An “urban legend” is an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true. Albuquerque has its own library of tales that may or may not be real, but are frequently repeated by those who grew up here. According to legend there are countless ghosts haunting our city (Bobby at the KiMo Theatre, Mrs. M at the Albuquerque Press Club, the Lady in Black at the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Old Town, the dead kids who patrol the halls of the Hotel Parq Central/Memorial Hospital). Plenty of monsters stalk the ditches and mesas around Albuquerque as well (El Cucuey, La Llorana, Sandia Sam, the Manzano Monster). And there are loads of historical rumors, both true (a kid was beheaded at the old Malibu Grand Prix go-cart track) and false (Cibola High School was built out of an old women’s prison).
The following are investigations (by no means complete) into some of the Duke City’s most enduring urban legends.
The Devil’s Game
In March of 1990, hot off the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, Albuquerque was abuzz when police reportedly found a massive “Satanic” symbol carved into the West Mesa of Albuquerque. Turns out it was made out of tires, but its unholy purpose was still quite clear to a great many people in the Duke City. At least for a few days.
The 400-foot-wide “symbol” consisted of three hexagons placed together in a triangular field. With a little imagination, it sure as Hell looked like a bunch of pentagrams set up near the volcanoes. Nearby letters spelled out “TERF” (or was it “TEAF”?). Was this the name of the demon to which the human sacrifices undoubtedly practiced at this place were dedicated? Local newspapers and television stations were rife with speculation. One unnamed senior police official with the Rio Rancho Police Department told reporters, “The pattern is identical to a ‘seal’ used in Egyptian Mythology for some type of initiation. It is definitely a ceremonial site used by a cult. A form of church. And it’s probably still in use.” Officer Paul Montoya was quoted as saying, “This is definitely witchcraft. … and I’d stay away from there if there are any people around. They’ll hurt you.” Robin Gile, who called himself an “archetypal symbolist consultant” (which sounds suspiciously like Tom Hanks’ job description in The Da Vinci Code), got very specific: “The site was designed to create a focus of will and to draw wisdom in, and it’s definitely honoring the female side. There’s a magnificent and grand underground of psychic tradition here.”
What it was designed for, as it soon turned out, was playing a homegrown sport called “Terfball.” Within days, creator Glenn Shockley appeared on the news, admitting he had invented the game, a mixture of soccer and tag played among three interlocking goals. Most amusing was the fact that the game had been played by former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk and a group of police officers. Rusk told the Albuquerque Journal that the Satanic speculation gave him “the best belly laugh I’ve had in years.” Shockley, who worked at Midtown Rentals at the time, went to Mayor Rusk when the Terfball field was built back in 1981, trying to establish it as a popular, Albuquerque-based sports league. In 1990 Rusk recalled that a game was played by, “the mayor’s office, the police department and the fire department. I was captain of the mayor’s office team. It’s kind of a crazy game. If I recall correctly, the police won. it was fun.”
After the tire field was rediscovered nine years later, a noted scientist commented on the layout of tires in the same way others speculate on the Great Pyramid: “It looks like nothing on the ground, but in the air it’s an incredibly precise pattern. Whoever did this had to have used surveyor’s equipment to lay it out so precisely.” Shockley said he and some friends constructed it over two weekends in the summer of ’81. The only “equipment” they had on hand: a keg of beer. The tires were removed shortly after they were discovered in 1990, and the hyperbolic police investigation was forever enshrined in a chapter of Robert D. Hicks’ book In Pursuit of Satan: Police and the Occult. Terfball never did become a national sensation, but Shockley is still trying: You can start your own Terfball league by going to terfball.com.
The Church of the Purple Gate
Anyone who attended Hayes Middle School in the 1970s and ’80s recalls rumors about the alleged hotbed of supernatural activity known as Purple Gate Church. Located just down the street from Hayes at 8025 Mountain Road Place NW was a “creepy” brick building with distinctive purple gates and gold statuary. White-robed congregants could occasionally be seen slipping inside.
“I attended Hayes from 1978-1980,” said one former student on Facebook. “And the story told to me was that church was a Satanic church. Was told that all kinds of sacrifices were done there.”
