by Don Bullis
The affair began at about 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 1, 1930. A 19-year-old named Bonifacio Torres had been declared incorrigible by the court, upon a complaint made by his mother, Mrs. Juan Torres. Valencia County Sheriff Ignacio Aragon, a deputy named Baca and Belen City Marshal Daniel Sanchez went to the home of young Torres’ grandmother, near Jarales, where the boy had been staying. The first encounter between officers and the young man seemed amiable enough, and Torres asked whether he would be sent to reform school or the penitentiary. One of the officers replied that he didn’t know, but possibly to neither. Torres then asked if he could get his gloves from the bedroom before they left. The officers agreed.
Suddenly, Torres was back in the room, armed and firing at the lawmen. Marshal Sanchez was hit in the thigh and hand and fell to the floor as Aragon and Baca ran to the door to get out of the line of fire. Torres ran to a window and, taking careful aim, shot the Sheriff in the back as the lawman sought cover. Sanchez managed to get out of the house in the meantime and Baca was unscathed. He took the wounded men to Belen for medical treatment.
Sheriff Aragon’s deputies, Dennis and Joe Gabaldon and Charles Cunningham, soon returned to the scene of the shooting, intent on arresting Torres. They saw no activity and entered the house where they found no one present. As they stood looking around, Torres, hiding in the attic, shot Cunningham by aiming through a hole in the ceiling intended to accommodate a stove pipe. The bullet hit the deputy in the shoulder and ranged downward into his body, inflicting serious injuries. Torres then managed to get out of the attic and on to the roof before Dennis Gabaldon could get a shot at him. Torres fired at officers again, as they left the area, but missed. Gabaldon returned fire, but also missed.
By 10:00 a.m., with three lawmen shot and wounded, an estimated 20 police officers from several departments in the area, and 75 or so citizens surrounded the house. Estimates were that by afternoon, 300 people were present. Gunfire was exchanged by officers and young Torres from time to time, with no one injured. Virtually all of the windows were shot out of the house, and efforts to use tear gas were not successful because it dissipated too quickly to be effective. An effort to use dynamite also failed when only a small hole in the adobe wall resulted from the blast. At last, late in the afternoon, officers decided that it was necessary to burn the structure to force Torres out. They could not risk giving him a chance to escape in the coming darkness. At a little after 5:00 p.m., using gasoline and a gas soaked burlap bag, officers managed to set house on fire.
Smoke from the burning floor and furniture poured out the windows, but Torres managed to get into a room that was not afire and close the door behind him. He put off the inevitable for a short time. Officers moved up close to the house to prevent escape in all directions. Suddenly, Torres smashed through a window, splintering the frame and breaking what glass remained, and landed on the ground. He raised both hands and officers initially thought he meant to surrender; but his hands came down quickly and he held a pistol in each. He began firing at officers as he ran toward an open field, and officers returned fire. Only one bullet struck Torres, and that was a rifle ball to the heart. He died within a few minutes.
Hardly a dashing figure, young Torres was clad in bib-overalls, heavy work shoes and an ancient woman’s coat, trimmed with imitation fur. He seemed to smile as he died, according to reports of the day. Deputy Cunningham died of his injuries two days later, while Sheriff Aragon, after a long period of convalescence, recovered. Marshal Sanchez’s wounds proved to be minor by comparison.
No source consulted seemed to know where Torres got the guns he used to fight the law, or why his reaction to the officers was so violent.
Note: The above account is taken from the Albuquerque Journal for Sunday, March 2, 1930. An Associated Press story dated March 1, indicates that Bonifacio “Bonnie” Torres was 21 years of age at the time of his death, not 19. This story spells the young man’s name Torrez. The AP story also indicates that Torres was drunk and disturbing the peace immediately before the officers attempted to arrest him in the first place.
Albuquerque Journal, March 2, 3, & 4, 1930
Don Bullis, New Mexico’s Finest: Peace Officers Killed in the Line of Duty, 1846-2010
Dallas (Texas) Morning News, March 4, 1930
Las Vegas (New Mexico) Optic, March 1 & 3, 1930
Don Bullis’ latest book, New Mexico Historical Encyclopedia, is scheduled for publication in April by Rio Grande Books. It will contain more than 700 entries on nearly 1,000 pages of copy, and 350 illustrations. Contact LPDPress@q.com to place orders. Don Bullis is also available for speaking engagements for organizations statewide. ▫