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There’s been a break in one of Albuquerque’s most notorious unsolved cases.
Kaitlyn Arquette, the 18-year-old daughter of author Lois Duncan, was shot and killed as she drove home on Lomas east of Downtown in July 1989.
Duncan, who wrote the suspense novel “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” pushed tirelessly for answers until her death in 2016 at age 82. She wrote the book “Who Killed My Daughter?” and it detailed her search for clues in the case.
Throughout the years, theories abounded. Two men were arrested, but the case was eventually dismissed. Some suspected a so-called “Vietnamese Mafia” running car insurance scams was involved.
The case grew cold.
Then, during a news conference on Tuesday, Police Chief Harold Medina announced the department had a suspect.
Medina said that when Paul Apodaca, now 53, was arrested by University of New Mexico police officers in July, he confessed to various crimes.
One of them was the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old UNM student Althea Oakeley, who was walking home from a get-together at a fraternity in June 1988. Apodaca has been charged with murder in that case.
The other was the fatal shooting of Arquette. Police have not provided details on a third homicide they say he confessed to, but they say it occurred in 1988 after Oakeley’s death, but before Arquette’s
Apodaca has not been charged in the last two homicides and police said they are still investigating.
“The Arquette case is one of the most infamous cold cases in Albuquerque history because of her mother’s high-profile books about the murder,” Medina said. “I can’t speak for the facts of the investigation in 1989, but I want to be sure detectives are investigating every single aspect, verifying every piece of evidence and ensuring that we have a strong case before we move forward on charges.”
Apodaca is at the Metropolitan Detention Center and prosecutors have asked for him to be held until trial.
His defense attorney could not be reached for comment.
‘They just let him walk away’
On July 16, 1989, Arquette was driving east on Lomas after having dinner with a friend in Old Town when she was shot twice in the head. Her 1984 red Ford Tempo drifted across lanes of traffic and into a light pole near Arno. Witnesses described seeing a gray Volkswagen Beetle near the scene. And in that car was Apodaca, then 21.
In response to questions about why detectives apparently didn’t suspect Apodaca at the time, Medina said he “can’t begin to try to answer for detectives 33 years ago,” but to keep in mind that technology – and an officer’s access to police reports and databases – have since improved.
“I’m sure that the officers at the time did the very best job and dedicated their time to try to solve this case,” Medina said. “It didn’t get solved. And it’d be unfair for us to criticize without knowing exactly what they were going through at the time.”
Kerry Arquette, Kaitlyn’s older sister, however, said that, while she and her family are grateful to finally have a confession in the case, what they don’t have are answers to questions and explanations for what they believe are the many mistakes APD made.
“This is one of the things that breaks our hearts – this man was at the crime scene with the cops,” she said in a phone interview. “How obvious did it need to be to look into this guy? They just let him walk away.”
Kerry Arquette said she and her family, and private investigator Pat Caristo had always believed that Apodaca had something to do with Kaitlyn’s homicide, but that he was never fully investigated.
Kerry Arquette said it will still take time before her family feels any sense of closure because so many questions remain.
“This confession is just a start,” she said. “The family has innumerable questions – the whys and the hows, and a lot of blanks to be filled in before we can sit back and think that justice has been served. It’s been too many years since we’ve been trying to fill in those blanks by ourselves.”
Earlier this month, detectives revisited the scene of Arquette’s death, re-creating the circumstances in order to take photos and measurements.
First registered sex offender
In October 1995, Apodaca became the first person sentenced in Bernalillo County under a new law requiring sex offenders to register with the sheriff’s office.
He was convicted of raping a family member and, at sentencing, he told the judge he did so in order to be with his younger brother in prison. His brother, Mark Apodaca, had been convicted – along with two friends – of killing a high school senior in 1992.
Paul Apodaca was sentenced to 20 years, but was sent to a different facility from his brother.
He’s spent his time since then in and out of prison and jail, and, more recently, seemed to be homeless.
Medina said Apodaca confessed to committing three rapes during the same general time period in which Oakeley and Arquette were killed. One of those, from 1993, had been stuck in the rape kit backlog and recently received a match through the CODIS DNA database.
A spokeswoman from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors are reviewing the case and working with detectives to complete some parts of the investigation.
“Once we have reviewed all the necessary reports and other investigative details, we will make a decision whether to prosecute,” spokeswoman Lauren Rodriguez said.
Mayor Tim Keller, who highlighted the rape kit backlog when he was State Auditor, said the case reveals the importance of testing all DNA evidence.
“Our unit was able to review this and connect the facts, and connect these to other cases,” Keller said. “And it just shows the importance of testing every kit in a timely way, which, of course, we are doing now today and going forward at our Albuquerque crime lab.”
‘Victims of opportunity’
For Louella Oakeley, Althea Oakeley’s mother, learning Apodaca’s name last week brought up all sorts of hard emotions again. She said the community in Arroyo Hondo, where she and her husband live, have showered them with phone calls, cards and flowers since news broke that there was a break in the case.
At the time of Althea’s death, both mother and daughter were studying to be teachers, but only Louella Oakeley was able to complete her degree.
She said Althea was a beautiful girl – a descriptor she uses “not just because she was our daughter” – and very friendly.
“Ask anyone here in Taos and you will be told the same thing,” Louella Oakeley said in a phone interview. “For example, if she saw someone from Taos, she would run over there, and give them a big hug and give them a kiss on the cheek, and ask how they were. That’s just the way she was.”
Althea Oakeley was walking home to the mobile home she shared with her brother – who was younger by 13 months – south of UNM when she was killed. According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court last week, Apodaca told investigators that he was working as a security guard at the Technical Vocational Institute – now Central New Mexico Community College – when he saw Oakeley and began to follow her. He said she smiled at him and then he attacked her, according to the complaint.
Louella Oakeley said that, in the aftermath of her daughter’s death, the family hired two detectives to work on the case. She said they found the then-police administration to be very cold.
The circumstances of Althea Oakeley’s and Kaitlyn Arquette’s deaths are different from one another and Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock with the Criminal Investigations Division said that, in both cases, the victims appeared to have been picked at random. He said the victim in the third case was also shot.
“They’re victims of opportunity in terms that no one else was around and they appeared to be alone,” he said.
Medina said investigators do know Apodaca has a “dislike for women.”
“That will be coming up in it as one of the motivating factors,” Medina said. “Can you really, truly know exactly why somebody does something so horrible? But he did have a dislike for women.”
Now, as she prepares herself for the upcoming trial, Louella Oakeley said she is in turmoil thinking not only of the life of her own daughter that was cut short, but also of the other families who have lost loved ones.
“We are Catholic and our religion teaches us to forgive, but I don’t know about this individual,” she said. “I just want him to pay for all the torment he has put us through … I want him to pay, not only for Althea’s murder, but also for the other individuals.”