Route 66 News

Case squad tackles unsolved murder on Route 66

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office in northern Arizona has assembled a cold-case squad in an effort to solve about three dozen long-unsolved murders in the area, including one on Route 66 just east of Twin Arrows more than 40 years ago, reported the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper.

A group of are criminal investigators and retired law enforcement received a $304,000 grant for 18 months. Officials believe some of the cases may be solved through DNA testing.

The case on Route 66 involves the Toonerville Trading Post near Twin Arrows. Co-owner Merritt “Slick” McAlister was found fatally shot behind a counter, with hamburgers still frying on the grill. His wife, Pearl, was shot in the head but survived. The cash register was emptied, and their adjacent living quarters was ransacked.

According to the newspaper:

The events according to Pearl: A car pulled up and a black couple came in. They ordered hamburgers. A different car, with another black couple, pulled up to the pumps outside. Merritt went outside to pump gas.

When he came back inside, the second black couple came in, too, Sumner said. The two couples appeared to know each other based on statements Pearl made. They appeared to be traveling together even though they didn’t arrive at the same time. […]

Two days later, police arrested a black man and his juvenile brother in Las Vegas. They were traveling together with a girl in a separate car. They had a similar caliber weapon — a .38-caliber handgun — in their possession.

Descriptions did not match. The weapon was tested and deemed not to have been the weapon used in the killing of Merritt. The three were exonerated and released.

In addition to DNA evidence, fingerprints will be submitted from the case as well.

According to “The Route 66 Encyclopedia,” Earl Tinnin opened Toonerville Trading Post in 1935. The McAlisters bought it in 1954. It eventually was converted into a private home that still stands. A recent photo of the structure is here.

If anybody has information about this case, call the sheriff’s office cold-case squad at 928-774-4523, or visit its Facebook page.

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