men I've ever known in my life," she said. "There wasn't anything he didn't know how to do."

Glynda Rowland Weaver, who now lives in Missouri, was a teenager when she was employed with Muncy at B and J Drug.

"Muncy was an awesome guy to work with," she said. "He was very caring - just an awesome guy."

Well into his 60s by the time she knew him, Muncy had planned to work as long as he could, Weaver said.

"I asked him once when he'd retire," she reminisced. "He said he wouldn't. He loved his job."

• • •

Janice Lewis of Portales credits Muncy with saving her life when she was a 5-year-old choking on a piece of candy.

"I can remember how frightening it was that I could not breathe," Lewis said. "I thought I was going to die."

By fortunate coincidence, Lewis happened to be in front of Muncy's pharmacy.

"He came running out and threw me over his arm and hit me right between the shoulders," she said. "That Life Saver went flying out and hit the sidewalk. I've always said that he saved my life. He always had a special place in my heart and I remember all too well when he was murdered. It was such a shock to our small community when that happened."

Marcea Flowers has a much lighter-hearted memory of Muncy. In the late 1950s, she was Marcea Baker and working at Portales National Bank.

"All the gals in the bank were wanting their ears pierced," Flowers said, "and I had always gone in to talk to him and ask questions about health or prescriptions. I asked him what I needed to (pierce ears). He was more than happy to help me and he gave me a stainless ... rather large ... hypodermic needle and showed me how to clean it with alcohol and gave me a prescription bottle to store it in. I pierced ears for years after that."

Walter and Frances Chambliss' oldest daughter, Sharon Chacon, was a "little, little kid" when she and her younger sister would visit the pharmacy their dad managed.

"He was such a sweet man," she said, "like a grandpa. He was just a sweet little gray-haired old man. He was very kind and patient with us."

Muncy owned land off the Arch highway, where he grew fruit trees and melons.

"He'd be called a hobby farmer today," Davis said. "He really prized his cantaloupes."

• • •

In one newspaper story after the murder, News-Tribune editor Gordon Greaves noted that the pharmacist was generous with the bounty of his harvests, even sharing with the Carltons who would eventually serve time for his murder.

"Muncy had frequently taken vegetables, fruit, and even canned preserves to the young college couple," Greaves wrote.

Muncy never had children and married somewhat later in his life, exchanging vows in 1958 with Marjorie "Marge" Louise Walker. She was 13 years his junior, a fondly remembered first-grade teacher at L.L. Brown elementary school and Sunday School teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Portales.

Reta Hardin Cooper, who now makes her home in Ruidoso, knew the Muncys from her own time working at B and J Drug while she was in high school.

"Both of them were absolutely the nicest, friendliest, most caring people that anyone could call their friends," she said.

Clara Markham Bryant was a senior at Portales High School when she went to work with Muncy at B and J Drug in 1958.

"He was always so kind to me," she said, "such a sweet, gentle man. I just really enjoyed working with him."

When Bryant married right out of high school, she and her husband had their first home in a small apartment in the Muncys' back yard.

"He fixed it up so cute for us," she said.

Bryant said she was living in Dickinson, Texas, when she heard about the murder.

"I remember getting the letter from Mother and the newspaper article," she said. "I was devastated to think that someone could take the life of such a nice, kind man. It broke my heart."

Betty Williamson will tell more of the Elbert Muncy story next week. Reach her at: [email protected]

 

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