ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before we get to the dozens of police agents with shovels searching a dirt lot on Bass Road in Sierra County and divers jumping into the cold waters of Elephant Butte Lake; before we take the FBI up on its offer of a tour of “Satan’s Den” (dubbed the “terrifying trailer of torture” by the London Daily Mail); before we listen to lawmen guess that the number of his murder victims could climb above 40 or even 50; before we paint a sick picture of New Mexico’s own “Toy Box Killer” – can we take a minute to remember that David Parker Ray was never charged with, much less convicted of, a single murder?
I know, I know. Just because someone has never been charged with murder and just because no bodies of any of his supposed victims have ever been found, doesn’t mean we can’t speculate that he’s a serial killer. Especially when he’s dead and we’ve got a tabloid-worthy nickname like “Toy Box Killer.”
It should have come as no surprise that of all the news and information stuffed into our website, ABQjournal.com, last week, it was 237 photographs of purses, costume jewelry, wrinkled jackets and dirty underwear that captured all the attention.
A hundred times more people spent time scrolling through snapshots of the intimate items confiscated from David Parker Ray’s creepy trailer at Elephant Butte a dozen years ago than checked out a nice little story about balloons going aloft.
Crime in this country – property crime and violent crime – has fallen to its lowest levels in decades. Our odds of being raped or robbed or murdered fall each year. You wouldn’t know that from the amount of attention devoted to violence in the news media, in fiction and on prime-time TV. We wallow in crime like we’re still back in the heyday of the early 1990s – the peak years of violent crime in the U.S.
This is a milieu custom made for a rerun of the David Parker Ray sex-torture case – New Mexico’s most internationally famous mass murder that failed to materialize. The case against Ray has been pumped up and teased like an upcoming episode of “CSI” since back in 1999, when agents from a slew of police agencies swooped onto a plot of dirt in Elephant Butte.
Ray was arrested in 1999 after a naked woman wearing a dog collar and chain fled his home. Two other women alleged they were abducted, chained and tortured. He was convicted in 2001 of kidnapping and torturing a Colorado woman in 1996 and pleaded guilty to kidnapping and rape in the case of the fleeing woman. A third case was dismissed in a plea bargain. Ray was sentenced to more than 223 years in prison and died there in 2002.
Darren White, the state’s public safety director at the time and as hyperbolic as ever, called a community meeting after Ray’s arrest and assured everyone “the nightmare is behind bars.”
Meanwhile, police dug for bones around Ray’s trailer. They found a bunch, but none belonged to humans. They later searched Elephant Butte Lake and came up empty.
Back to our slide show of 237 women’s things hoarded by Ray in his torture-chamber trailer dubbed “Satan’s Den.” The FBI, I’m sure, had the best intentions when it released those sad portraits of jackets, shoes, underpants and bras to media outlets last week. Maybe someone would see a piece of clothing and spark a memory that could lead to – lead to what, exactly? Watch the slide show
FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told me the agency still believes Ray is a murderer and his victims are out there somewhere. Its recent publicity push is meant to drum up leads.
“We would like to find a bunch of bones,” he said, and be able to identify missing women and either close the cases by linking the deaths to Ray or identify accomplices he might have worked with and bring them to justice.
To that same end, the FBI also gave media tours of Ray’s trailer, giving us all another look at the twisted little sex den Ray was operating as he pretended to be the normal neighbor next door in the Elephant Butte community.
Police were back in the area last week, dozens strong, searching for bodies, and again found none. On Tuesday, acting on a tip, they searched again and found some pieces of a leg bone, which are being analyzed to determine whether it is human.
Media attention has brought in a steady stream of tips and they will all be investigated no matter how long it takes.
“Investigators really never let go of it,” Fisher told me, even after Parker’s death. “They feel a responsibility to exhaust every single lead, every single possibility. I guess we just want to be sure. We just want to do everything we can. If we can just finally bring closure and end this thing forever.”
It’s been 12 years since Ray’s arrest, 10 years since he was convicted of rape and torture and nine years since his death in prison.
When he was alive, Ray was quite the chatterbox about his exploits. His diaries contained graphic descriptions of sexual torture, and in them he claimed to have killed 40 people. But he also contradicted that, denying he raped or killed anyone. He described himself in an interview with KOB-TV 10 years ago as just a guy with an active imagination who derives sexual pleasure from imagining torture scenarios.
It’s safe to say Ray was a world-class creep and woman-hater who masked his sexual fetish behind a genial smile. Dredging up his icky story one more time might answer the question of whether he was also a killer. When we get the answer, maybe then we can lock up “Satan’s Den” and throw away the key.
Watch the slide show of David Parker Ray items
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie Linthicum at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal