SANTA FE, N.M. — Hints of possible gang involvement and a previous threat against a family member have arisen in the investigation into the killings of a husband, wife and their grown son a year ago in El Rancho north of Santa Fe.
And the couple’s daughter complains that police have expressed suspicion of her and her husband in the slayings, while at the same time officials put them in touch with a company to clean up the crime scene before all evidence might have been gathered.
Cherie Ortiz-Rios, who discovered two of the bodies, said when officers arrived at her parents’ house that day, she and her husband Jesse Rios separately were asked what they did with the gun used to kill the trio.
Police initially believed that Lloyd Ortiz, 55; his wife Dixie Ortiz, 53; and their adopted son Steven Ortiz, 21; had been shot in the head, but autopsy reports two days later showed that they had died from blunt-force trauma to the head.
Steven Ortiz had been hit 17 times, Lloyd Ortiz had been hit seven, and Dixie Ortiz had been hit twice.
About 14 hours after police searched the house, according to Ortiz-Rios and her husband, the state medical examiner’s office recommended some companies that clean up crime scenes.
Cleaning crews arrived the evening after the killings and were there when state police, who had just learned that the three had died of blunt-force trauma, returned to look for the murder weapon.
Several items, including carpeting from the bedroom, were already in a biohazard bag, according to a written report by agent Bryan Waller.
Jesse Rios said the house should have been sealed for three days until the weapon was found. “They could’ve found a lot more evidence,” he said.
But state police Chief Robert Shilling, who said the case remains the No. 1 priority of the department’s investigations bureau in northern New Mexico, said police don’t think they lost any forensic evidence.
Shilling also said that neither of the couple has been named as a suspect in the June 19, 2011, killings. He did say that investigators have conducted more than 120 interviews across four states, collected mountains of evidence and executed 10 search warrants. Despite their efforts, no arrests have been made, no suspects have been named and police still don’t know the motive in the killings.
Police did say that money did not appear to be involved since Lloyd Ortiz’s wallet was found on the kitchen counter and two safes containing more than $80,000 were undisturbed.
The case file has numerous reports about events that preceded the crime, but none have led to an arrest.
The file includes information about a 16-year-old boy who lived with the Ortiz family before they kicked him out, accusing him of stealing marijuana. In an interview, the boy – who reportedly was involved with a gang – told police that he lost contact with the family “after he got blamed for stuff he did not do.”
Three weeks before the killing, Ortiz-Rios’ daughter, Catalina Rios, told police that a gang member unrelated to the 16-year-old had shown her a gun and threatened to kill her family.
Some police reports say that the Ortiz family may have been selling drugs, but Ortiz-Rios denied those claims, saying that her brother had a prescription for medical marijuana.
A police report said 17 marijuana plants were found at the home.
Ortiz-Rios and her husband said they last saw her parents and brother two days before they were killed and had planned on spending Father’s Day with them.
Ortiz-Rios was cooking an enchilada dinner for her father and went over to the house to tell him that it was almost ready.
When she found the doors locked and no one answered, she let herself in with an extra key and saw two of the bodies before running out of the house and calling 911.
Ortiz-Rios criticized the police investigation, saying that interviews with family members, neighbors and friends have centered on her and her husband from the beginning.
Angela Spinks, the Ortiz’s other daughter, said that she talks to police about once a week but gets few answers.
“I do feel we have to give them more of a chance to see where they are on this,” she said. But “I do know the longer it takes, probably the worse it gets. I don’t know what evidence they have. They have not shared that with us, and I don’t know if they can or if they are just lying to me.”
Shilling said police have done their best.
“We’ve made a very concerted effort over the last year to remain in constant communication with family members in trying to address concerns or questions,” he said.
Shilling urged members of the public who may have any information about the killings to come forward, no matter how innocuous they think it might be.
“One thing we’ve learned throughout modern-day policing is that a year from now, two, three years from now, one piece of critical information may come up that breaks the case wide open,” he said.