“Satanic church,” confirmed another Albuquerque local. “Baby sacrifices and everything.”
Of course, if a bunch of middle school children were aware of a church full of Satanists sacrificing babies to the Dark Lord, surely it would have come to the attention of APD at some point. Needless to say, the religious institution on Mountain Road Place is not affiliated with the Church of Satan. It is, in fact, the I AM Temple of Albuquerque, associated with the St. Germain Foundation. The foundation was started in 1930 by a mining engineer named Guy Ballard who claimed to have visited with the “ascended master” St. Germain on the slopes of Mt. Shasta in California. St. Germain imparted certain pieces of cosmic wisdom to Ballard and instructed him to become a “messenger.” The St. Germain Movement grew to nearly a million adherents by 1940. Ballard taught much of his “sacred knowledge” and “ancient wisdom” through mail order courses. (“Vibratory actions” and daily use of something called the “Violet Consuming Flame” form some of the basis of this New Age melange.)
The movement started to tail off after Ballard’s untimely death in 1939. Three years later Ballard’s wife and son were indicted on 18 counts of mail fraud. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and was overturned and reaffirmed a number of times. The church’s ability to use the U.S. Mail system was not re-established until 1954. After her husband’s death (or “ascension,” depending on whom you ask), Edna Ballard moved from California to Santa Fe. She maintained a home there until she “passed into the Universal Light of Divine Love” in 1971. (Hence, the church’s New Mexico connection.) The St. Germain Foundation is still active with a headquarters in Schaumberg, Ill. and has a major temple in Denver, Colo. The group was labelled a cult in a 1995 report by the Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France. American religious scholar and author of the Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, J. Gordon Melton, ranked the movement as an “established cult.” The St. Germain Movement, of course, maintains that it is not a cult, since it does not charge a membership and members are free to leave at any time.
The Albuquerque temple is rarely used today. The notorious purple gates have been repainted a simple white.
A Haunting in the Foothills
According to GhostlyWorld.org, “The hill known as ‘Haunted Hill’ is found just at the end of Menaul’s foothills. The sound of screaming, bodies being dragged around and footsteps can be heard there. An apparition of an old man coming after you has been known to chase after those who visit the hill. From a distance, it appears he is walking with a lantern. Legend has it that the man used to live up in a cave at the top of the hill, where he would kill prostitutes during the weekend.”
Historical records do not back up the idea of a hermit living in a cave in the foothills and killing prostitutes. So it’s hard to determine whether or not his ghost haunts the site, swinging a lantern at the teenagers who congregate there to smoke, drink and get scared. Some speculate that the “prostitute murders” angle didn’t get added to this story until after the reveal of the West Mesa killings that took place between 2003 and 2005. (The bones of at least 11 women, many working as prostitutes or living on the streets at the time of their disappearances, were found on Albuquerque’s West Mesa.)
Nonetheless, generations of young people have toured the area (located at the east end of Menaul at the Embudo Canyon trailhead) on a dare and reported seeing/hearing eerie things. Various comments on hauntedplaces.org report just that. “A few friends and I went ghost hunting here one night after hearing rumors of a hermit who killed prostitutes in a cave somewhere in the foothills,” noted one. “During our investigation, we heard objects being thrown at us from multiple directions, unexplained sounds coming from bushes that we checked for animals in, and other spooky activity, we felt the presence of a skinwalker was a possibility.”
A Sucker Born Every Minute
The legendary chupacabra has become a popular myth in the American Southwest. Local author/skeptical inquirer Benjamin Radford (benjaminradford.com) wrote extensively on the phenomenon in his 2011 book Tracking the Chupacabra. He believes the myth of the blood-sucking alien lizard originated in Puerto Rico in 1995. Others insist the beast has been around for centuries. Unlike those nebulous monsters mentioned in the introduction of this article, however, the chupacabra is the only one to leave behind concrete physical evidence. Sort of.
