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

60 years ago: 'Mr Tapp got shot'


January 1, 2020

Three 12-year-old girls were putting air in their bicycle tires early that Sunday evening.

Then the Texaco service station attendant told them they needed to leave. As they were riding away, a shot rang out.

“Mr. Tapp got shot,” Kathy Wilkinson told a jury a few months later.

Mr. Tapp was Grover Tapp, a 70-year-old painter and school janitor. His killer was Al Griffin, 36, who worked at the service station on American Boulevard in Muleshoe. The men may have been friends. Certainly they were friendly acquaintances.

The trouble began with a spontaneous game of dice.

It happened a little more than 60 years ago.

Griffin said he was working at the gas station after midnight on the Friday before the shooting. Tapp came in, disappointed that he’d been unable to play in a craps game at Morton as planned a few hours before. Griffin didn’t have any money, but he agreed to shoot dice with Tapp. Griffin borrowed $90 from the gas station’s cash drawer and the competition began.

Tapp won early, and often. It wasn’t long, Griffin said, before he’d lost the $90 and then written $750 in checks to Tapp.

After a few hours, Griffin began to suspect Tapp’s dice may have been “six-ace missouts,” meaning the game was rigged. But when he began using his suspicions to his advantage, he started to win back his money, Griffin said.

More than five hours after they started playing, Griffin told jurors during his murder trial that the men were “even” and decided to go for breakfast together.

After eating — it was a little after 7 a.m. by this time — the men decided to go to Griffin’s farm and play some more.

Griffin claimed he won another $100 from Tapp, but questioned the validity of the check Tapp wrote to cover the debt. This upset Tapp, who went home angry.

When he arrived at home, Tapp told his wife a dramatically different story. He said Griffin had simply stolen his money. “Just reached down and took it,” Ida Tapp told jurors at the murder trial in 1960.

The Lamb County Leader newspaper reported Tapp also claimed Griffin had threatened to “stomp his damn brains out.”

A witness to the dice game at the gas station told authorities he’d seen more than $1,000 in checks written to Tapp from Griffin.

D. L. McMillian testified in court that Griffin had told him he’d ultimately won money from Tapp, but that he was planning to give it all back because he “wanted to avoid trouble,” the newspaper reported.

On the evening of Sept. 13, 1959, two days after their dice game began, Tapp told his wife that he was going out, but would be back in a few minutes. He seemed in a “happy frame of mind,” and Ida Tapp assumed he was going for cigars.

Tapp instead went to the Texaco station where Griffin was working. He had a gun in front of his belt, police said.

Witnesses said Tapp began walking toward Griffin, who was heard to say, “Grover, go on and leave me alone.”

But Tapp continued walking toward Griffin, who picked up a shotgun in warning.

“Tapp kept coming,” witness Ray Ruthardt testified, “and Al kept begging him to leave. Tapp started inside the bib of his overalls and the shot was fired.”

The trial was held in Lamb County after Muleshoe was unable to seat a jury. Griffin was found guilty of murder without malice. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but that sentence was suspended and Griffin left the courtroom a free man.

We’ll never know if Tapp’s dice were rigged or whether Griffin stole Tapp’s money, or whether it was all just a big misunderstanding.

David Stevens writes about regional history. Contact him at:

[email protected]

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