Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
It’s a quiet neighborhood in Northeast Albuquerque. Single-story stucco homes with well-kept yards line the wide, curving street near Comanche and Carlisle NE.
But four months ago, one of these homes was the scene of a gruesome execution-style killing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said may be tied to international drug trafficking.
On May 10, Joe Baca and his younger brother, Carlos Baca Jr., were found dead in a pool of blood, their wrists handcuffed and bound, in what appears to have been a marijuana “grow” house.
Autopsy reports show both had been shot at point-blank range in the head and one of the men also had been stabbed repeatedly.
Today, two Mexican-style prayer candles near the entrance, a boarded-up garage and a notice deeming it unsafe to occupy are the only hints that the shaded ranch-style home is different from its neighbors.
Albuquerque police have provided few details and say they don’t know why the two were killed, but the DEA said its agents are assisting with the investigation into a drug trafficking angle.
“At this point, we feel there may be an international nexus with Mexico,” said Sean Waite, the director of operations for the DEA in New Mexico.
Frankie Baca, Carlos’ wife, told the Journal in May that her husband had asked her to pick him up for lunch at the house in the 3400 block of Morningside NE, and when she didn’t see him there she began to worry.
She said she and Joe’s girlfriend kicked down a door and found the two brothers dead.
Autopsy reports from the Office of the Medical Investigator give some clues to what they saw.
The brothers’ wrists had been bound and handcuffed, and both had been shot more than once.
Duct tape covered 29-year-old Carlos Baca Jr.’s mouth, and his pockets had been turned inside out. He had been shot twice.
It appears something even more sinister had happened to Joe, 31.
According to an autopsy report, he had been stabbed more than 20 times, some of the knife wounds causing a hemorrhage of a major artery. He had been shot three times.
A bloody knife lay near the bodies, and a safe was found open and empty.
The day after the homicides, police asked for the public’s assistance finding a man who they said might have been in danger. Celestino Lopez, 29, who Frankie said was her cousin, was last heard from the day before the brothers were killed.
Homicide Sgt. Liz Thomson said he has been found and is alive.
In a notice of violation filed the day following the homicides, inspectors with the Safe City Strike Force wrote, “The main electrical panel has been tampered with and six step up transformers were installed for overhead plant growing lights.”
They also found the inside had been so badly maintained it was a danger to the “life, limb, health, property, safety or welfare of the public or any occupants,” according to the notice.
It is unclear exactly how long the two had been using that house, or if whether they had been paying rent. According to court records, the woman who owned the house died in 2014, and foreclosure proceedings had begun.
It was sold in July.
It isn’t the first time at least one of the brothers had been linked to a grow house.
In 2011, Joe was arrested when his probation officer found 12 marijuana plants, 20 individually packed plastic bags containing 1-pound bricks of marijuana, and a “bulk amount” of cash inside his home in Barelas, according to a police report. Those charges against him, as well as other drug-related charges, were dismissed.
Neither Waite nor Thomson would comment on what the brothers were doing in the house or what kinds of drugs are suspected to have been involved.
But Waite said large amounts of drugs, including marijuana, are trafficked from Mexico into the Southwestern states, particularly along the interstates.
“There is certainly a demand for high-quality marijuana,” Waite said.