We’re not talking about the dozens of exsanguinated cow carcasses that have littered Southwest pastures from time immemorial. Those have been chalked up to everything from curious aliens to ravenous skinwalkers. No, back in 2005 several West Mesa residents reported finding the mummified body of what was obviously a chupacabra.
“It was found out on the West Mesa,” construction worker Robert Wheeler told KOB-TV in February of 2005. ”A friend of mine was out there shooting and kicked it out of the dirt.”
“It looks like a gargoyle,” said Wheeler’s friend Steve Garcia. “It has these sponge-like lips.”
“[To people of] Spanish heritage, it’s the chupacabra,” concluded Wheeler. “The goat sucker is what they call it.”
It seemed Albuquerque suddenly had irrefutable proof regarding the existence of the chupacabra. The bizarre, desiccated corpse was given over to the Department of Game and Fish. And within a few days it was identified—as a dried-out sea skate. Skate (a relative of the stingray) is seen on a handful of mariscos menus around Albuquerque, and it was speculated that what Wheeler and friend found was the leftovers from a fisherman’s lunch. But Albuquerque’s distance from the ocean and the particular way in which this sea creature was cut up and dried makes it clear that it was an old tourist souvenir known as a “Jenny Haniver.” These crude aquatic taxidermies date as far back as the 1500s. They have, throughout history, been passed off as mermaids, demons, basilisks, devil fish and, evidently, goat-suckers. They often showed up in circus sideshows as “proof” of such. Less common than they once were, they are still sold to tourists throughout the Caribbean.
How Does It Cry With No Face?
The saga of Albuquerque’s legendary Faceless Monster a.k.a. the Crybaby Monster started on the night of Oct. 13, 1966. A report in the next day’s Albuquerque Tribune began with a description of a “thing” that “looks like a man, runs like an animal and cries like a baby.” The eerie creature had been appearing “almost nightly” at the South Valley residence of Clifford McGuire, located at 413 Wilshire Dr. SW, just off Bridge and across the street from the heavily wooded Rio Grande bosque. Mr. McGuire told sheriff’s deputies that the monster had a black body and a white face without features and stood about five feet tall. On one previous visit, the creature hit McGuire’s 18-year-old son C.D. McGuire in the chest, knocking him out. Every time the creature reappeared, young McGuire’s chest began hurting. Also, the family’s radio mysteriously cut out whenever the Faceless Monster came around.
At least 10 other people allegedly had encounters around the same time. One noticed it lurking near the Old Town Bridge. A “black object” reportedly attacked a woman in the 7700 block of Don Dr. NE. John Roth, then-director of the Albuquerque Zoo, speculated that the creature could be an escaped South American “night monkey” called a douroucouli (although he admitted no monkeys were missing from the zoo). A local resident, who did not wish to be identified, said “the same monster type story” occurred back in 1939 (or ’40 or maybe it was ’41). “I’m not going to speculate as to what it is,” Deputy Sheriff Dale Knable told the Albuquerque Journal. “But there’s something out there.”
Over the next few days, monster fever grew in Albuquerque. Two nights after the McGuire’s police report, the creature was “heard but not seen” in the area of Jeanette and Wilshire. It was also reportedly spotted North of Central off Rio Grande Blvd. and all the way up in the Northeast Heights. On Oct. 22 “a little black thing” scared a cat owned by the Willie Baca family of the 3200 block of Gonzales Rd. SW. “They all heard it cryin’,” said Baca’s brother in law. “They said it was the most horrible cry—like a baby. It shook Willie too. And the cat was so scared he wouldn’t even meow.”
The story ended up being a short-lived one. A week or so after the initial report, Sheriff Joe Wilson released a statement from two young men, Andy Jaramillo and Blue Serna—both of whom lived on Wilshire. The boys told detectives they stopped a man dressed in black pants and a black bulky sweater as he prowled through the yard of the McGuire home several days after the Oct. 13 incident. The man was described as 5’7″ and was wearing a stocking over his head. They chased the intruder over a fence, and he disappeared across an irrigation ditch. By Halloween the story was all but dead, and the monster has not been seen (or heard) since. So: costumed prankster, escaped monkey, angry neighbor or genuine monster? Albuquerque may never know.