A MURDER RUNS THROUGH IT
At around three o’clock in the afternoon on September 18, 1985, after working her shift at the Four Hills Country Club in Albuquerque, 19-year-old Melissa Morris went home to the Tramway Village apartment she shared with her mother, Penny Listvan.
Earlier in the day day, when Melissa had gotten ready for work, she had fixed a pot of coffee and had a cup, then slipped out the door, careful not to wake her mother. When she returned from work, the coffee pot was still on, and two coffee cups and a Coca-Cola glass that had not been there in the morning were on the dining table.
It was that detail that caused Melissa concern, and soon after she discovered her mother, Penny Listvan, stabbed to death in her own bed.
The coverage of Penny’s death in the local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, was sparse, but what coverage there was focused on the fact that Penny Listvan made her living dancing topless at a place called the Speakeasy Lounge.
Located at 5600 East Central Avenue on historic Route 66, in 1985 the Speakeasy Lounge was a place where you could get a drink, watch the dancers, or shoot pool. In 1989, a loophole in the zoning laws was closed, and the Speakeasy Lounge and other establishments like it, went under:
But in September of 1985, when the recently divorced Peggy Listvan was in need of employment, the Speakeasy Lounge was a going concern, and they were happy to hire the 39-year-old woman and give her an opportunity to get back on her feet.
Margaret Faith Walker
Born Margaret Faith Walker, the woman who would one day be known as Penny Listvan, entered the world on October 21, 1945. The baby of a large, and, even by today’s standards, complicated family, she arrived in Somervell County, Texas, joining her parents, William Dubois and Daphne Dora Walker, an almost two-year old brother, Dwight Clark, and an assortment of older half-siblings including two brothers — William Dubois Walker, Jr. and Douglas Jean Walker — and three sisters — Elaine, Gordon Ann, and Hazel Gold.
What made this blended family more complicated than average was that before William and Daphne were husband and wife, they had been brother- and sister-in-law. William’s sons and Daphne’s daughters weren’t just step-siblings — they were also first cousins.
Somervell County, Texas
While it has since experienced a rebirth, at the time Penny was born, Somervell was a county in decline. The population in 1940 had been 3,071 but by 1950 the population had dropped to 2,542 — a figure lower than what it had been in 1880.
But what Somervell County lacked in residents it made up for in rivers, and it was those rivers that were responsible for Somervell’s bit of renown and which would be responsible for the renaissance of the county in the years ahead.
The renown occurred in the spring of 1908 when there was a flash flood that caused the Paluxy River to overrun its banks. When the flood waters receded, three-toed theropod tracks were exposed, and in 1909, a young man named George Adams would discover those tracks; his discovery would bring renown, notoriety, and controversy to Somervell County.
The renaissance came when a tributary of that same river, identified by the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) in 1979 as “Squaw Creek” was dammed, and the water in the resulting reservoir was used to cool the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant.
But while Somervell County was where the future Penny Listvan got her start in life, there were travels along the way still ahead of her.
El Paso, Texas
The precise moment or circumstances that caused Penny’s family to move from Somvervell County to El Paso, Texas, isn’t in the public record, but there is a clue in the form of a General Warranty Deed prepared by R. J. Channel, Attorney at Law, and signed by G. F. Slade on November 15, 1950.
In the document G. F. Slade acknowledges receipt of $500 from W. D. and Daphne Walker, and references a promissory note for $3,000 at 6% to cover the balance of the purchase.
While G. F. Slade got some cash in-hand, and the promise of future payments, what the Walkers got for their money was a modest home at 5731 East Yandell Dr. in El Paso, Texas. It was where Penny and her brother Dwight would grow up, and her father, W. D. Walker, would live out his life.
William Dubois Walker
Although his daughter, Penny, might be what some would consider a thoroughly modern sort of woman, William Dubois Walker was born on October 19, 1899, in Sevier County Arkansas, into a world on the cusp of many changes.
The first public record of his William Dubois Walker’s existence outside the purview of his parents, is a U.S. World War I Draft Registration Card that was completed on September 12, 1918. At the time he was 18-years old. William’s address is listed as Aberdeen, Collingsworth, Texas, his occupation is given as “Farmer,” and he is described as having black eyes and black hair.
On May 7, 1940, James Brewer, an enumerator working for the United States Census, made his way to the home of William and Gladys Walker. Due to what seems to have been a misunderstanding, William’s middle name of “Dubois” is listed as his last name. He is 40, married, works as a farmer, and lives in Ward 3 of Beauregard Parish, Louisiana. In addition to William, the household includes his wife, Gladys (38), their son William, Jr. (14), their son Douglas (13), and William’s widowed mother-in-law, Lillie Gold (58).
Unlike most of their neighbors who five years earlier lived in “Sameplace” the Walker household had been uprooted from Deaf Smith County Texas, 700 miles to the north and west. There was no indication of how or why they had made the long trek from where they had been in Texas to where they now were in Louisiana, but it was a harbinger of a great upheaval brewing that would play out over the next nineteen months.
Daphne Dora Morrison Gold Walker
Born in Illinois to A. I. and Anna Morrison on May 23, 1908, Daphne Morrison lived a long, and not always easy life.
