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Woman’s death remains a mystery, 4 years later

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She was all about peace and love, a captivating, charitable spirit with ice-blue eyes and a riot of curls, who left a trail of smitten men and women everywhere she went.

“She had this beautiful smile, this beautiful heart,” friend Debbie DiSanti said. “People got crushes on her.”

But Danette Webb, 53, didn’t give her heart away easily, DiSanti said. Although she appeared open and accessible, the Albuquerque health worker and advocate for homeless people guarded her privacy, parceling out bits of her life sparingly but giving generously of herself to the lost and needy souls of the street.

“She had a compartmentalized life,” said DiSanti, who has also spent years working with homeless people. “It took four years of us being friends for her to invite me to her house.”

It was at Webb’s house on Dunhill SW where that life ended under mysterious circumstances. They found her June 30, 2014, on the floor, nude, duct tape binding her arms together at the wrists and encircling her ankles. More duct tape covered her mouth.

Danette Webb, 53, was known for her passion for working with homeless, disabled and marginalized people. She was found dead four years ago in her Dunhill SW home, nude and bound with duct tape. Albuquerque police have still made no arrests.

Items tossed about in the kitchen and an overturned planter suggested a struggle had taken place. Her two dogs, Girl and Piper, were locked in a separate room. Nothing of value, including $3,000 in cash kept in the freezer, was taken.

At autopsy, the state Office of the Medical Investigator noted two fractured ribs along with several cuts and bruises.

None of that definitively pinpointed what – or who – had caused her death. The OMI could rule out obvious significant trauma, natural disease and infection, but it could not rule in strangulation or poisoning or sexual assault.

“Circumstances surrounding the death and law enforcement’s investigation of the scene are concerning,” the autopsy report stated. “The manner of death is undetermined.”

Four years later, and detectives appear no closer to making any determinations – at least none they are willing to talk about.

That’s disappointing to DiSanti, who thinks that when no one at the Albuquerque Police Department is talking, the evidence grows colder and the public grows complacent about the woman the world lost four years ago.

So DiSanti is talking.

Recently, she said, Detective Matt Caplan, who has been on the case from the start, showed her a photo of a person – another “lead,” he called it – who may have some answers in Webb’s death. DiSanti said she didn’t recognize the person.

APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos declined to talk about the photo, saying only that “a lead has been identified and is being investigated.”

Gallegos also said that APD is partnering with “a second government agency” to identify the suspect.

Mostly, though, Gallegos said in an email that I could not speak with Caplan and that he would not answer my list of questions – including those concerning information that the Journal has already reported on, such as the existence of male DNA referred to as the “suspect” – because the case is still active and that saying much could jeopardize the investigation.

Neighbors pay their respects at a makeshift shrine of flowers and flags placed at the Southwest Mesa home of Danette Webb during a vigil held in her honor after her suspicious death four years ago. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Webb had last been seen alive at work on the Friday before June 30, which was a Monday. DiSanti said they had made plans to get together that weekend, but a back injury kept her housebound.

Repeatedly, she texted Webb that weekend but received no response.

“Hey answer me!” one text read. “Are you angry with me? What’s going on?”

DiSanti was on her way to Webb’s house that Monday when police drove up to her house and told her the news.

“What they did to her was just horrific,” she said. “It’s like plucking off the wings of an angel. How can someone live with the guilt of doing that?”

A year after Webb’s death, DiSanti placed a memorial at the Westside Dog Park with photos, candles, a peace symbol made of stones and sunflowers from DiSanti’s garden.

“She took great delight in my flowers,” DiSanti said. “She said they helped her breathe.”

A peace symbol made of stones marks a portion of Debbie DiSanti’s garden memorializing her friend Danette Webb, who died mysteriously June 30, 2014. (Courtesy of Debbie DiSanti)

The peace symbol, which DiSanti recreated in her garden, reminds her of Webb, a woman more likely to make a peace sign than throw a finger, a woman who donated what money she had at the time of her death to local charities for homeless people.

This year, DiSanti is miles away listening to a band that features her husband’s cousin, dancing, singing and laughing the way she and Webb used to, the way she thinks Webb would still want her to.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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