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30 years later, Kait’s death is still a mystery

Robin Arquette-Burkin places flowers on the grave of her youngest sister, Kaitlyn Arquette, who was 18 when she was shot twice in the head in her car on July 16, 1989. Sister Kerry Arquette, center, and their father, Don Arquette, were among the family members in Albuquerque for a graveside memorial service Tuesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kaitlyn Arquette has been gone now for 30 years, her mysterious death on a rainy July 16, 1989, night still unsolved, her killer or killers still at large.

Her mother, author Lois Duncan, was the relentless force fighting for answers and, every July, I knew to expect to hear from her as she continued to urge the public to come forward with tips, continued to demand that the Albuquerque Police Department do something to solve the case, continued to make sure that no one had forgotten Kait.

Her two books about Kait’s death – “Who Killed My Daughter?,” published in 1992, and “One to the Wolves,” in 2013 – continued to sell. Her website dedicated to Kait’s case continued to get hits. And Duncan continued to speak out at every venue that would have her.

Three years ago, Duncan, then 82 and living in Florida, admitted that she was tired and in failing health. But she never failed to keep fighting until death finally caught up to her.

“She always said she wouldn’t die until the case was solved,” said Kerry Arquette, one of Kait’s older sisters and a Denver criminologist who, like her mother, is also a writer. “Mother was always that little fireplug. She was this dreamy little novelist who sat out there under the shade tree dreaming of story plots. But once her baby was killed, she had to morph, and it was terribly hard for her, and she did it. But we all know it killed her.”

With Duncan gone, Kerry Arquette and her family assumed the fight.

This week, they traveled to Albuquerque to remember the night that shattered their lives and sparked one of the biggest unsolved homicides in Albuquerque history.

On Monday, they spoke to reporters, urged the public to come forward with tips, demanded that APD do something to solve the case, made sure that no one would forget Kait.

On Tuesday, they gathered at the cemetery for a memorial service.

Kaitlyn Arquette, her mother’s “starry-eyed girl,” was 18 when she was shot and killed on Lomas near Arno NE on July 16, 1989. Thirty years later, her case remains unsolved.

Thirty years ago, Kait was a bubbly 18-year-old graduate of Highland High School who had recently broken up with her boyfriend and moved back home with her parents, then living in Northeast Albuquerque.

She was on her way home from a friend’s house near Old Town around 10:30 p.m. and was driving east on Lomas in her 1984 red Ford Tempo when she was shot twice in the head, her car drifting across three oncoming lanes of traffic to the left and into a light pole near Arno NE.

Duncan’s private investigator, Pat Caristo, however, has said damage to Kait’s car indicates it was struck and forced off the road by one or more vehicles, and she was shot, likely at close range, after she crashed and put her car in park.

An APD detective and an officer arrived on scene around 11 p.m., noting that a primer-gray Volkswagen Beetle was also at the scene, according to their reports.

Yet statements from two ambulance workers say no officer was present when they arrived. And police reports do not indicate that either officer questioned to any great extent the driver of the Beetle – Paul Apodaca, then 28 and a man who went on to amass a lengthy violent criminal history that includes convictions for rape, kidnapping, aggravated battery and battery on a peace officer.

Six months later, police pinned Kait’s death on three young men, basing the arrests largely on a witness who said the men had randomly shot her on a dare. Charges were dropped 10 days later when it was learned that the witness was in detention the night of the shooting and that he claimed police had bullied him to lie.

Detectives have never done much, if anything, with information Duncan and Caristo provided concerning reports that acquaintances of Kait’s estranged boyfriend were seen spray-painting a primer-gray Beetle days after the shooting.

Police have also discounted Duncan’s contention that Kait was killed because she knew too much about a car insurance scam allegedly involving her ex-boyfriend and possibly extending into a larger crime ring.

Over the years, I have asked the various APD administrations and homicide investigators about Kait’s case but have received little information.

This year is no exception.

Electronic billboards throughout Albuquerque urge the public to come forward with information on the 1989 death of Kaitlyn Arquette. Pictured on the billboard with Kait as a child is her mother, author Lois Duncan, whose book “Who Killed My Daughter?” became a best-seller. The billboards were donated by Clear Channel and went live Monday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journa

“The case has been worked by many cold-case detectives throughout the years,” APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an email. “The case remains active in a status of pending further leads, and as those leads become available, they are investigated. While it has been 30 years since this murder, detectives do not give up. They are committed to finding justice for victims and their families.”

Arquette said she is not surprised by the response, but she still holds out hope for a conclusion.

“All it takes is one good witness to come forward, one good person in APD” who can fix the shortcomings she sees in previous investigations.

Sounding much like her mother, she said, “How hard it is to say, ‘Back then, we (expletive) up?’ ”

But while things appear cold locally, Kait’s case appears to be heating up nationally. A documentary is in the works. Arquette presented her sister’s case at the national Mensa convention last July. Last month, she presented the case with crime queen Nancy Grace at CrimeCon. The case will also be featured in an anthology by true-crime author Denny Griffin and is being reviewed by the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute.

Despite the 30-year lapse, the family wants more from APD.

“On a national level, it’s caught the attention of a lot of different people,” she said. “There’s continued interest in this case, and the only people who seem to be uninterested are the Albuquerque police.”

Duncan knew that frustration. But it never stopped her, no matter how hard things got.

“We relied on Mother to fight for this,” Arquette said. “We could always ride on her coattails and support her. Now, the rest of us are having to step up, and it’s not comfortable.”

Still, they do what they must. For Kait. And now, for Duncan.

 

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.

 

 

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