SANTA FE – By one account, Inez Garcia, age 26, and her husband were at a downtown Santa Fe bar on Water Street in November 1952. Garcia “suddenly” jumped out of their car, walked away and was never seen again.
But a newspaper article from 1954, after Garcia had been missing for 15 months, tells a different story — that after a night of drinking with friends, she was last seen leaving a downtown bar following a stranger who’d just appeared.
“She was never, ever, ever found,”police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt said on Friday. Friends and family said she would never have left her four children like that, said Westervelt.
Santa Fe police detectives Robert Garcia Jr. and Abe Maes took another look at this coldest of cold cases and last week decided to start digging up the dirt floor of a single-car garage on Oñate Place where Garcia, her now-deceased husband and the children lived in the 1950s.
On Monday, using shovels and a backhoe, they dug up a handful of four or five bone fragments, some of which are charred. The detectives also “found something that looked like ash in the dirt and one of the theories is that there was some sort of fire … to maybe have burned some piece of maybe an animal or maybe a body,” said Westervelt.
Authorities also brought in a cadaver dog last week from the Bernallio County Sheriff’s Office and the dog “hit a couple of different times in different areas”of the garage, said Westervelt.
It was Detective Garcia’s idea to bring in the cadaver dog, she said. When the
dog indicated the possible presence of human remains“ that was enough for us to be able to say, `Hey let’s start digging, let’s look and see what’s under there,’” said Westervelt.
The bones were sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque and will now go to a lab in Texas for a forensic examination to see if they are human and to check for DNA. The OMI believes the bones could be from tibia (shin bone) and forearm but couldn’t say with certainty whether or not they were human. Results from the Texas lab could take a couple of months.
Police obtained a DNA swab for comparison from one of Garcia’s two surviving daughters, who lives in northern New Mexico. That daughter, in her 60s, has not been identified by police.
“We have been in contact with her,” Westervelt said. “We’ve have kept her up to date on how the investigation is going.”
“We don’t want to give her a false sense of hope in any way, we just want to be open and active with that.”
Inez Garcia’s husband, Juan Andres Jose Garcia, is deceased — Westervelt said he died in the 1990s — and is considered a person of interest in a possible homicide.
“There were lots of rumors that he (the husband) buried her in the dirt floor,” said Westervelt at the digging scene Friday. “Nobody was allowed in here when he was alive, the husband was alive. The kids weren’t allowed in here, nobody was ever allowed in here, so it’s just the mystery of what could be here.”
A Feb. 9, 1954 news article with a photo of Garcia was published on the front page of the Santa Fe New Mexican, reporting on a $400 reward offered by her father for information on her disappearance.
“The young mother of four children abruptly dropped out of sight early in the morning of Nov. 6, 1952 … and has not been seen since,” the article said.
It relates a night spent by Garcia drinking, first at the El Cid Bar at the corner of Galisteo and Water Streets and then at George King’s Blue Ribbon Canteen. Although there were conflicting statements gathered by investigating officers, the consensus was that she had “remained aloof from the crowd,” drinking but not dancing, and that Garcia was “very drunk.” Friends couldn’t get her to leave with them at 11 p.m.
The article states that about 1 a.m. a stranger came in and went directly up to Garcia and spoke to her in English, according to the one acquaintance of Garcia who had stayed behind at the bar. He saw the man leave, followed by Garcia, but when he went to the door he couldn’t see anyone.
Westervelt says the alternate story — that Garcia and her husband, then about 40, were at a bar when she jumped from the car and disappeared — came from inquiries the police made when they went to the Onate Street home in 1996, after the then-owners found two big bones in the dirt garage which turned out to be from a horse and cow. Neighborhood dogs had sometimes dug around the garage and there were reports of a smell coming from the area, she said.
The home had changed hands when Jose Garcia, who was born in 1912, died in the 1990s, according to Westervelt. Asked if there were problems in the family, Westervelt said, “the family did say they squabbled now and then but most married couples do”
Renter James Douglas, who does body work on cars, said police contacted him about digging a couple of months ago. He has lived in the building, which now consists of three apartments, for 20 years.
Asked what he thought about a body possibly being buried under the garage floor for decades, he said, “I really don’t, I really don’t know. When I saw the bones they didn’t even look like human bones.”
A neighbor said a city worker came by last week and asked about the garage. “No city sewer” is spray painted in green in front of the garage.