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Few answers 60 years after El Paso couple disappeared

Nearly six decades after an El Paso couple went missing from their home, detectives are no closer to discovering what happened to them.

William and Margaret Patterson disappeared on March 6, 1957 from their house on Piedmont Street in Central El Paso. According to old articles, the couple moved to El Paso in the 1940’s and ran the Patterson Photo Supply store in downtown.

In the 60 years since the couple disappeared, the building that housed their business was demolished and turned into a parking lot where the Coffee Box now stands.

“The Patterson case is still very much open and active. It's one of those cases that drew a lot of interest in El Paso and still continues to draw interest,” said James Belknap, the supervisor of the El Paso County sheriff’s office criminal investigation major crimes unit.

In the months and years since the couple’s disappearance, conflicting information has muddled the case. The Pattersons weren’t reported missing for between five and six months after they disappeared.

“There was some information originally in 1957 that they had taken off on an extended vacation. They did travel frequently,” Belknap said. “Mr. Patterson did a lot of deep-sea fishing in Mexico and in Florida. When the information came in that they had gone on extended vacation, no one really questioned it.”

When the couple did go on these extended vacations, employees would run the business for them. Information came in the months after the couple disappeared that a telegram had been sent to one of the employees telling them what to do with the photo shop. However, old El Paso Herald-Post newspaper articles say that investigators weren’t sure the telegram was actually sent from William Patterson because his middle initial was wrong.

People sending telegrams in those days were also not required to show a photo identification to prove who they were.

“Many of the forms of identification back in the 1950s and earlier did not necessarily include any type of photograph,” said Javier Sambrano, an El Paso Police Detective who works for Crime Stoppers of El Paso. “So even a driver’s license from those times, many of them did not involve a picture. It was a written card that had the person’s name and basic information.”

Sambrano also pointed out that many businesses did not have surveillance cameras at the time.

“So, if somebody wanted to disappear, it was a lot easier for somebody to be able to disappear,” Sambrano said.

Theories

When the couple was reported missing, a number of theories, ranging from murder to UFO abductions, popped up.

“As these kind of cases progress, a lot of stories, a lot of theories materialize. None of those theories and none of that information was ever confirmed in the least little bit. The facts of the case, which, as investigators, that's what we have to work with, are that they went missing,” Belknap said.

Bonnie Juarez, from the Paso del Norte Paranormal Society, says she has heard a lot of the different theories.

“Some theories were they were Russian spies because this was during the Cold War, the 50’s, and he was called back to Russia, or he was taken back to Russia and killed because they had been found out,” Juarez said.

Other theories also popped up over the years. Some believed the couple got themselves into financial trouble and fled the country.

Adding to the mystery, there have been several reported sightings of the Pattersons in Colorado and Mexico. Investigators followed up on those leads, but said that nothing ever came out of those reports.

“As recently as two months ago, we had been contacted with some information, and unfortunately it didn't pan out. We investigate all leads,” Belknap said.

After the Pattersons disappeared, entire articles were dedicated to Margaret’s cat, named Tommy.

“Mrs. Patterson had a family cat that she loved, idolized and adored. The cat went everywhere with her,” Belknap said. “It was pampered and spoiled with good food and nice accessories, and the information we had is that she never went anywhere without her cat.”

However, Tommy the cat was found at the Patterson house after the couple disappeared. Some people who have studied the case believe that this is a sign of foul play.

The Other Theory

“I have always believe in the paranormal,” Juarez said. ”All of us are interested in the paranormal because we've all had our own experiences, and I think we're trying to figure out what's really out there.”

Juarez says she went into the old Patterson house several years ago to see for herself if it was haunted.

“We try to debunk as much as we can, we don't expect everything to be haunted,” she said.

Juarez says a realtor walked them through the house as they recorded sounds.

“We went back and listened to the audio that we had recorded, and there are sections where there was a woman's voice who was not there. There's a scream that we did not hear at the time,” Juarez said.

However, she says she cannot assume that the noise on the recorder was made by the Pattersons.

So, she would like to eventually go back into the house to conduct an electronic voice phenomena, or EVP, session to see if she can collect more evidence.

“I'd like to know what happened to them; if I could go back and do an actual EVP session and ask them questions and find out, that would be a pretty cool thing to be able to do,” Juarez said.

