One of the most enduring mysteries in El Paso, Texas is the disappearance of William and Margaret Patterson. On the evening of March 5, 1957, the couple left their home at 3000 Piedmont Drive and completely vanished, leaving a stockpile of possessions behind. Their disappearance was so abrupt that theories ranging from alien abduction to espionage have been proffered.
At first glance, 52-year-old William Durrell Patterson and his 42-year-old wife Margaret were an ordinary couple. They owned Patterson Photo Supply and were generally well-liked by neighbors. In addition to the photo supply business, William Patterson also owned a boat, a Cadillac, stock in a boat company, and property in Guaymas, Mexico.
A few nights before their disappearance, the Pattersons invited friends, the Wards (owners of the Ward Motor Clinic), over for dinner. After the meal, Cecil Ward accompanied William into the garage to help him apply acrylic to a boat. The Wards later told police that neither William nor Margaret mentioned any plans to travel. In fact, Cecil Ward added that he and William had made plans for later in the week.
On the morning of March 6, 1957, Cecil Ward opened his automotive business. He was met with a curious sight: William Patterson’s Cadillac sat in the driveway. A man named Doyle Kirkland then came into Ward’s auto shop. Kirkland managed Duffy Photo Service, and though he and William were competitors, the businessmen were close friends.
When asked why he had possession of the Patterson car, Kirkland brushed it off. He told Ward that he and William had worked on his boat the previous night, and that “the Pattersons were going on a little vacation.” He instructed Ward to fix a few problems on William’s Cadillac.
Concerned, Ward called the police. When they arrived at the Patterson house, they found it in complete disarray. Dishes from the previous night’s meal were stacked in the kitchen sink. Piles of expensive clothing, including a fur coat, had been left at the cleaners, with no instructions about storage. None of the utilities had been disconnected and the newspaper and mail were still scheduled for delivery. Aside from Tommy, the family cat, the Patterson household was eerily devoid of life.
The Mysterious Pattersons
Ward cooperated with police, telling them everything he knew about the Pattersons. He described William as a boisterous and extravagant, yet kind man. But as the questioning continued, a new side of William emerged. Ward recalled an event from a month earlier, when William had gotten drunk in Juarez, Mexico and picked a fight with a waiter. It turned out that William was dining with his 20-year-old mistress, Estefana Arroyo Morfin, and the waiter had refused to serve her.
This resulted in more questions about the Pattersons’ lifestyle. Both William and Margaret were tight-lipped about their respective childhoods, except to say that they had been rough. William had come from Chicago, where he once worked as a carnival barker. Margaret’s parents disapproved of William as a potential son-in-law and demanded that Margaret choose between William and them. Margaret’s friends later told police that she would not tell them her birthdate, exactly how she and William had met, or how long they had been married.
William’s father, Luther Patterson, testified in a court of inquiry that he expected William and Margaret would disappear one day, because William had the free-spirited heart of a carny. Luther Patterson went on to say that he was certain the couple was not dead, and that William had “done things like that before.”
William’s mistress, Estefana Morfin, was also questioned, and told authorities that William mentioned having to “disappear soon and do it quickly.” Morfin later retracted her statement.
Then, on March 15, 1957, Herbert Roth, the Pattersons’ accountant, received a telegram. It was sent from the Western Union office in Dallas, where it had been commissioned via a phone call near the Love Field Airport. The sender was listed as “W.H. Patterson,” which was odd considering William’s middle name was Durrell. The telegram instructed Roth to act as business manager of the Patterson Photo Supply Company. It also asked Roth to sell a mobile home owned by the Pattersons, use the proceeds to support the store, and to rent out the Patterson home for at least nine months.
Lastly, the telegram directed Roth to hire a new store manager and replace William. A name was provided. The new store manager would be none other than Doyle Kirkland.
The telegram seemed to offer promising leads, yet it also compounded the mystery. For starters, it was ordered over the phone, meaning no handwritten original existed. Anyone could have placed the call to the Western Union office in Dallas. And while the telegram’s surprising requests certainly cast suspicion over Doyle Kirkland, no further evidence concretely linked him to the disappearance. By the 1960s, Kirkland left El Paso entirely, after which police lost track of him.
Several witnesses claimed to have seen the Pattersons outside of Mexico City in the years after the disappearance. Sheriff Bob Bailey tracked down a few hotel workers in Valle del Bravo and showed them photographs. The workers identified the Pattersons as the couple who had stayed at the hotel for several months in 1957. Despite this, there was no record of the Pattersons having stayed and no signed register.
On March 27, 1964, the Pattersons were officially declared dead.
New Evidence and Theories
The case went cold for over 20 years. Then, a man named Reynaldo Nangaray came forward in 1984 with startling new information. Nangaray had been the caretaker of the Patterson home and confessed to homicide detective Freddie Bonilla that he had found blood in the garage, and a piece of a human scalp on the propeller of Patterson’s boat shortly after the couple disappeared. Nangaray admitted to having cleaned up the mess.
He also claimed to have seen one of Patterson’s associates taking bloody sheets out of the home and throwing them into the trunk of a car, but he could not identify the associate. When asked why he had waited so long to come forward, Nangaray said he was an undocumented immigrant back in 1957, and that he had feared deportation. Two years after speaking with the police, Nangaray died in a car accident.
Theories about the Pattersons’ fate are numerous. Some believe they were kidnapped and murdered; others feel that William killed Margaret and then went on the run (or vice versa); others still believe the couple was abducted by aliens. There are some, however, who speculate that the Pattersons were spies and had simply fled when instructed to do so.
The spy theory gained traction in 2009, when El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego was interviewed for a retrospective on the case. Samaniego told reporter Diana Washington Valdez that he believed the Pattersons had been spies because of how quickly they vanished. Samaniego also relayed a story about William Patterson taking photographs of Fort Bliss and of military shipments on various trains.
Whatever happened to the couple at 3000 Piedmont Drive, El Paso residents have never forgotten the bizarre event, and local lore surrounding the Patterson case persists to this day.