Matt Sullivan remains hard at work attempting to complete Light in the Attic’s reissue of Jim Sullivan’s 1969 album, U.F.O. Scheduled for a fall release, Matt has embarked on quite the journey as he tries to find answers into Jim Sullivan’s mysterious disappearance 35 years ago. He has been kind enough to catalog his story. You can read previous installments here, here, here and here. This most recent dispatch finds our leading man (and his two ace companions) in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the desert outpost where Jim was last seen:
We wake up to more sunny skies. Can’t complain. While Jennifer and Mel grab breakfast at a local restaurant called Route 66, I remain at the La Mesa Motel to finish some work. They bring back eggs, toast, and sausage. It tastes like dog food. I miss Rancho Bravo Tacos.
Jennifer picks up a copy of this week’s edition of the Guadalupe County Communicator, Santa Rosa’s local newspaper. It’s a good read. I’d be surprised to find another small-town newspaper with its own local comic strip. An article about a murder from the 1930s immediately sparks our interest. Jennifer suggests giving the paper a ring. Next thing I know, I’m on the phone with the paper’s publisher, M. E. Sprengelmeyer, asking if he’s familiar with Jim Sullivan, and if he has access to the paper’s archives from the time of Jim’s disappearance in March 1975. M.E. bought the paper about a year ago, so he recommends I speak with veteran reporter Davy Delgado, a Santa Rosa native in his fourth decade as a newspaperman. M.E. is also an old hand in the newspaper business. After losing his job as the Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News (the paper closed last year), M.E. moved to Santa Rosa and bought the paper. Jennifer immediately suggests that someone should make a doc on these guys. We find out that it’s in the works. It’s an inspiring story. M.E. and Davy, along with a secretary, are the only folks that work at the paper. Circulation: 2,000. Santa Rosa’s population: 2,700.
We pack the car and drive down to The Communicator. M.E. kindly greets us, and soon after, Davy comes out and says hello. They are wonderful people. It’s another reminder why a newspaper is such a significant part of a community. Bless their hearts. Within a few seconds, Davy tells us to get in our car and follow him. We have no idea where we’re going, but we dutifully obey. Three blocks, and 90 seconds later, we’re standing at a local lumberyard and hardware store. Davy knocks on a side door. We wait for a few minutes, and out comes Sammy Chavez, who greets us with a smile and handshakes. Sammy was working on the roads near the Gennetti ranch the day 35 years ago Jim’s car was discovered by the police. Sammy, now in his 50s, recalled driving past the Volkswagen Bug on the way to work and thought it strange that Jim’s car was sitting in the middle of the road. When he came back through hours later, all the doors were open. Police had been searching for clues, but sadly nothing turned up. For more than two years, search parties were regularly convened by a number of agencies – the New Mexico State Police, Santa Rosa police, and a number of volunteer groups.
Jim’s disappearance was a major story in this area, so Sammy and Davy were familiar with the case. Before we could ask, the five of us were chatting about the Gennettis purported ties with a Chicago crime family. They mentioned a few rumors that circulated around town over the years, but nothing concrete. The two recalled countless local myths and theories, the search parties, and strange stories involving stoned hippies wandering into town. They posited that Jim’s body must be somewhere within a radius of 100 miles or so from Santa Rosa. Davy felt that a body just doesn’t disappear, even out here. Buzzards would have been seen, or someone would have stumbled upon his remains. They recalled a story involving a hippie with long hair and rough beard living off the land near the river that bordered the Gennetti ranch. No one ever saw the man again.
We told Davy and Sammy about the brilliance of the U.F.O. record, how Jim appeared in the film Easy Rider (in the hippie commune scene), and played on the Jose Feliciano television show. Sammy had heard some of Jim’s music and mentioned the song “Tea Leaves” (from his self-titled LP on the Playboy label), but neither knew of Jim’s brushes with fame and were excited to hear the tales.
