The disappearance of William and Margaret Patterson has been a mystery to El Paso for 50 years. It has inspired urban legends, wild stories of espionage and even tales of UFO abductions.
Their old house in the 3000 block of Piedmont was known by generations of El Pasoans as the “haunted house.” Over the years, several theories emerged to explain what happened to them: They were kidnapped, they met with foul play, they left everything behind to start a new life elsewhere, they were spies or they were abducted by space aliens.
The Pattersons were last seen around March 5, 1957, by a neighbor named Jeri Cash, who had gone to their house to give Margaret some Girl Scout Cookies.
Cecil Ward, a friend of the Pattersons, reported the couple missing Aug. 15, 1957, a shocking five months later.
They were gone for five months before anyone noticed. In that amount of time, anything could have happened. Clues or leads that might have been available soon after their disappearance probably quickly dried up.
William and Margaret Patterson, 52 and 42 years old when they vanished, left behind a large house, their business, their money, and even their beloved cat, Tommy. The house was found in disarray, with dishes unwashed, underwear and a pair of Mrs. Patterson’s stockings on a bed, and other indications the Pattersons did not know they were leaving for a long time. There was no sign of a struggle.
Their disappearance was front page news in El Paso, and even around Texas. In their quest to find the couple, El Paso law enforcement officials sought help from the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department and Mexican authorities. It is still an open case.
“I think they were spies,” El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego told the El Paso Times in 2005. “The way they got up and just walked away and left everything behind. The Russians, or whoever sent them, probably told them to drop everything and go back. Some people said they had seen Patterson take photographs of Fort Bliss and of military shipments on the trains that came here.”
FBI Special Agent Art Werge told the El Paso Times he couldn’t find any information in the agency’s files that indicate whether the Pattersons ever came under surveillance for suspected espionage.
Even Luther Patterson, William Patterson’s father, wasn’t sure what to make of his son’s disappearance.
“I always knew Pat and Margaret would take off like this some day, but I figured it to be four or five years away. … They’re not dead. … My boy has done things like this before. … He made his living doing sleight-of-hand tricks,” Luther Patterson told the El Paso Times in the 1960s.
But several years later, after receiving no word from his son, Luther Patterson told authorities he believed William and Margaret were dead.
Other theories about the Patterson’s were that the couple got themselves into financial trouble and fled the country. Another theory was that William Patterson had killed Margaret and fled the country. Or that Margaret Patterson found out about William and his mistress (reportedly a woman named Estefana Morin) and killed him. Then she fled the country.
Cash, the last known person to see the Pattersons alive, told police, “I took some (Girl Scout) cookies to Mrs. Patterson, and she seemed very upset,” Cash told the El Paso Times in a March 18, 2013, article. “It was the only time I had talked to her. The couple tended to keep to themselves. The husband seemed unhappy that I was in the house, and I left soon after leaving the cookies with her. She was a tiny (petite) woman, and he always came across as mean and unfriendly.”
According to Cecil Ward, a few nights before their disappearance, the Pattersons invited him and his wife over for dinner. After the meal, Ward and William Patterson went out to the garage to have a beer and work on William’s boat.
Cecil Ward later told the police that neither of the Pattersons mentioned any plans to travel or leave the area. Cecil Ward added that he and William Patterson had plans to get together later that week.
After their disappearance, Cecil Ward would recall several strange incidents involving a man named Doyle Kirkland. On the morning of March 6, 1957, one day after Cecil Ward had had dinner at the Patterson’s home, he told police he opened his auto business and discovered that William Patterson’s Cadillac was sitting in the driveway. Kirkland came into the auto shop later in the day and told Cecil Ward that William Patterson had asked him to bring the car to him for a tune-up.
Kirkland managed Duffy Photo Service, a rival business to William Patterson’s photo shop. Though Doyle and William had competing businesses, they were reported to be friendly.
When asked why he had the Pattersons’ car, Kirkland reportedly told Cecil Ward that he and William had worked on his boat the previous night, and that the Pattersons were “going on a little vacation.”
With no real leads, the investigation stalled. Then, on March 15, 1958, Herbert Roth, the Pattersons’ accountant, reportedly received a telegram. It was sent from the Western Union office in Dallas, where it had been placed from a telephone call near the Love Field Airport. The telegram was type written, with a signed signature of “W.H. Patterson,” which was odd since William’s middle name was Durrell.
The telegram instructed Roth to split up the business between himself and Art Moreno, an employee of Patterson, and Doyle Kirkland. It also instructed Roth to hire Kirkland as the new store manager to replace William Patterson at the photo company.
While the telegram’s odd requests certainly cast suspicion on Doyle Kirkland, no further evidence linked him to the Pattersons’ disappearance. By the 1960s, Kirkland had left El Paso for parts unknown. The police were unable to trace him.
As time passed, there were regular sightings of the Pattersons. Several people claimed to spot them outside of Mexico City, years after they vanished.
El Paso sheriff Bob Bailey tracked down some hotel workers in Valle del Bravo, and after showing them some photographs, they identified the Pattersons as a couple who had stayed with them for several months in 1957. However, no hotel records or signatures in the guest book could be linked to the Pattersons.
William and Margaret Patterson were officially declared dead on March 27, 1964.
According to a 2005 El Paso Times article, “the case was cold and stayed that way for the next 20 years. In 1984, though, a man named Reynaldo Nangaray came forward with new, startling information.”
Nangaray had been an employee of Pattersons’ and he told a detective that he had found blood in the garage, and a piece of a human scalp on the propeller of the Pattersons’ boat shortly after the couple disappeared in 1957.
Nangaray admitted to having cleaned up at the scene. He also claimed that he had seen a man carrying bloody sheets out of the house and throwing them into the trunk of a car. He had not gotten a clear look at the man, but it was not William Patterson. When asked why he waited so long to come forward, Nangaray said that he had been an undocumented immigrant in 1957, and feared being deported.
Two years after coming forward, Nangaray was killed in an auto accident. None of his information was ever confirmed.
According to one newspaper story I read, the house is still there and occupied. The owner said he has never had any supernatural experiences in the house.
In the end, we’ll never know what happened to William and Margaret Patterson. Any living witness is most likely dead by now. Their case remains just as mysterious now as it was 60 years ago.