To most Santa Feans, James Towle is just a name.
His connection to the city begins and ends with an unfortunate short trip that ended when Towle, 55, was shot dead in Rufina Street, just two days before 2022 becomes 2023. Police say a suspect in the shooting, Mark Delgado Jr., remains at large.
But for Michele and Patricia Towle, James Towle isn’t just a footnote; Santa Fe’s latest homicide victim in too bloody a year. It was Jim; a brother and a son: restless, energetic and, to some extent, enigmatic.
“It’s always surreal,” Michele Towle said in a recent phone interview from her home in Colorado Springs. “This week was my mother’s birthday. … It was one of those times where it’s like, OK, if Jim had been in town, he would have been here too.”
What the mother and sister knew – and still know – about Towle was his passion for running. They have pictures of him with medals, smiling proudly from completing great marathons across the country. The memories are poignant because it’s hard not to wonder: Why was Jim Towle—apparently just passing through town—on Rufina Street at 12:30 a.m.?
How could a man with no known ties, no known enemies, no apparent conflicts, end up dead on a cold street?
“That’s the part that’s a black hole for us,” Michele Towle said.
Jim Towle was born in September 1967 at Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas, where his father, Charles Towle, was stationed. After a few years of moving from base to base, the Towles settled in Orange County, California.
Michele Towle, Jim’s eldest by two years, said when she was younger she felt like her brother followed her around a lot. The two had spent their younger years traveling together as their family moved across the country. They went to the same colleges and high schools in Orange County and even graduated from the same college, San Diego State University.
Michele, a high school cheerleader, laughs as she remembers her brother encouraging her to cheer on the runners at every track and cross-country meet.
“He was the annoying little brother, no doubt — of course — but we had this relationship where, like, nobody was going to mess with my brother,” Michele Towle said.
Patricia Towle said her son was a challenge growing up due to his boundless energy.
“He had a terrific sense of humor and his racing was a really big source of pride for me,” she said. “He was a dedicated marathon runner and his goal was to run every major marathon.”
Michele Towle said her brother started track running and cross-country in middle school in Placentia, California. He specialized in middle distance until high school.
After his time at San Diego State, Jim put aside middle-distance running and turned to the 26.2-mile marathon and continued to pursue his passion. He qualified several times for major marathons throughout his life, notably in New York and Los Angeles. His sister said his best time came at the Phoenix Marathon, which he ran in about two hours and 40 minutes.
“He certainly didn’t shy away from doing things. … He would have been training to go to Everest,” Michele Towle said. “That kind of stuff really fascinated him. … It always did.”
However, Jim Towle’s family say he never achieved the same level of satisfaction with a professional career as he did with running.
He dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot and completed the Air Force ROTC program in San Diego State. His sister said he was commissioned into the Air Force after graduating, but instead of learning to fly fixed-wing aircraft, he was sent to train on helicopters. It didn’t work, she added.
He then became an Air Force reservist.
“Ultimately it failed for him and he always regretted it and struggled with it,” Michele Towle said.
Towle became a long-haul trucker for 10 years.
“Frankly speaking, it definitely wasn’t his passion in life…but that’s kind of where he ended up,” Michele said of trucking. “I mean, you know, just through a series of different things – starts and stops. He never really could find that career.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Patricia Towle said her son became depressed and could no longer drive every day of the week. He decided to live on his sister’s property in Colorado Springs – where Patricia Towle also currently lives – and began to run out of his depression.
“It was hard watching my brother go through this, and then having it be COVID, and all that. But then he started racing, then he was training, then he…took the bike,” Michele Towle said. . “Things started to look like they were looking up for him.”
In October 2022, Towle’s family saw him run the Chicago Marathon in under three hours – in his mid-50s. It was the last race of his life.
But after months in Colorado Springs, Michele Towle said her brother wanted a change. He wanted to move somewhere warm — similar to where the two grew up — and planned to find a job in Las Vegas, Nevada. He moved most of his stuff there, but returned to Colorado in late December so he could ride. his orange motorcycle to Nevada.
Towle spent Christmas Day with her mother before hitting the road a few days later. His family believe he was driving through Santa Fe on his way to Las Vegas.
Michele said she was grateful that she and her mother were able to see Jim over the holidays.
“Not everyone has a memory like that, you know. We are grateful for the ones we have,” she said.
What exactly Jim Towle saw, or who he may have encountered, during his brief stay in Santa Fe remains unknown.
What we do know is this: Court documents describe surveillance footage showing Towle trying to open a Rufina Street mailbox near Dave’s Muffler Shop on the evening of December 30, shortly before he is killed. Store owner Dave Gallegos and the suspect’s cousin Jose Delgado have both been charged with tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence and harboring or aiding a criminal, according to online court records.
Surveillance footage of the shooting shows Towle interacting with the mailbox before jumping up, according to the arrest warrant affidavit for Mark Delgado Jr. Towle turned to the muffler store parking lot and paced for about two minutes.
A focused beam of light streaks through the footage, and in the video, Towle falls forward. His body moves in Rufina Street for about 10 seconds before coming to rest.
Santa Fe Police Captain Aaron Ortiz said Towle’s motorcycle was found by officers a few blocks from where he was shot, but declined to give much more details. the case, though he noted that investigators did not believe Mark Delgado Jr. and Towle knew. the other before shooting. They continue to investigate possible links.
“We know he was traveling through Santa Fe. We have a timeline on how long he was here. We’re not going to release it right now,” Ortiz said. “The suspect is not in custody at this point, so we want to make sure we get him into custody before anything else is released.”
Ortiz said police are still investigating whether Towle’s apparent attempt to open the mailbox led to the fatal altercation. However, he added that surveillance footage only shows Towle touching the mailbox. There’s no evidence the victim opened it.
Asked if police were concerned that Mark Delgado Jr. left Santa Fe in the months after the shooting, Ortiz said he couldn’t provide more information.
“We are still investigating the relationship [between the Delgados and Gallegos] and…just a suspicious profile on him. So there’s not much we can release right now,” Ortiz said.
The unanswered questions continue to haunt Michele and Patricia Towle, who say they will travel to Santa Fe for legal proceedings if and when they occur. Michele said it was hard to know there was a suspect, the one who is still free. The one who can still run.
“Many lives have been ruined here,” she said. “Not just my brother’s.”