The current owner of the house told KFOX14 that he has never experienced any paranormal activity inside the house. He said that over the years, people have expressed interest in the house, usually around Halloween. Most recently, the owner said someone left a pentagram symbol on his driveway in salt.

However, he doesn’t believe the Pattersons are haunting his home. He has also allowed investigators in over the years to take a look for themselves, but stopped short of allowing them to dig up his back yard.

Cold Case Difficulties

“Cold case investigations have their own unique set of obstacles,” said Belknap.

These types of cases require a lot of time, resources and manpower.

Right now, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has approximately 30 cold cases going back to the early 70’s.

The Patterson case has been officially reopened on at least three occasions, in 1984, 2005 and 2011. Each time, investigators try to start from the beginning to piece the case together.

“We’re looking for new ideas, looking for a fresh set of eyes on the case. Maybe someone will see something in a different light than we had looked at it previously that may give us additional leads, or additional places to go with the case,” Belknap said.

One of the challenges investigators face is finding witnesses.

“People move on, they move out of town, trying to locate them sometimes is very difficult. And then their memory in their recollection of circumstances and events has changed, or they have forgotten a lot of the details that might surround that case,” Belknap said.

Along with the witnesses moving or forgetting some of the details, the older the case, the more likely the witnesses are to have passed away.

With the Patterson case, Belknap says that most of the witnesses are no longer living. Sambrano says he believes that one of the issues investigators face is convincing witnesses to come forward with the information they know.

“You have to remember that sometimes, there might be a reason that the person at the moment the crime happened feels compelled to either stay behind the scenes, or maybe feels that it's not important, or they don't feel safe coming out and talking about what they know. But circumstances change,” Sambrano said.

One of the Pattersons’ employees, who was an undocumented immigrant, came forward with new information in 1984. Reynaldo Nangaray told investigators that he had found blood inside the Patterson home after the couple disappeared, and that he had cleaned it up. He told investigators that he didn’t come forward sooner because he was afraid of speaking with police as an undocumented immigrant.

However, nothing came from that lead, and Nangaray died a few years later in a car accident.

Technology has also changed quite a bit in the decades since the Pattersons’ disappearance.

“There are a lot of things that we can do now that were just unheard of 50 or 60 years ago,” Belknap said. “At the time, they would not of understood maybe the significance of a single piece of evidence.”

Despite the obstacles, cold cases have been solved on numerous occasions. The most recent cold case solved in El Paso county was a homicide investigation. In that case, the estranged wife and stepson of a Fort Bliss army major named Chester Garrett were found guilty of his murder.

“That was a 36-year-old homicide that we investigated on and off throughout the years for almost nine years,” Belknap said.

Searching for Answers

With the 60th anniversary of the couple’s disappearance coming up in March, investigators are still searching for answers.

Belknap believes the case still appeals to El Pasoans, who did not know the Pattersons, because of the intrigue of the case itself.

“People like good mysteries. This case is a prime example of that,” he said.

Sambrano knows that if the Pattersons were not killed in 1957, the chances that they are alive these days is slim. Nevertheless, he says it’s important for investigators to keep looking.

“Mr. Patterson was in his early 50’s, and Mrs. Patterson was 48, from my understanding, when the incident took place,” Sambrano said. “We’re talking 60 years later, so the probability of somebody being around that age is very unlikely.”

Belknap says the sheriff’s office will prioritize the cold cases based off of solvability. William Patterson’s father, Luther, died in 1967, and few people are pushing for the case to be solved these days.

But both Belknap and Sambrano know the likelihood that the Patterson case will ever be solved is low. Still, both men are asking for tips.

“Any information is better than no information,” Belknap said.

“I think one of the most important challenges is just making sure people remember the case and are aware of it, and that ends up regenerating, ‘Oh, I remember hearing about this,’ or, ‘I remember my grandfather saying this information that he saw,’” Sambrano said.

Sambrano says he’s certain someone out there knows something about the case and what happened to the Pattersons, and he is hoping they will come forward. He says it’s important for them to share whatever information they may have, even if they don’t think it’s important. He would even encourage people who heard something from relatives about the case that could be important to come forward.

Anyone with information about the Pattersons' disappearance is asked to either call the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office 915-546-2280, or Crime Stoppers of El Paso at 915-566-8477.

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