The 1967 killing of Bud Rice – Budville, New Mexico

Crime along Route 66 back in the day was actually pretty rare. It wasn’t because times were better then than now or people themselves were better and had more regard for their fellow human beings; at least to some degree it was because in most towns along the Mother Road, the only way into and out of town was Route 66. With no other way to get out of town and nowhere to hide in the small towns, criminals just didn’t stand a chance of getting away with much.

One area that epitomized the grit and determination of the state’s inhabitants was Budville, a name that sounds as comforting as it was terrifying. Located in the Laguna Indian Reservation along New Mexico Highway 124, which can be accessed by taking exit 104 off Interstate 40, travelers can still see the vestiges of the unique community. Still standing today is the Budville Trading Post and Dixie Tavern and Cafe.

Opened in 1936, Dixie’s was a place for the weary traveler to nurse their arid throats and call it a night, a haven for Desperados looking to hide from the law as well as a business for people to purchase Indian rugs and other unique merchandises. Interestingly, Dixie’s was listed in the business directories of 1946/7 and 1950 in two different locations, New Laguna and Cubero.

In order to understand the significance of Budville, let us briefly look at the tough history that helped mold Budville into a true Wild West town along the Mother Road. In 1928, the United States was still feeling the roar of the decade. Americans were feeling confident that they helped win the “war to end all wars.” And now, four out of five citizens owned an automobile. People were beginning to explore the country in ways it never could before. Among these freedom loving spirits was a couple by the names of H.N. Bud and Flossie Rice.

The 1967 slaying of owner Bud Rice and a retired schoolteacher who helped him is a tragic tale. But, as the article ably describes, the murder remains unsolved largely because of overzealous cops who were too chummy with Rice to conduct a thorough investigation.

Complicating matters was Rice’s rather brusque and shady way of doing business — one could argue that he was an outright con man. So he had made more than a few enemies along the way.

Budville was named after “Bud” Rice who, beginning in 1928 with his wife Flossie, built and operated a gas station, garage, grocery store, post office, and wrecker service on Route 66 west of Rio Puerco out in the middle of nowhere. He also sold bus tickets, owned the local State Motor Vehicle Department concession, and got himself elected Justice of the Peace. He liked to claim he was “The Law West of Rio Puerco” and did not hesitate to use this position to increase his business dealings.
The fines he charged speeders caught in his speed trap were extraordinarily onerous and he antagonized other wrecker services by passing a law which declared all wrecks east of the Rio Puerco were the domain of Albuquerque, all those west of the Rio Puerco were his and those on the bridge belonged to whomever got there first.

Although he had a kind, generous side for kids (he often bought shoes in the winter for the poor kids who lived in the area), he was well-known for being testy with most people. He often stated to anyone that would listen that he didn’t care if anyone liked him or not. One time a traveler complained about the price Bud charged for putting a new fan belt in his car. Bud simply took out his large pocket knife and cut the new belt off. When the driver complained again and asked, “What do I do now?” Bud told him he should move his car across the street unless he wanted to pay storage charges to his garage. The motorist pushed his car across the street and arranged for a friend to bring him a new belt which he installed himself the next day. Before he left though, he had to pay Bud for parking his car overnight since Bud also owned the property across the street from the garage.

On the cool night of November 18, 1967, after 39 years in business, Bud, Flossie, Blanche Brown, an 82-year-old retired school teacher who worked part-time at the trading post, and another employee were getting ready to close the store when a desperado entered to rob them. Before it was over, Bud and Blanche lay on the floor dead. The gunman then ran out the door and disappeared, leaving Flossie screaming, but unhurt and the other employee hiding in the bathroom.

Bus driver Cody Miles turned his Continental Trailways Scenicruiser off Interstate 40 onto Route 66 at the Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation exit, six miles east of Budville, at 7:40 on the evening of Saturday, November 18, 1967. Seven minutes later the bus crossed the Reservation’s west boundary, which also served as Budville’s east limit. A sign at that point read SPEED LIMIT 50. Miles blew a blast on the air horn as he passed between the new yellow brick Mormon Church to his right and the rickety old whitewashed adobe Baptist Mission School to the left. He liked to let Flossie and Miss Brown know he was coming. It gave them half a minute to shoo passengers—usually Indians going to Grants—out of the store and into the chill of the autumn night. A pickup truck pulled onto the roadway from the trading post parking lot and headed east toward Albuquerque, fifty-five miles away. Cody Miles later remembered the truck as scrap-iron mounted on wheels. A ’46 or ’47 Ford, he guessed, dark blue or black except the right door and right front fender were light colored. It didn’t have a license plate that he could see, and a single tail light glowed dim gray, the red lens long since broken out and gone. Indian Cadillac, the bus driver said to himself. Old Indian Cadillac.

