It’s been one week since anyone has seen or spoken with Jack Williams, a 53-year-old Las Maravillas resident who went missing after wandering into the desert near the Manzano Mountains.
His family, friends and the community are in desperate need of answers after searching countless hours for the husband, father of two and retired corrections officer.
“We need to know what happened,” said Williams’ older brother, John, of his disappearance. “We need to find him. We all just need closure.”
Along with John, his other siblings, Pat Gallegos and Lisa Zamora; their parents, Susan and Paul Gallegos; his wife, Yvette; and daughters, JeriAnn and Tanya, have been waiting and wondering what happened to Williams.
The last time law enforcement knows that someone had contact with Williams was in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 6. The night before, on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he had been doing what he’d been doing for years — socializing at the Moose Lodge in Rio Communities.
Belen Police Chief James Harris said Williams routinely went to the lodge every Tuesday and would leave around 10 p.m. Last week, Williams left at about 10:40 p.m. He never made it home.
John said when Jack didn’t come home, Yvette immediately started to call his friends and him, but couldn’t locate him.
“He usually drives across the street (from the Moose Lodge) in Rio Communities, cuts across and gets onto the Manzano Expressway to drive home,” John said. “Every now and then, he’ll take the long route — South Navajo Loop. He took the same route he always takes that night and made a right turn too soon and ended up on a long strip of dirt road toward South Navajo Loop and Trigo Springs Lane.”
Yvette first called the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office at about noon on Wednesday, Sept. 6, to report her husband missing, but later went to her in-laws’ home in Belen, where she contacted the Belen Police Department.
“At that point, we entered him into NCIC (National Crime Information Center) and, at about 7 p.m., friends and family called dispatch saying they found his truck off Military Highway by the mountains,” Harris said. “They had been searching for him for hours.”
Harris said when deputies got there, they found the terrain had been disturbed by four-wheelers and other vehicles driven by people who had been looking for Jack. His 2006 Ford F-250 was unlocked with the keys, his wallet and dead cellphone inside.
“It appears that he got high-centered on a bar ditch,” Harris said. “It was also pretty sandy out there as well. He was also very low on gas. For them to get the vehicle out of there, they had to put gas in it.”
Harris speculates that Williams got his truck stuck, tried to get it out and it possibly stalled out on him because there was air in the gas lines.
John said he thinks his brother realized he was going the wrong way, and decided to turn around, stopped and backed up. That’s when he got high-centered on the berm.
“He put his floor mats underneath the tires to try and get unstuck,” John said. “It didn’t work.”
The police chief said it wasn’t until Saturday that he learned of some other individuals who had seen Williams at about 11 p.m., Tuesday night, just after he got his truck stuck.
“These young adults saw what they believe was his vehicle and an individual outside the vehicle but they never made contact,” Harris said. “They said he got out of his vehicle and was walking around in the field. They did not speak to him.”
Williams’ brother said he has also spoken to at least one of the individuals who saw Jack that night.
“He told me he was a rancher up there and was there protecting the cows,” John said. “He said he saw the maroon Ford, and when he put his headlights on him, (Jack) got out and started walking westbound down the fence with a very dim flashlight.”
John said he asked the guy why he didn’t offer his brother a ride, but he told him he was just there to protect his cows.
“You know that if there was anyone who was 10 miles from town, there isn’t a possible way they could walk,” John said. “I don’t know why they couldn’t have just given him a ride. I don’t get that.”
The police chief said some might believe that these individuals might have something to do with his disappearance.
“I cannot say 100 percent that they did not, but from my experience interviewing people, they do not appear to have any direct involvement in his disappearance,” the chief said.
The last individual who police know had contact with Williams was a man living in a travel trailer out in the llano.
“He did make contact with someone who we’re calling a homesteader out there at about 2 a.m.,” Harris said. “There was a fifth-wheel camper out there and the individual had stepped out and went to his car to charge his phone.”
The Belen police chief said when the man opened his car door, the dome light came on and Williams was about 40-50 yards away.
“(Williams) saw the light come on and yelled to him,” Harris said. “The guy walked out to where Jack was at, talked with him and gave him some water.”
Harris said Jack told the man he was lost, and asked what was the best way to get back to civilization. The man, who said he was too intoxicated to drive, told Jack what the best direction was to go.
“We believe Jack had been drinking,” Harris said. “We don’t know how much or even if he was intoxicated. (The homesteader) said he could smell alcohol (on Jack) but he wasn’t stumbling drunk.”
The chief said they did find footprints and followed them, but lost them when they got to South Navajo Loop, the road that begins at N.M. 47 and ends at Military Highway by the Manzano Mountains.
John said along with his brother’s weight, he had a very bad back, which would hinder his ability to walk very far.
“I know my brother can’t walk more than 100 yards,” John said. “He either has to sit down, kneel down or lean on something because he has a terrible back.”
