Ask anyone near or over the age of 50 who has lived in South Logan County most or all of their life what the most infamous crime is in the history of the area is and it’s unlikely you’ll get more than one answer.
Thursday, June 29 marked the 40th anniversary of the slayings of Magazine Town Marshal Marvin Richie and Park Ranger Opal James and wounding of Park Ranger David Small by Paul Ruiz and Earl Van Denton, who had escaped from a state penitentiary in McAllister, Okla.
According to multiple reports Richie received a call that a motorist needed assistance at Scott Creek Road and several others reported seeing a man roll a tire into a service station in Magazine to fill it with air.
At 9 a.m., Richie radioed the Booneville Police Department to request a license check. He never acknowledged a response to the call and by 9:30 a full scale hunt was underway for Richie.
Richie’s patrol unit was spotted going through Blue Mountain but he was reportedly handcuffed in the back seat and two men were in the front seat. About 1:30 the marshal’s car was found near Ashley Creek Landing. Inside the trunk were Richie and Small, who were cuffed to each other. Richie had been shot in the back of the neck and Small had been shot in the chest but survived.
Small told authorities, and later testified, that he and James, 58, found the men and Richie, 42, at the landing and that he and Richie were forced into the trunk before being shot.
James, however, was presumably kidnapped by the pair. His body and pickup truck were found on July 1, in a wooded area near Oden. James had been shot in the head.
The Day Life Changed
Meanwhile Virginia Hamilton, who goes by Ginny, which was what her father called her, became concerned.
“I was trying to get hold of Dad because he came home every day for lunch and he didn’t come home,” said Hamilton, who now lives in Maryland. “I was frantically trying to get hold of him on the CB and never could.”
Hamilton, who was 14 at the time, then made her way to town where she discovered multiple police units all over town.
“They actually told my boyfriend that they had found him and to take me back home,” said Hamilton. “The mayor at that time had pulled up in our yard and came to house to let us know what happened.”
Anne Jester of Booneville, then 25, was working at Wolverine Toy at the time and saw a multitude of ambulances and law enforcement vehicles speeding towards Magazine. She went outside briefly and returned, telling a co-worker “something is up.”
“I called mom and said is everything okay down there? She said ‘Yeah, why.’ I said something is going on,” recalls Jester. “Where’s Becky. ‘Becky’s in Magazine, with her friends.’”
Nobody came to notify her so she called her mother back to hear again everything was okay.
“It was not yet quitting time, about 4 o’clock. Jerry Standridge came in and said ‘Anne I know you’re concerned about this. You need to go on home,” said Jester. “Still had not told me it was Daddy.
“We were getting ready to leave the office and my sister called and said, ‘Anne, they’ve got Daddy.’”
Unlike Richie’s family, Jester’s family had to wait for two days until James’ body was found.
Obviously life took a drastic change for both Hamilton and Jester.
“I quit school when I was 16 to go to work trying to help out,” said Hamilton. “(The state) had given me a driver’s license when I was 14 so I could drive Mom around because Mom never drove.
“I did a lot of growing up real quick.”
She likes to stay busy on June 29. Hamilton said she will generally mark the anniversary of Richie’s death by “getting balloons and let them go to Dad in Heaven.”
She also does the same thing on Richie’s birthday,and has local relatives place flowers on the grave and the memorial in Hank Stone City Park — the Corps of Engineers renamed a lookout at Blue Mountain Lake the Opal L. James Memorial Lookout.
“Dad had a lot of love for everybody in town, especially kids, and he had so much love for any kind of animals.”
Especially a German Shepard rescued about two months before his death which he called Rex.
“When the mayor came in the yard that day Rex knew something was wrong and Rex stood up on the mayor’s door and wouldn’t let him out and when the reporters started showing up he did the same thing to them,” said Hamilton. “Rex was never like that but he knew something had happened to Dad.”
Jester doesn’t mark the anniversary as much.
“I’m always aware, but it’s just another day. My daddy would not want me to anything other than my normal thing,” said Jester.
After their arrest in Oregon, Ruiz and Van Denton fought extradition but were finally tried in Booneville in April of 1978. The case was prosecuted by the late Paul X Williams and he secured a guilty verdict and death penalty sentence.
When Ruiz and Van Denton were executed by for the killings — Jan. 8, 1997 — Hamilton, other family members, nor Small were permitted into the execution viewing area. The two were sentenced to the electric chair but were executed by lethal injection.
“David Small had tried and tried and tried to get that changed where he could have gone in to witness (the execution) but he didn’t get to,” said Hamilton. “A couple months later he actually did get that changed to where now if you’re a victim you can go in and witness.”
Still Hamilton and her family were at the prison and learned of the passing of both men shortly after the pronunciation of death and witnessed the hearses leave the prison facility.
“Naturally that evening it had sleeted and iced over so bad we couldn’t get back home,” Hamilton recalls. “They actually put us all up in a room.”
Jester, who is the food service director for Booneville Schools, stayed home that night in 1997 and a friend came and sat with her.
“The hardest part was the night before they were executed Paul Ruiz’s friend called me on his behalf,” said Jester.
Jester said she isn’t sure how the friend got her number.
Hamilton, who has a sister about an hour and a half drive away in Pennsylvania, is itching to return to Magazine. She has an acre of land her father left. She hopes to come home and build a home.
Hamilton stays in touch with James’ daughter, Anne Jester of Booneville through Facebook and other means.
Though executed in Arkansas, Ruiz and Van Denton were charged with killing three people in Louisiana, and one more in Oklahoma, during a week long spree before being apprehended by the FBI in Portland, Ore., outside a Western Union.
A cyclist, Jimmy Cockrill, 38, of Colfax, La., was found shot to death. He was leaning on his motorcycle.
An Oklahoma man, Gerald Leon Tiffee, 27, went missing in Boswell on June 27, 1977 but Ruiz and Van Denton were never formally charged in connection with that case. Tiffee’s truck was pulled from a flooded gravel pit in Franklinton, La. Inside were the drowned bodies of Alton Wilson, 66, and Ray Jones, Sr, 65.
Following the first of two murder convictions — the verdict in a Booneville trial in April 1978 was overturned based on pretrial publicity, but a second guilty verdict following a trial held in Morrilton was upheld on appeal — Ruiz proved the information that led to the discovery of the fishermen, according to published reports.
The pair were also charged in the shooting death of Purcell, Okla., taxi driver James Melvin Short, 40, who was found near Chickasha, Okla.
At the time of their June 24, 1977 escape, Ruiz, then 29, was serving a life term or Robbery with firearms. Van Denton, then 28, was serving a life term for murder.