Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
After days of searching, authorities on Tuesday found the bodies of a woman and young child – believed to be the last of the five missing members of the George family – in a rugged area of Santa Ana Pueblo.
Sisters Vanessa and Leticia George, and their three young daughters, ages 1 through 4, had been reported missing from Albuquerque last week. At the time, police were concerned about foul play and that the group could be in danger.
On Sunday, the body of Leticia George, 20, was discovered in the same area as a white pickup truck at the end of a double-track dirt road north of the Jemez Canyon Dam. On Monday, the bodies of two young children were found nearby. And, on Tuesday, the body of another woman – believed to be Leticia’s sister, Vanessa George, 25 – and a child were discovered.
Vanessa George, her two young daughters, Zoe Becenti, 4, and Chloe Becenti, 1, and Leticia George, and Leticia’s daughter, Haliegh Toledo, 3, had been last seen on the Santa Ana Pueblo on Thursday, according to the Albuquerque Police Department.
While police originally thought someone had harmed the group, on Tuesday, Frank Fisher, an FBI spokesman, said, “Foul play by another party is not suspected at this time.” When asked to clarify what that statement means, Fisher said it was “still under investigation.”
He did confirm that investigators believe the bodies found are those of the George sisters and their children, but declined to provide more details about the case. He said the Office of the Medical Investigator will determine their cause of deaths.
Fisher said relatives identified Leticia George, but none of the others has been definitively identified.
APD’s missing persons investigation began when family members called police to check on the sisters and their daughters.
When officers got to the home, they didn’t find anyone there and suspected the women and children were in danger.
“When officers arrived, they felt that something was not right,” said officer Simon Drobik, an APD spokesman, over the weekend. “They had left all their belongings behind – cellphones, keys, stuff you would take with you if you left a residence.”
Drobik said APD’s missing persons detectives worried that something might have happened to the women and children, and police released a flier about their disappearance.
“We’re definitely worried, given the circumstances,” he said. “This is one of those cases where they basically just vanished.”
By Monday, a white Toyota Tundra matching the description of the truck the women were last seen driving was found against an outcrop of rocks and trees off the tail end of a dirt road. The license plate was bent, but the portion that could be seen when the truck was towed away matched the plate number released by APD.
The FBI took over the investigation, with assistance from numerous other agencies: U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, New Mexico State Police, Santa Ana Police and Conservation Departments, Jemez Pueblo Police Department, Navajo Nation Criminal Investigation Section and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.
A GoFundMe account set up for the family shows several photos of healthy, smiling children playing with stuffed animals and toys or in their mothers’ arms. The site asks for assistance to help the George family pay for expenses in the wake of the investigation and asks the public to pray for the family.
When reached by phone, relatives of the sisters declined to talk to the Journal, citing the FBI investigation.
Jerri Rodriguez, who lives on the same cul-de-sac as the father of Vanessa George’s children, said she saw police cars outside the two-story Northwest Albuquerque home around New Year’s Eve, but did not think much of it.
She said she didn’t know Vanessa or Leticia or the children, but wishes she had done more to help them if they were in need.
“It makes me sick to hear these stories,” Rodriguez said. “I felt helpless when I realized.”
Vanessa and the father of her children, Murphy Becenti, had recently been in an argument that turned physical and resulted in police being called, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
Vanessa told police they were arguing because Becenti, 34, wanted her to go to work the next day instead of taking one of the children to a doctor’s appointment. She said Becenti “forced her to go upstairs by pushing her and then forced her to come back downstairs by pushing her several times.”
Officers arrested Becenti and he was released the next day, told not to contact Vanessa and to not break any laws, according to court documents.
But it appears he saw her, her sister and the children at least once more last week, according to the flier APD issued Saturday about the missing group.
“Murphy was interviewed and stated he last saw Vanessa, Leticia and the children on January 5, 2017, on the Santa Ana Pueblo,” according to the APD flier.
APD declined to answer any questions, referring all inquiries to the FBI.
And given the FBI’s statement, it does not appear Becenti is a suspect in the women and children’s deaths.
Journal digital editor Robert Browman and staff writer Katy Barnitz contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct age of Haliegh Toledo. Police had previously provided an incorrect age.