John said his wife, Geri, and several others spoke with the man in the fifth-wheel trailer, who told them he did speak with Jack that morning.
“When (the man) told Jack to head toward South Navajo Loop, Jack told him he didn’t want to go that way because something or someone was following him,” John said. “The man went back inside and that was it.”
Harris said the Belen Police Department and Valencia County Sheriff’s Office are working together on the case, saying both agencies are helping in the search for Williams.
“We set up an incident command post at the Rio Communities Fire Department, gathered as many resources as we could, including civilians,” Harris said. “We called in the state search and rescue team, and they brought out other search teams from Socorro, Albuquerque and Cibola counties.”
Along with hundreds of people searching on foot, on horseback, on ATVs and vehicles, multiple drones, helicopters and fix-winged aircraft monitored the area from the sky. The New Mexico Search and Rescue (NMSAR) also had K-9 officers search for Williams.
“We all were out there, attempting a possible track and, by Friday morning, the SARs team had developed a three-mile perimeter based on different factors such as his health and capabilities to maneuver the terrain,” Harris said.
Belen Police Lt. Adam Keck said SARs brought in several K-9 units on Friday, but nothing was detected. About six or seven other law enforcement teams joined the search that day.
“We had hundreds of people out there looking — not including law enforcement,” John said. “We probably had over 80 or 90 side-by-sides and ATVs out there. The community outreach has been incredible. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The official SARs operation was suspended late Friday night, but local law enforcement, friends and family are continuing the search and following up on other leads.
“The area up there is unpredictable. The people up there are unpredictable,” Harris said. “There are a lot of structures up there, the majority are for ranch personnel. There is a lot of area up there with sporadic outbuildings”
Harris said many might think it’s a steady incline leading up to the mountains, but he said that’s not the case.
“There are nooks and crannies, there’s washes, there’s lots of places where a person could fall and be hidden by brush,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns out there that creates a very difficult search situation. We’ve saturated the area, but that doesn’t mean every inch has been checked.”
After a week of searching high and low for Williams, Chief Harris said there have been no signs of him in the area where his truck was found or in the three-mile perimeter where most of the search was conducted.
“We have gathered as many clues as we could and we followed up completely on all of those clues, which ended up not begin viable,” Harris said. “There were footprints that ended up not being his, and there was what was thought to be a black shirt but it was a black bag.”
The police chief said while he doesn’t think there is foul play involved in Williams’ disappearance, he is unsure what has happened to him.
“We’ve spoken with the family, and I have one specific family member who I have as a point of contact,” Harris said. “We are working together (with the sheriff’s office) and are doubling our resources.
“At this point, there has been nothing to indicate foul play,” he added. “If there is information that comes to us that leads us to believe that there is foul play involved, we’ll follow up. With the exception of him leaving his wallet and phone and stuff in the vehicle, there’s nothing unusual that he left the vehicle and went walking.
“We are holding out hope that he’s alive, but we have to keep in mind that it doesn’t look good,” he said. “Is there a chance foul play is involved? Yes. Is there a chance that someone picked him up against his will? It’s a possibility. Until we find him — one way or the other — we’re not going to know.”
When asked what he thinks happened to his brother, John said while Jack is a “kind, gentle bear,” he’s also someone who wouldn’t hesitate to ask someone for help if he needed it.
“He probably asked someone for a ride,” John said. “He would have volunteered to get in because they couldn’t get him in the car. He’s too big. Someone probably picked him up to give him a ride, and took him somewhere and did something bad to him. We just don’t know.”
John said his brother has to be somewhere else, wondering why no one has found him — someone close to weighing 300 pounds in the desert and can’t walk very far.
“Being a cop for 38 years,” John says, “I know what the odds are that he’s alive. After 72 hours, the odds get worse that we’ll find him alive.”
Williams’ family, John’s wife, Geri, said, is devastated, especially his mother, Susan, his wife, Yvette, and his two daughters, JeriAnn and Tanya.
“They’re not doing too well,” Geri said. “JeriAnn and her dad were extremely close. She’s just devastated, and Yvette isn’t doing well either. His mom is a mess.”
“We just want closure,” John said. “We don’t want it to be another Tara Calico case without answers.”
Described by John as a “big, loving teddy bear,” he would be the first one to stop and help someone stranded on the side of the road.
“He’s from Belen; he’s that type of guy,” John said. “He’s a big conversationalist; he loves to make people laugh and he’s a big jokester. When people see him, they want to come up to him, talk to him and they want to be around him.”
Jack Williams is described as 5-feet, 7-inches tall, weighing between 260 and 300 pounds, with hazel eyes. He’s bald but has a salt and pepper beard. He was last seen wearing a black sleeveless shirt, black basketball shorts and Adidus shoes. He has a tattoo of two pistols on his right forearm, with the words, “In God we trust.”
The family is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Williams’ location — dead or alive. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Valencia Emergency Regional Communications Center at 505-865-9130.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.