Thirty years to the day after 52-year-old Herman Higgs was beaten to
death on Santa Fe's north side, police on Friday morning confirmed that
they interviewed a former sheriff's deputy whom they are calling "a
person of interest" in the case.
Police say they believe Higgs, a Navy veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, was killed because he was gay.
"If we had a statute on the books then defining hate crimes, this
would definitely be considered a hate crime," Santa Fe police Lt. Louis
Carlos said. "This was not a robbery. There were valuable items left on
Mr. Higgs' person at the scene. ... We believe that this case was
because of his sexuality."
Santa Fe police on Friday morning questioned Clarence Garcia, 51,
about his knowledge of Higgs' death, but would not comment on what
Garcia told detectives or even if he acknowledged knowing Higgs. Garcia
was not charged with any crime Friday.
Garcia, who spent last fall coaching the Monte del Sol Charter
School varsity girls soccer team and was a popular heavyweight boxer in
the 1990s while also working as a cop, did not return a phone message
left from The New Mexican
Police confirmed Friday that "other persons who have direct
knowledge of Garcia's involvement" in the beating death have come
forward in recent months, leading to the resurrection of the cold case
file that had otherwise been forgotten in police archives.
DNA collected from the crime scene and from Higgs' autopsy will be
re-examined, Carlos said. "There is technology available to us now that
we didn't have in 1982, but we preserved all the evidence and hope that
will help us solve this case now," Carlos said.
The New Mexican
has been researching the 1982 killing for the
better part of the past month after learning of the recent break in the
case, but attempts to reach a member of Higgs' family have been
'He couldn't hurt a fly'
According to Higgs' 1982 obituary, his mother lived in Cleveland and he had an uncle in Miami.
He moved to Santa Fe around 1970.
"He decided to stay here [in Santa Fe] because of the people, the
three cultures," Pete Jimenez, a friend of Higgs and the former chairman
of the American GI Forum's Santa Fe chapter, told The New Mexican
Higgs was a College of Santa Fe graduate who served in the Navy in
both Vietnam and Korea and is buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
He was active in the college's veterans club and majored in social work,
according to the 1978 College of Santa Fe yearbook.
Higgs was a frequent patron of the Fraternal Order of Police and, according to The New Mexican
article, he often played pool and poker with officers there. About a
week before his death, Higgs told Jimenez that the cops quit playing him
because he was too good.
"He told me they put the word out on him at the FOP," Jimenez told The New Mexican
Jimenez also said that Higgs was "100 percent disabled," but it is unclear what exactly that disability was.
"He was never in trouble," Jimenez told the newspaper. "He never
harassed anybody. There ought to be some justice for him. ... The police
need to find out who did it."
Santa Fe police found a severely beaten Higgs lying in a remote area
just off Artists Road, a quarter mile from the Fort Marcy complex,
around 8:30 a.m. June 1, 1982. He died while being transported to the
hospital, according to newspaper archives.
Police at the time say he was seen at the Fraternal Order of Police
at 12:30 a.m. and then seen by an officer near Alameda and Galisteo
streets at 3 a.m. June 1.
While there were reports Higgs was known to carry a large amount of
cash with him because of his fondness of gambling on pool and poker,
Carlos on Friday said investigators at the time found valuables with
Higgs' body, ruling out robbery as a motive in the killing.
A July 24, 1982, CrimeStoppers article published in The New Mexican
sheds some light on those early theories and offers a physical description of a man police said they wanted to question.
"Detectives say they think Higgs, a homosexual, picked up a man in
the city, then drove to a lovers' lane above Fort Marcy, where the man
beat Higgs to death," states the 1982 newspaper article.
A man who described a similar scenario to investigators gave the
following description of a man that police then released to the public:
"The man wanted for questioning is described as a Spanish male, 17 or 18
years old, black hair, medium complexion, clean-shaven with thick
eyebrows and dark eyes."
Police would not say whether the man who provided that information
has been contacted since the recent news broke in the case, nor would
detectives identify that man.
Garcia's fighting history
Investigators aren't saying whether Higgs and Garcia, who was not a
sheriff's deputy at the time of the 1982 homicide, knew each other.
What is clear is that Garcia has a long history of fighting -- both in the ring and out.
Garcia's many prize fights in Northern New Mexico were frequently covered by the press, and he was popular among area fans.
After knocking out Albuquerque's Gilbert Martinez in less than 90
seconds of a February 1997 bout, the heavy-hitting Garcia told The New Mexican
, "I went under, caught him with an uppercut. I think I broke his jaw."
But his fights weren't confined to the ring. Garcia had two battery
convictions in the 1990s while he was a deputy, and a third case in
which the county settled with a man who said Garcia battered him at the
First Judicial District Courthouse.
Garcia was charged with a felony after a 1995 fight in Carlsbad
involving several off-duty officers at a nightclub there. He and other
officers were in Carlsbad attending an anti-drug conference and were
arrested as a result of the fight. Garcia later pleaded guilty to a
misdemeanor battery charge and was allowed to keep his job as a deputy.
In January 1998, Garcia was accused of beating two young men found in a motel room with his teenage daughter. He told The New Mexican
that he did what any father would do and was only trying to protect his
daughter. He later resigned from the Sheriff's Department in February
1998 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of aggravated battery
stemming from that case in October 1998.
Also in 1998, Santa Fe County settled with a man for $19,000 after
he claimed Garcia, then a deputy working security at the First Judicial
District Courthouse, battered him and unlawfully arrested him after the
man called Garcia a "pompous ass."
Since Garcia's 1998 resignation, he has remained close with many in
the law enforcement community, and his Facebook page shows friendships
with dozens of Santa Fe-area politicians and former police officers.
Last fall, Garcia was named the District 2A-AAA girls soccer coach
of the year after taking over coaching duties of the Lady Dragons
midseason and leading the team to a 10-8-1 overall record.
Carlos would not say what is next in the investigation after
Friday's interview with Garcia, and it is unclear if the man has hired
While police say DNA testing is being utilized in the case, they
would not say specifically what is being tested or how long it will take
for the results to be returned.
In the meantime, according to Carlos, police are still hoping to
talk with others who might have knowledge of the Higgs homicide --
either from 1982 or from people his killer may have spoken to about the
incident over the years.
Police ask anyone with information on the case to call Detective Julian Martinez at 955-5177.
Digital News Editor Geoff Grammer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GeoffGrammer.
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