Rice’s two wreckers—the blue and white Peterbilt behemoth he used for towing semi trucks and the smaller red GMC he used for cars and pickups—occupied an otherwise empty trading post driveway. The bus didn’t stop in Budville that night. Dark inside and out, except for the two gas pump globes that provided meager yellow illumination, the store appeared closed for business and no one stood under the sign which read Bus Depot. Miles thought it odd. Rice usually stayed open until eight o’clock or later, even when traffic volume declined in the fall and winter months. It pleased Cody Miles to think some of the ill-mannered arrogance had been taken out of Bud Rice when the merchant lost his final court battle to keep Interstate Highway 40 from bypassing Budville. The new four-lane highway was com-plete and open to traffic from Albuquerque to Gallup except for ten miles of the old two-lane Route 66 from Laguna Pueblo to the Los Cerritos Trading Post; the stretch that passed through Budville. By use of frivolous lawsuits and politi-cal chicanery Bud Rice had stalled completion of the Interstate road for seven years, but in the early fall of 1967, construction crews began work on the final section of I-40 where it climbed the side of Flower Mesa a half mile south of Budville. Miles didn’t like Bud Rice. Few people did. Rice worked at being as dog-mean and nasty as the pit bull terriers he kept in the salvage yard behind his store, and he didn’t care whether Cody Miles liked him or not. He didn’t care whether anyone liked him or not, and he in turn, didn’t have regard for many people. Apart from police officers and sheriff’s deputies, Bud counted few men as friends.

The bus cruised slowly through the tiny town. Miles later recalled seeing two cars in front of Dixie’s Place—a rundown old tourist trap and saloon diagonally across the road from the Bud’s Trading Post—and the dirt parking lot outside the King Cafe & Bar at the west town limit was empty. The bus accelerated as it left Budville and soon rolled along the Old Road at seventy-five miles per hour, passing through Villa de Cubero and Los Cerritos.
At the bottom of a sharp little hill just east of the Chief Rancho Motel, the driver saw red lights flashing on the road ahead. He slowed to fifty-five before passing a State Police car and a Corvette with Texas plates pulled off on the road’s shoulder. A uniformed officer leaned on the open driver’s door of the black and white Plymouth police cruiser and two other officers stood illuminated in the car’s headlights.
No one’s safe from the cops, Miles muttered to himself.” By the time Miles inquired to find out what was going on, the boss of Budville was dead, but what actually happened?
Moments earlier, at the Trading Post, according to Bullis, Bud’s angry voice yelled, “Go ahead!”… “I don’t give a damn!”
The first shot missed. A second quickly followed and it missed, too. A spasm of hope swept over the storekeeper as the bullets whizzed past his head.  A third slug tore through his neck. So did a fourth and a fifth. The merchant’s hard gray eyes revealed nothing—not fear, nor rage, nor pain—as bullets ripped his fragile flesh. Blood, bone and tissue erupted from the back of his neck and splattered the trading post wall.
The slugs drove him backward by a half step before his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. He lay there, unmoving, as his carotid artery spurted blood like a fountain for a few seconds. Then his heart stopped pumping. Two gray-haired women watched from the end of the counter, near the cash drawer.
The older woman, immobilized by shock and fear, screamed something the killer didn’t understand—his ears rang from the crash of the gun’s reports—and she raised her arms to cover her eyes, as if not seeing the killer would make him go away. She took a step backward.
The gunman fired two quick shots and nine-millimeter bullets ripped holes in her chest and neck. She staggered, then fell, her face a mask of hopeless surrender to death.

The woman lay still as blood pooled around her body and soaked into her housedress. She lived another thirty seconds before life left her. The younger woman ran away and hid. The killer blew smoke from the pistol’s barrel as he’d seen bad guys do in western movies. He followed the second woman through a door at the rear of the Budville Trading Post, a door that led to the Rice living quarters.”

The culprit had not only killed Bud Rice, but Blanche Brown an 81-year old who was purchasing a pack of cigarettes.

It was a gruesome scene and the site soon was being called, “Bloodville.”

State authorities soon arrested a young sailor who had been seen hitchhiking in the area when Flossie identified him as the killer in a line-up. In spite of the ID by Flossie, there was no other evidence which pointed to him and indeed, there were a number of people who said they had been with him or seen the sailor in a location miles from the scene of the crime at the time it happened. He was released for lack of evidence and the crime went unsolved for several years.

The police eventually caught a break when 3 criminals agreed to tell what they knew about the Budville murders in exchange for lighter sentences for crimes they had been convicted of. They all fingered a young drifter by the name of Billy Ray White, a man with a long criminal history, and provided numerous items of proof. Eventually, after the FBI placed Billy Ray on their 10 Most Wanted list, he was found, apprehended and stood trial.

Less than 2 hours after beginning deliberations, the jury returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty” and Billy Ray White walked out a free man. Officially, the crime has never been solved, but Billy Ray was later convicted of robbery and murder in a small store in Louisiana, just like Budville. On June 8, 1974, he died an apparent suicide in a Louisiana State Prison after supposedly confessing to his cell mate that he did indeed commit the crime in Budville.

As for Billy Ray White, he was arrested in Louisiana in 1968 for robbing a jewelry store and during his time in prison he spoke to a fellow inmate about what happened in November 1967. The inmate told a magazine in 1978 that White was indeed the murderer of Bud Rice and Blanche Brown. As for Flossie Rice, she married Obie Hall and ran the trading post for the last 12 years of her life. Yes, even as late as 1967, Budville continued to live by the old west code with revenge and justice acting as two key ingredients. Nonetheless, the persistence and strength showed by Mrs. Rice epitomized the meat and potatoes of the community.  After 66 years in business, the Budville Trading Post finally closed. 
After being sold, re-opened as the Budville Trading Company and closed again, the building today is probably one of the most photographed landmarks of Route 66 in New Mexico. Standing about 30 feet from the highway shoulder, it is just an abandoned, 1-story, white cement-block building with a large non-functioning neon sign in front. Its only function now is to serve as a fascinating reminder of one of the legends of Route 66.

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