St. Vrain robbery shocked many

By Don McAlvy: CNJ Columnist

Back when this robbery happened, it was the talk of Curry County.

The New Mexico State Police were phoned at their headquarters in Clovis at 5:15 p.m., and all law enforcement agencies in the county were quickly alerted. Three armed robbers, unknown and unidentified at the time of the robbery, had driven up and stopped under some trees in midtown St. Vrain.

“I saw their car parked across from my Sunshine gas station, and they got out and sat down at the picnic table near the highway. They were probably waiting for my company to leave,” said 79-year-old Charlie Roach.

Earlier that day the “suspects” had asked Roach to fill a large empty Coke bottle with water. Roach explained that his water pipes were stopped up and couldn’t oblige them. The unknown three went next door to asked Roach’s neighbor for water. His neighbor wasn’t home.

The three “suspects” came back into Roach’s gas station where he was now alone. The No. l robber pointed a .22-caliber “Texas Scout” single-action revolver at Roach, announced that it was a holdup, and proceeded to bind Roach’s feet. No. 1 guy handed the gun to No. 2 robber and told that robber to keep the gas station man covered while he tied Roach’s hands.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve holding up a man with one foot in the grave who’s trying to make an honest living,” Roach told his assailants.

They said they needed money for groceries.

“That’s what I need it for, too,” Roach said. “I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t think they would shoot me.”

Then the No.1 robber told No. 2 with the gun to hand him another belt on the floor to tie the victim’s hands, and as No. 2 reached to get the belt the gun went off. The bullet hit No 1 robber and he sank to his knees.

Holding his side, he said, “Let’s get out of here!”

The trio fled, taking $79 from the gas station.

Roach got loose and called the state police. Deputy Sheriff John Barela was the first to reach the scene of the robbery. He obtained a description of the vehicle from Roach who got a good look at the car when it pulled away from the station.

In De Baca County, Sheriff Earl Turnbow headed east on U. S. 60/84 and met the suspects’ vehicle near Tolar. He radioed his deputy, John McBride, to stop the vehicle. The deputy stopped them in Fort Sumner and immediately took the trio to the hospital.

The three were taken later to Clovis.

The No. 1 robber was identified as an underage 16-year-old boy and the two girls, 14 and 13, both underage. A law says you cannot name culprits such as these if they are underage. The .22 bullet they took out of the 16-year-old boy barely penetrated his side, the slug was just under the skin of his abdomen. The trio had first reached Curry County in a 1967 light-blue Ford stolen from a man in Topeka, Kan., two days before they robbed Roach. The two girls were runaways from their homes in Topeka. The boy had escaped from a detention center there.

Charlie Roach, a true character from the olden days, was not injured in the fracas. He said, “This is the first time I have ever been robbed during more than 23 years of operation at my Sunshine Station in St. Vrain.”

The date of this robbery was Saturday, Aug. 20, 1977. The only other business in St. Vrain was the oldest post office in Curry County. Good thing they didn’t rob the post office or they’d still be in the pokey.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:

dmcalavy@telescopelab.com