Deadly milepost

Highway 160 near Tuba City on the Navajo Nation, where Margarette Neumann was shot and killed in 1981 on a family trip of the southwest.

Coconino County Sheriff's Office

Wilhelm and Margarette Neumann were visiting the Southwest in the summer of 1981. From West Germany, the Neumann’s were on a trip with son Ralf and friends Horst and Helga Heine.

Their trip took them to Bryce Canyon and Zion, and on July 14, they had visited Monument Valley. The plan was to drive their rental station wagon to Cameron, spend the night and head to the Grand Canyon the following day.

Margarette was killed about 10 miles northeast of Tuba City on Highway 160 at milepost 331.

“Solving this depends on somebody talking,” said Chuck Jones, volunteer investigator for the cold case unit at the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office. “Maybe somebody will get excited about this one and say ‘Oh, I remember ...’”

Jones, who is retired FBI agent, was the first investigator assigned to the unit in 2005. The unit is currently trying to solve nearly 40 cases in the county like Neumann’s.

HIGH BEAMS

Wilhelm was heading toward Tuba City from Kayenta at about 10 p.m. when another vehicle approached.

The oncoming vehicle had the high beams on, and Wilhelm began flicking his lights from high to low beam.

“The only thing Mr. Neumann is trying to do is get the driver to dim his lights,” Jones said.

As the two vehicles passed each other, there was a loud “BANG.” Margarette, in the left passenger seat, screamed about an horrible pain in her side. Wilhelm stopped the station wagon at milepost 331 and discovered his wife had been shot in the left side of her abdomen.

“I don’t think the driver of the car where the shot was fired — I don’t think the driver fired the shot,” Jones said.

Jones said he believes it would just be too hard to shoot and drive simultaneously and hit a moving vehicle coming the other direction at 60 mph. If that were the case, then there could have been more than one person in the other vehicle. Nobody in the Neumann’s rental car saw what the suspect’s vehicle looked like.

Wilhelm rushed his wounded wife to Tuba City. At a service station, he asked the attendant to call an ambulance. Margarette was pronounced dead when she arrived at the Tuba City hospital.

ROAD BLOCKS

Jones said Navajo Nation police set up road blocks on Highways 98 and 160, but officers did not come up with any suspects in the shooting.

A .38-caliber bullet was removed from Margarette’s body during autopsy. The rented car had a single bullet hole in the left-side passenger door.

The case was investigated by Navajo Nation authorities, the FBI and the sheriff’s office.

Jones said the sheriff’s office was called in on the case primarily because of the way felony crime laws are investigated on the Navajo Nation. The FBI investigates felony crimes like homicide when cases involve Native Americans. The case of the Neumann’s because the suspect is unknown and could be a non-Native American, required involvement of the sheriff’s office as well.

Although the bullet that lodged in Margarette’s side was saved and was intact despite passing through a car door, there’s very little that can be done to match the bullet to a gun.

“There’s nothing to compare it to,” Jones.

As for motive, Jones said, “It could have been a road rage thing,” but the motive is unknown.

As for next steps in the case, Jones said he was hopeful somebody would read about the case and the information would jog his or her memory.

“There’s nothing else to do,” Jones said.

If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

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