Seemingly anxious to get on with the business of being an adult, at the age of sixteen, Daphne Morrison married Gordon David Gold who was himself just nineteen. Undaunted by the road ahead, they struck out on their own, and in 1926 found themselves living in a small house at 328 SE 42nd St. in Oklahoma City where Gordon worked as a laborer.
Four years later when April 17, 1930 arrived and the enumerator, Barber Eubanks, showed up at the door of their home in Commissioner’s precinct 14 in Castro County, Texas, the then 25-year-old Gordon was still working as a laborer. Meanwhile, Daphne’s occupation was described as “none,” but the fact that they now had a had a not-quite four-year-old daughter named Elaine who had been born in Oklahoma suggests that Daphne had plenty to keep her busy.
One last public notice when the family was seemingly intact appeared in the “All Around the Town” column in the May 4, 1938, edition of the Amarillo Globe-Times. In the round-up of goings on it is noted:
Elaine Gold, 11 year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon D. Gold, is undergoing medical treatment.
The first sign of trouble on the public record was an entry in the 1938 Amarillo, Texas, City Directory. Mrs. Daphne Gold is listed as an operator at Ford’s Beauty Shop, and her residence is listed as Rt 1, Box 337. There is no sign of a Mr. Gordon Gold anywhere in Amarillo.
Then, on November 16, 1939, this item appeared in the Amarillo Globe:
Daphne Dora Gold vs. Gordon David Gold, divorce.
Then, on an unremarkable Monday in mid-December, 1941, Daphne Dora Gold and William Dubois Walker drove over 180 miles from Dallas, Texas, to Noble, Oklahoma.
After obtaining a marriage license, they had a small wedding, attended only by Rev. H. M. James, a Methodist minister, with his wife, Mrs. H. M. James, and a second woman by the name of Madge Bowman. With little, if any fanfare, the former brother and sister-in-law were joined in holy matrimony.
The new world
In addition to a new house, El Paso gave Penny’s parents the opportunity to recreate themselves. Her father laid down his plow and picked up a hammer to become a union carpenter, while her mother made the most of her education — which went to the first year of high school — and reinvented herself as a librarian. In that role, Daphne worked tirelessly to further the reach of the El Paso County Library Bookmobile.
While you would not know it by the details of the family history, Penny’s family was quite religious when it suited them, and during her childhood, she attended a Nazarene church camp in the summer that was in eastern reaches of New Mexico . It was the Nazarene Church in El Paso where her father’s funeral service would be held when he died in May of 1961.
Daphne Walker lived another 31 years after her husband’s death. During those years, she suffered through the murder of her youngest child.
Say her name
If you were to read the article published in the Albuquerque Journal on September 19, 1985 in the wake of Penny Listvan’s murder, you would have to read all the way to the second paragraph before you learned her name.
On your way to that second paragraph, you would learn the following:
- There was a fatal stabbing.
- Police had no suspects.
- The victim was a topless dancer.
- Her body had been discovered by her teenage daughter.
- They lived in an apartment in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque.
Then you would finally learn her name: Penny Listvan.
In January 1984, Penny had decided to give married life one more try. She and a man named Brian Listvan applied for a marriage license.
At the time, they were both living in Tierjas, New Mexico, a village in Bernalillo County 17 miles to the east of and a thousand feet above Albuquerque.
But it seems the marriage didn’t take, and in twenty-month’s time, Penny would divorce, take a new job in Albuquerque, and move seven and one-half miles west to the Tramway Village Apartment where she was found dead.
On the tenth anniversary of her death, Penny Listvan’s daughters placed the following memorial which appeared on September 21, 1995, in the Albuquerque Journal:
The record of Penny Thompson Listvan’s life is sparse, but the details that do remain hint at an existence that was fuller than what is recorded.
In January of 2005 T. J. Wilham, a reporter with the Albuquerque Journal, spoke to two Albuquerque Police Department cold case detectives, Don Roberts and Reynaldo Sandoval. They said that had been able to use DNA to solve the case of Penny Listvan’s murder, but as the alleged killer had already died, there was no further justice to be pursued.
In the reporting on Penny Listvan’s murder she is always identified as a “topless dancer,” despite the fact that she was not murdered at work and there was never any reporting to indicate that her death was the result of her job.
On the day she died, Penny Listvan was 39-years old. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a cousin. She was, it would seem, for the most part, well-liked.
When I came across the murder of Penny Listvan, I wanted a different story for her, and I spent hours looking. I didn’t find the story I wanted for her, but I was able to flesh out, however slightly, the story of how Margaret Faith Walker became Penny Listvan.
On June 4, 2016, nearly 31 years after Penny Listvan was killed in her own home, someone named Amanda left the following message at a Find-A-Grave memorial that read:
“I hope a family member sees this, my mother was friends with Penny and is looking to contact her children. Please, if you see this, look for Diane Wilkins and contact her.” — Amanda Wilkins.
And I hope that Lorri and Melissa know their mother is not forgotten.
Amarillo Globe, Amarillo, Texas
Amarillo Globe-Times, Amarillo, Texas
Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque, New Mexico
El Paso Herald-Post, El Paso, Texas
El Paso Times, El Paso, Texas
Geographic Names Information System