Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier recently sat down with the Journal to talk about the West Mesa murders.
Geier led the violent crimes unit and was on the task force that investigated the deaths of 11 women found buried on Albuquerque’s southwest mesa.
Below are lightly edited excerpts from the conversation, organized by topic.
“I can’t believe … that nobody else knew. Somebody else didn’t hear it in a bar, somebody bragging, somebody saw something on the street. A family member saw something weird at the time, didn’t associate it and now it’s all coming to light again. That’s what we’re hoping for. It’s usually a fluke. Sometimes the least significant tip that we get is the one that breaks it. And all the ones that are like, ‘Oh this is it, we’re going to be right on track,’ fizzle out. We just never know. Years of experience at this job say just don’t discount anything. The witness who seems like they’re full of crap, they’re the one.”
“Somebody knows something. And for whatever reason, that person never came forward. These people didn’t operate in a vacuum. There was contact, there was something.”
The victims’ families
“I think they found that sense of solidarity and oneness between having lost someone in the same circumstances. So I think that kind of helped support them at the time. I don’t want them to ever think that the police forgot. They were angry at times and they were frustrated with the fact that the wheels were spinning but nothing was happening. I can’t blame them, I’d feel the same way. It’s one thing to know that someone’s died in your family. But you sure would like to know all the facts and what they went through. And I’m sure they blame themselves, ‘Could I have done more.’ I think we all do that. ‘I should have talked to them more.’ And you can’t. And we always told them that and counselors did as well. People make their own choices.”
Cold case status
“A cold case is usually, for formal classification, after a year when we don’t have any active suspects. Usually a detective, if he’s working a homicide case and doesn’t have any active suspects or it’s just going nowhere, will give it a cold case classification and then it goes to the cold case unit. They’ve got cases going back 10, 15 years sometimes. There’s a point where you’re beating your head against the wall. Sometimes it’s nice to put new eyes on it because you see something. Sometimes we’ll look at it as a routine and make the same determination, we still don’t have anything. In this case, there were so many people in it offering opinions and offering those different perspectives. I think we would have seen it, somewhere something would have popped up.”
Difficulties investigating the case
“Normally, if your son or daughter goes missing a couple days, you get concerned and you call. Because of the lifestyle that these people decided to go into, the parents and the close family members really couldn’t do anything. They lost contact with them and maybe saw them once in a while. So even for us, it was difficult to put timelines together. That’s hard because you’re going backwards rather than what just happened yesterday. Where were you at 3 o’clock yesterday? We don’t even have that person, nor can we know what the time is to refute any alibis or anything. So it was a difficult investigation.”
Why he wants the case closed
“It’s one thing to get it off the police books and things like that, and we’ll chalk one up for the good guys. But the more important thing is … there’s never closure. They’re still going to always wonder, what happened to my baby, what happened to my daughter, what happened to the unborn child, my possible grandchild. So that’s the angle that we never want to forget. You don’t want to ever give up hope for them and we’re not going to give up. I can tell you that right now. I mean it bothered me when I left.”
“Obviously for the police department it would be very positive, the fact that the efforts finally paid off. I think with Albuquerque, we’ve taken a beating. We’re the highest crime rate, we’re this and that, we’re the lowest in things we should be high in. It would be nice to get a victory for the community, to say you know what, we can put this behind us and move forward and make this a safer better place for raising the next generation of families and kids. I think that would be really good.”
“You saw the burial ground, what he did didn’t happen overnight. It was one after another and he kept going back. And there was very limited access out there. The middle of the mesa in Albuquerque is pretty good. You didn’t just find that place by accident. Whether it was a kid who went out there and shot bb guns, shot rabbits with a .22, we looked into those angles. Remember the roadways weren’t always developed in years past. There’s a lot of stuff that has changed just in those 15, 20 years. But in years past, people will tell you they hunted out there, they had beer parties out there as school kids. That’s where you got away from it all if nobody wanted to see you. And you can’t find too many places in metro Albuquerque like that anymore. It tells me that he stayed local for a reason, which tells me that this was his stomping grounds. Somebody had to have that connection to Albuquerque.”
Looking for a second burial site
“We spent a lot of effort looking for that second burial site. My biggest fear is that it’s there somewhere where we can’t access it, because of development.”
“The state’s a big place and if you go outside Albuquerque there’s a lot of open space. Even going down I-40 there are a lot of different areas that could have been connected. We found a lot of false positives in different areas. We found cow bones and dogs and all kinds of stuff, but it didn’t go anywhere.”
“The pattern of this particular killer may have changed from very disorganized at first to where he found a pattern where he could do something, dispose of the body and felt safe. And that’s what serial killers do, they usually follow something that makes them feel comfortable. Your first kill, there’s that excitement. What I understand is if you look at the profiling of these people, what goes through their minds isn’t what goes through our minds. They’re usually very much a sociopath personality where they don’t feel any emotion toward anybody, much less their victims. So I think that it’s very possible that disorganized pattern was at first, but the taste for blood or whatever it was that he was seeking … he just followed that pattern after a period of time.”
“There were more, a lot of people that we looked at. We narrowed it down from a very large group to probably the four best at the time. But were they the offenders? There could have been that unknown suspect to. There was always enough stuff to throw something toward that unknown person, the truck driver theories and things like that, but we could never get anywhere on that angle.”
The missing women’s West Mesa connection
“There were some commonalities, there’s no doubt about it. But there were some differences too. One of them could still be alive somewhere and come back and say ‘Hey, I didn’t even know that you thought I was dead.’ That’s a question that we’ll maybe never answer. But if you ask Ida, I think in her heart she believes they’re connected somehow.”