Man On A Mission, Or: How A Light In The Attic Release Gets Made (Part Four)

LaMesaMotel_1

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 and here. This most recent dispatch finds our leading man (and his two ace companions) in the New Mexico desert, where he retraces the final hours before Jim Sullivan vanished:

Awakening to a sunlit sky in Gallup, New Mexico, we pick over the remnants of our hotel’s continental breakfast and hit the road. We head east, bound for Santa Rosa 252 miles away. Around lunchtime, we arrive in Albuquerque. Johnny Horn randomly calls with a tip about a local store – Mecca Records. As we pull up, we notice a Betty Davis poster in the store window. Inside, we discover a nice selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, and books. I find some Waylon and Watertown vinyl (still need that poster). Jennifer picks up the Friday Night Lights book. We chat with Rocky, the shop’s owner. He’s a super cool dude, and big Light In The Attic supporter – LPs and CDs from Rodriguez, Betty Davis, and The Free Design are scattered around the shop. We fill him in about our quest, and he suggests contacting a loyal Mecca customer, a district attorney who has recently been reopening cold cases from the past. As it turns out, he is a Santa Rosa native and Light In The Attic fan. Might have to give this man a call. We hit a Mexican joint for lunch then head back onto I-40.

With anticipation high, Jim’s U.F.O. album blasts on the car stereo. Before we know it, we’re in Santa Rosa. It’s a small town along Route 66 in eastern New Mexico, tucked away in a long stretch of beautiful desert wasteland. It’s more like the Texas Hill Country than the vast open desert we envisioned earlier. Unlike some of the other towns we’ve come across on Route 66, Santa Rosa doesn’t look riddled by years of hard times. The last census reported that the population was 2,744.

We drive to the La Mesa Motel. It’s where Jim checked in on March 5, 1975. Like the rest of Santa Rosa (its original neon sign is still intact), the motel looks like time stopped around 1955. The sheets look clean, though. We snap a few photos, and talk about what we know regarding Jim’s first few hours in Santa Rosa. Jim left Los Angeles in his Volkswagen Bug sometime between noon and 1 p.m. on March 4. In the early morning hours of March 5, he was pulled over outside Santa Rosa for swerving. He was taken to the town’s police station for a sobriety test, which he passed.  He was swerving from fatigue caused by the taxing 15-hour drive. Jim checked into the La Mesa Motel, but police reports later indicated that the bed in his room was not slept in, and the key was found locked inside the room. Some reports stated that the key was the lone item found in the room, while others mentioned that Jim’s guitar was also found. Jim’s friends and family often said that if Jim was planning to disappear, the one thing he would never leave behind was his guitar. It’s one of the many things about his disappearance that don’t add up. We take pictures of the motel’s neon sign and cruise around town.

Jim Sullivan's room at the La Mesa Motel

Jim Sullivan's room at the La Mesa Motel.

The next stop is the ranch where Jim’s car was found – the last place he was reported seen. The ranch lies southeast of Santa Rosa, about 20 miles outside of town in the middle of nowhere. For half an hour, we drive on a dirt road, seeing only a smattering of houses for much of that time. The temperature is well into the 90s, and the sun is really bearing down. Parts of the drive are beautiful, with vibrant red rock formations followed by spots where you can see for miles. Mel films the scenery by going Commando-style – climbing onto the roof of the car and filming while we drive.

Finding the ranch took some Nancy Drew-style action on Jennifer’s part, as we couldn’t locate an actual address. Between 1953 and 1971, there was a National Weather Service collection station on the ranch, which was once owned by a family by the name of Gennetti. The coordinates for the station appeared on the weather service’s Web site. Jennifer plugged them into Google Maps and the address magically appeared. We know that after he checked into the La Mesa, Jim stopped by the liquor store, bought some vodka, and drove around town. Somehow he ended up at this ranch. The story goes that Mrs. Gennetti saw Jim’s headlights from her house and drove down with two ranch hands to see what was going on. She asked Jim if he had a problem. He replied, “No, do you?” We’ve also heard that he knocked on the Gennettis’ door and Mrs. Gennetti answered, but she only spoke Italian and didn’t understand what Jim was saying. So he walked off. When the police found Jim’s car (a neighbor reported it), it was locked and the engine was dead. A number of things were found in the car, including Jim’s wallet, guitar, clothes, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, silver appointment book, and a box of LP’s of Jim’s 1972 self-titled album on the Playboy label. The car was towed on March 8. There have been a number of rumors over the years that the Gennettis were part of a Chicago crime family. All we know is that a year or so after Jim disappeared, they moved to Hawaii.

The Gennetti Ranch. It was the last place Jim Sullivan was seen.

The Gennetti Ranch. It was the last place Jim Sullivan was seen.

We roam near the property, stumbling upon a little mission with a cemetery. Rather than driving back the way we came in, we decide to keep going on the dirt road, spotting a deer out by the creek, and then a few minutes later, a snake slithering across the dirt road. Eventually, the dust settles as the road turns to asphalt, and we cross a large dam. The scenery looks more impressive upon each turn. Back in Santa Rosa, we check into the La Mesa. Mel shoots a number of Santa Rosa’s abandoned gas stations, bars, and vintage, barely standing, neon signs. Each sign is cooler than the next. The topper is the Sahara Club on the main strip, Route 66. The sun is going down and the light is perfect. Hungry, we wander over to Joseph’s Bar & Grill, an old spot that’s been newly renovated but retains a classic, kitschy Route 66 charm. The menu is printed on newspaper with funny articles about the restaurant’s mascot, a big fat man. The bar in the back looks great, as well. Margaritas and Mexican food are scarfed down. We end the night by cruising around this quiet town, taking more shots, and almost grabbing a few drinks at the local bar. After a long day, we’re beat. We have to get up early, so we decide to crash.  Looking back, we should’ve grabbed those beers. Isn’t that always the case though?

A gas station in Santa Rosa.

A gas station in Santa Rosa.