It was time to go. We thank Sammy for his time. Davy tells us to follow him for a few blocks. We hop in our Scooby-Doo van (uh, I mean, our badass Ford Taurus rental), and once again, we have no clue where we’re headed. Two minutes later, we pull up to the offices of an all-in-one insurance/bail bonds company. When we walk in, Davy introduces us to the sweet woman behind the desk. She leads us into the adjoining room, where we come upon the archives of the Santa Rosa News – giant bound books containing decades of material. The News was the main paper in town for decades until it went under a few years back. Drooling with anticipation, we find the book from 1975 and begin searching for articles about Jim. We start in early March, when he disappeared. Davy notices a number of articles about the local high school playing in the state basketball tournament around the same time Jim disappeared. The entire town traveled to the game, but the team lost early in the competition.
Davy was in the Army at the time, and recalls reading about “the missing musician.” We stumble upon the two articles that Chris – Jim’s son – recently sent us. We scan the pages, eventually finding an article with the headline “Possibly Sullivan?” The story said authorities had found a badly decomposed body buried in a remote area eight miles west of Las Cruces. They believed it might be Jim. The man appeared to have been dead less than a month, was between the ages of 30 and 40, measured 6-feet-2 and 180 pounds, had a tattoo on his right forearm, and wore a mustache and short beard. Thinking of the photos I’d seen of Jim, I always imagined him to be an outsized figure – as if he were a 6-5 former football player who joined the Hells Angels and wore a leather jacket and his hair long. We flip through more pages and notice the headline “Not Sullivan.” The piece is thin on information. Santa Rosa Police Chief Joe Eddie Martinez had gone to Albuquerque to see the body, and said that while it bore some resemblance to Jim, it wasn’t him. Makes you wonder if they ever figured out who it was, and about the countless unidentified bodies out there in the world.
Davy has to get back to work. We continue looking through the archive, hoping to find the stories from 1977 about the massive search that included Jim’s brothers, who had arrived from California. We couldn’t find 1977 in the stacks. It’s time for us to leave. We shoot more video in town, grab a quick bite at Dairy Queen, and stop by The Communicator to say our goodbyes to Davy and M.E. We snap some photos of our new friends and give them a CD-R of U.F.O. M.E. and I soon bond over his recent discovery of ‘60s psych band United States of America.
Davy and M.E. tell us we’ve got to hit the Blue Hole, a nine-story natural swimming hole in Santa Rosa filled with clear blue water. It’s a mile or so to the hole, and upon arriving, we don’t hesitate to jump in. The water is 61 degrees, cold as hell, but blessedly refreshing in the 90-degree heat.
Back on the road, and wishing we had more time in Santa Rosa. But we’re on a tight schedule – we have to cover 900 miles by 1 p.m. tomorrow. We’re scheduled to interview Chris and his mother Barbara in San Diego. It’s a 15-hour drive from Santa Rosa. As we ride westward, the gorgeous scenery strikes us; there are endless skies filled with stars accompanied by the incongruous beat of satellite radio – radio mysteries from the ’40s and ‘50s, and unbearably awful contemporary comedians. In Arizona, we cruise along the dark, windy roads of the Sitgreaves National Forest, passing few fellow travelers on the roadway. We finally tire of the comedy channel (there was one funny comic during two long hours), so we pop in a mix – Andrew Graham & The Swarming Branch, Stephen John Kalinich, Malakai, Motorhead (I saw a CD of Ace of Spades for sale at a truck stop in Arizona. I should have picked it up. Sorry, Lemmy), Shabazz Palaces, Washed Out, Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall (the version of “I Can’t Write Left Handed” = goose bumps every time), some modern soul cuts from our upcoming Wheedle’s Groove II comp, and Robert Wyatt (that Comicopera LP is incredible; a favorite of mine from the last few years. I’m looking forward to the next one). Over ten hours later, it’s 2 a.m., and we must crash for a few hours. We decide on the glorious Motel 6 in Yuma. What a day.
Tags: Jim Sullivan