As Close to Crime: Cricket Coogler (1930-1949)


El Paso Times photo –
April 6, 1951

It’s been 70 years since the barely concealed body of 18-year-old Las Cruces, New Mexico waitress Ovida “Cricket” Coogler was discovered in a shallow grave.

Despite numerous suspects and multiple witnesses to her movements on the night she was last seen alive, sixteen days before her body was found, the case has never been solved. The coroner can’t even say for certain how she died. There was no autopsy and a bag of lyme was dumped on the body prior to its burial.

Popular opinion is that the police and top-ranking politicians of the day wanted to close the case but they didn’t really want the right man to go to prison.

Police twice arrested NFL star player Jerry Nuzum but the good citizens of New Mexico refused to convict; they felt Nuzum was being railroaded.

Santa Fe New Mexican
photo – July 10, 1950

Police drove Wesley Eugene Byrd out into the desert and attempted to force a confession out of him but he refused to admit to a crime he said he didn’t commit.

Who killed Cricket Coogler and why? Were investigators inexperienced, incompetent or purposely obstructing justice to cover up for their cronies?

This case is filled intrigue, corruption, mafia ties and honest citizens being stonewalled.

Rather than delve deep into the crime myself, as I had originally intended, I’m going to recommend the work of two others.

If you only want to spend 85 minutes on the case – I suggest watching the 2000 award-winning documentary “The Silence of Cricket Coogler: A Political Murder” by Charlie Cullin.

It’s available on Vimeo, for purchase or rental.

I’ve uploaded the trailer to this blog’s YouTube channel.

My only complaint about the documentary is that background on the victim is sparse. The focus is primarily on the kick-ass Grand Jury that was convened to look into why the sheriff’s department would be doing such a lousy job investigating the homicide plus the corruption which jury members worked hard to uncover and the impact this pursuit of justice had on several of the major players. The best thing about the film might be, in my opinion, the interviews with folks who were involved in the reporting of the events and a few surviving members of the grand jury.

If it’s a more comprehensive look at the case you’re interested in, then pick up a copy of Paula Moore’s work “Cricket in the Web.”

from the As Close to Crime library

This 2008 book is well-researched and the author does what I would do myself if I was relating this crime to you – she makes a point of tracking the movements of the key players after the excitement of the trials had died down. There are plenty of suspects and many conflicting witness statements. Moore tries to sort through the evidence.

Neither Cullin nor Moore actually accuse any one individual of killing Cricket Coogler, either because they don’t know or they don’t wish to be sued.

I, naturally, recommend both the film and the book as a set piece. The documentary, including it’s unused footage, was a resource for author Paula Moore.


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