Las Cruces Murder: Another Look

The gap through the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara is a wild and lonely place. I write about it in my new Zack Tolliver, FBI series book LAS CRUCES as such, a place where no one has reason to linger after dark. Truckers and a few lonely cars pass through, their headlights flashing on high chaparral and rock face. North of the gap a few scattered homes hide among pine and palm. Thus it has always been––the domain of outlaws, a place for ambush and smugglers and even murder.

The gorge after dark reminds me of the sign at the top of the single chair lift at Stowe Ski Area years ago (is it still there?) stating the closure time and followed by these words: “These woods are as cold and lonely after dark as they were 100 years ago!” It made an impact.

The irony is that this wilderness has more hidden infrastructure than a small city.

Researching my novel, I discovered the existence of pipelines and conduits everywhere. There are more “Do Not Dig” signs than in a minefield in Cambodia. And not just the infamous Plains Pipeline which due to decay in materials and men’s brains decided to paint the Gaviota Beach noir, but high-pressure gas lines, water pipelines (some still in use, some not), electrical conduits, and so on. The high-pressure oil pipeline planned to replace the broken one will add yet one more miles-long stretch of subterranean plumbing across the mouth of the gap and up the weary old ridges of these beautiful mountains.

But my interest is history. Evidence of the first telegraph lines in the gorge can still be seen there if one looks hard enough. The poles are rustic and unpreserved, yet still standing after a century and a half, straight as sentinels among the mighty oaks, disguised as branchless trees. Yet a closer look reveals the wooden crook nailed to the pole in which the wire once nestled.

Before this ingenious triumph of man came to the boulder-strewn ravines, residents were in the dark regarding any news of the world beyond those precipitous walls until the stagecoach or a traveler chanced to pass. No water pipes then. Water was hauled from the creek (when it ran) with a heavy metal bucket.

Metal Bucket Found Near Corliss Crime Scene

But I speak of murder here. In my April 4 blog article “Crime in Las Cruces” I described the Corliss murder and the hideous irony of an act of cruelty befalling the Corliss couple identical to the one that nearly befell them over a thousand miles away a few years earlier. The story is monstrous…and compelling. Like any attentive crime fiction writer, I latched onto it. The crime had a signature: the body of the wife laid upon that of her husband forming an X, knife wounds, and the building burned down around them. My April 3 article caught the eye of an attentive reader who sent me an Email and a link to the description of another double murder along the Gaviota coastline.

Fast forward to 1963. It was the beginning of the reign of terror by a serial killer known in California as the Zodiac Killer. Although he (or she) was never identified (the Corliss murderer(s) was never identified either), and direct links have not been established, it is commonly believed the killing of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, shot down as they fled for their lives at Cañada de Molino (Tajiguas Creek) a few miles south of Gaviota on the remote beach where the two teens were sunbathing, was the Zodiac’s first. They were confronted on the beach then shot as they tried to escape. The killer dragged them to a nearby shack where “he placed Linda’s body on top of Robert’s, cutting open her bathing suit with a knife to reveal her breasts. It is then thought the killer attempted to set fire to a tarpaulin covering on the door of the shack, testified by the presence of scorch marks – although it cannot definitively be proved when these scorch marks were created.” * *From local newspaper

I too was struck by the location, the similarity in body placement, and the attempt to burn the building. This precipitated some study of the Zodiac Killer (I was not familiar with the story) but my reading did not reveal other crimes attributed to the killer with those same attributes. The connection between the Domingo/Edwards murder and the Zodiac Killer is considered tenuous. But one wonders if the killing is connected in some way to the 1864 Corliss murder.

Consider that in the 1864 murder George Corliss was killed first and found face down on the floor of the structure. Lucretia escaped out the window and ran downslope toward the creek where she was recaptured and dragged by her feet face down several yards back up a steep slope and into the building then laid across the body of her husband. In the 1963 murder injuries to the bodies suggested Robert Domingos was dragged ten yards up a steep slope and placed in the shack first and then Linda was dragged the same distance face up and positioned on top of Robert. Both murders involved strenuous activity on the part of the murderer(s) to ensure the placement of the bodies within the building. Boxes of ammunition and pre-cut rope for binding found in the shack in 1963 suggest the killing of Robert and Linda was premeditated.

The murders occurred a few months short of a hundred years apart. An anniversary killing?

If not the Zodiac Killer, could the murders have been carried out by a deranged student of local history? Or by a descendant of someone related to the Corliss murders? There are many questions remaining from both the 1864 and the 1963 murders, should some mystery buff decide to seek the answers.

One thought on “Las Cruces Murder: Another Look

  1. Wonderful post!

    The Zodiac Killer could have had a Corliss connection and a related obsession with the local history. Whoever he was, he started somewhere, with a particular compulsion. The corpse staging elements might not have been part of his signature, though. Attacking couples might have been the essential element and it’s likely that he always had a gun and a knife with him. His first two official attacks involved a surviving male, so they were imperfect.

    The peculiar fate of George and Lucretia Corliss is heartbreaking, frightening.

    Enjoy your writing! Kathleen

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