On the Mother Road to Budville, New Mexico

The Budville Trading Post was the site of an infamous unsolved double murder.

Unsolved double murder in Budville, New Mexico

It’s funny how things turn out

Budville, New Mexico was the site of a notorious double murder that remains unsolved to this day and the Budville Trading Co. was the scene of the crime. 

The town of Budville is named after Howard Neal “Bud” Rice. In 1928 he and his wife, Flossie, opened the general store (Budville Trading Post). Together they also operated a gas station, garage, grocery store, post office and wrecker service. While this might seem like enough for a normal person, it wasn’t enough for Bud so, in additional to all that, he also sold bus tickets, owned the local State Motor Vehicle Concession and got himself elected Justice Of The Peace. As such, Bud proclaimed himself the “Law West of the Rio Puerco” and did not hesitate to push his weight around whenever it suited him to do so.

 Travelers who lacked the good sense not to speed in Budville were routinely charged outrageous fines as was anyone unfortunate enough to break down and require the services of the auto garage. In addition, Bud antagonized other towing services by passing a law giving his wrecker exclusive access to all wrecks west of the Rio Puerco.

Bud wheeled-&-dealed and leveraged his political power to further his business interests. In other words, he personified the term conflict of interest and was an all American go-getter. And then one day Bud either pushed his luck too far or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In any case, fate came knocking for him on the evening of November 18, 1967.

After 39 years in business, Bud, Flossie, a part-time employee named Blanche Brown and one other employee, who shall remain nameless, were getting ready to close up when an armed bandit came in and robbed the store. As you may have guessed, it didn’t end well.

By the time was robbery was over, Bud and Blanche were shot dead and the robber disappeared into the night with $450. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Flossie was left unharmed as was the un-named employee who was conveniently hiding in the bathroom.

Needless to say, the local community was horrified and people soon began to refer to Budville as Bloodville.         

Who done it?

The short answer is that is was probably a shady character named Billy Ray White, but the truth is that no one except Billy Ray knows for sure if he did, or did not, rob the store that night.

The State Police had a hard time rounding up any suspects to pin the crime on. Initially they arrested a young sailor who had been seen hitch hiking in the area. Flossie identified him as the killer in a line up but the case against him fell apart because there was not one other shred of evidence linking him to the crime and, to the contrary, he had a solid alibi for his whereabouts on the night in question. With the lack of evidence, police had no choice but to release the young man and, with no other likely suspects, the crime went unsolved for years.

Eventually, police did get another break in the case when a trio of criminals looking for a plea deal offered to provide information about the Budville murders. The man they named as the killer was a baby faced drifter with a long criminal history by the name of Billy Ray White. They were able to provide enough information to convince the FBI and so Billy Ray was put on America’s Most Wanted list and was soon located and arrested.

A courtroom fiasco

To no one’s surprise, Flossie also identified Billy Ray as the killer and he was brought in to stand trial. While the case against Billy Ray seemed like a sure thing, it’s important to remember that eggs are not chickens. The defense team did a bang up job of cleaning up their client and presented him in a suit, clean shaven like a show pony in a children’s beauty contest.

Additionally, his lawyers did a fine job of casting doubt on Flossie’s credibility. Billy Ray was, after all, the second man she identified as definitely being the killer. She was wrong the first time so it seemed likely that she could could be mistaken this time as well. There was also the issue of Flossie getting remarried just a short time later to a convicted felon named Max Atkinson. It seemed a little odd that Bud and Blanche were gunned down while Flossie was left unharmed. Could it be that she played a part in orchestrating the crime? 

Aside from attacking Flossie’s credibility, the defense team presented other likely scenarios that apparently had not been investigated. For example, just a few days before his murder, Bud had testified in a Texas drug trial and, as the ole’ saying goes, “snitches get stitches”. There was also the issue of Bud abusing his political power to further his business interests. It seemed equally likely that a rival towing company may have put a price on his head.

With such a show in the courtroom, it’s easy to see how jurors would come to doubt whether or not the doe-eyed defendant was the killer. When the theatrics were over, the jury deliberated for less than two hours and returned a verdict of “not guilty” and Billy Ray White was once again a free man.

Justice…?

Now here’s the kicker, a few years later Billy Ray was convicted for an almost identical crime. He had robbed a small store in Louisiana and murdered the clerk. On June 8, 1974 he died of an apparent suicide in the Louisiana State Prison and rumor has it he had confessed to his cell mate that he had indeed committed the robbery and murders in Budville.

Then what?

 I read a personal account from a friend of the family who claimed that Flossie said she was forced to marry Max Atkinson and she “knew he was one of the killers”. When I read that, I thought, “one of the killers?”  So far as I can find, police were only ever looking for one guy. 

This same person, who knew Bud and Flossie for many years said that she never saw Bud mistreat anyone and, to the contrary, that he went above and beyond to help members of the local community, including but not limited to, buying all the produce off an overturned big rig from California and delivering it to local schools in Native American communities. 

 As always, there are many sides to any story. What is known is that Flossie’s marriage to Max Atkinson was relatively short lived. Maybe it was karma for ol’ Max but in 1973 he wound up on the short end of a fight and died just three feet from where Bud had been gunned down in 1967.

Flossie married for a third time and passed away from natural causes in 1994 at which time the Budville Trading Post finally closed after 66 years of business.

Today’s Budville, New Mexico

The Budville Trading Post was eventually sold and reopened as the Budville Trading Company but it too closed. And, not for nothin’, there’s a high probability that the building is haunted. Today the building remains abandoned and is a staple for any photographer interested in exploring historic Route 66.

The story of the Budville Trading Company may not be over yet. Just a couple months ago on November 19, 2019, local news affiliate KRQE ran a story detailing the current owner’s intention to re-open the store. Lucy Peterson, a long time resident of the Budville area, is the current owner of the Budville Trading Company building and says she would love to restore it and reopen the store. That being said, Ms. Peterson also seems to have no solid plan in place to do this so the outcome remains to be seen. When I visited Budville on January 12, 2020, it still looked pretty abandoned.

Bud’s old tow truck

I don’t know for sure but it seems likely that the truck pictured below may have been Bud’s old tow truck.

I wonder if anyone is still waiting for this old Caddy to get fixed?
If you notice, the sign on the door reads, “Great Seal Of The State Of New Mexico, 1912. Official New Mexico Motor Vehicle Inspection Station.”

Sources

These photos were taken on January 12, 2020

Updates

The following is a comment received on Facebook about this post.

Great photos, but just one thing – Max Atkinson wasn’t gunned down ‘three feet’ from where Bud was killed in the trading post. It was his brother who was killed. Max himself did met a violent end but it was around 30 miles from Budville. -Blue Miller

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