Albuquerque Journal Special Report

West Mesa Murders Potential Suspects

Joseph Blea, who has been named a potential suspect in the West Mesa murders.

Joseph Blea

Joseph Blea caught the attention of investigators almost immediately after the first remains of the West Mesa victims were unearthed.

April Gillen, Blea’s first wife, contacted police seven days after the discovery of a bone on the mesa and said she thought police should look into him.

They already knew a lot about him.

Blea is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence after he was convicted of four sexual assaults unrelated to the West Mesa case. He’s faced other sex-related charges as well, including accusations that he raped a 14-year-old girl he knew with a screwdriver. That case was later dropped, according to online court records.

And his DNA was found on a prostitute left dead on a curb in 1985. He’s never been charged in connection with that crime.

Police knew him even before many of those allegations surfaced — they had run across him more than 130 times between 1990 and 2009, and many of those encounters were along the East Central corridor known for prostitution and drugs, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed late last year.

It’s an area many of the victims reportedly frequented.

In one report six years before the West Mesa victims went missing, a woman who had been walking on Central Avenue said Blea called her over to his car and exposed himself.

Police found rope and electrical tape on his passenger seat.

In the weeks after the victims’ remains were found, detectives with APD’s Repeat Offender Project tailed Blea for four days as he appeared to stalk prostitutes on the stroll.

“On two separate occasions Mr. Blea drove Central Ave from the west part of Albuquerque to the east part of Albuquerque,” the detective wrote in the warrant. “He slowed and circled the block in areas where prostitutes were working. He did not approach any prostitutes but appeared to be closely watching them.”

When detectives interviewed a prostitute who knew him, she said he took her to his house and tried to tie her up. She said she didn’t let him.

About eight months after the West Mesa murder investigation began, detectives searched Blea’s home and collected women’s jewelry and women’s underwear.

His wife, Cheryl Blea, told police he enjoyed wearing women’s underwear when having sex. She said she had on occasion found jewelry that didn’t belong to her or her daughter in their home. And she said her daughter had found women’s underwear hidden in their shed.

In a 2015 interview with the Journal, Robert Cloven, the father of victim Virginia Cloven, said some families had noticed the women’s jewelry was missing.

Detective Mark Manary, who is the only investigator on the West Mesa case full-time, won’t say if the jewelry or underwear found at Blea’s house matched any of the victims’ DNA.

“Due to this being an ongoing criminal investigation this question cannot be answered at this time,” he said in an email in January 2016.

Blea also reportedly discussed the West Mesa case with others.

When detectives interviewed a former cellmate, he said Blea told him he knew the victims. He said he had paid them for sex acts.

“Mr. Blea spoke poorly about other identified victims, calling them trashy,” officers said cellmate Monroe Elderts told them.

Blea told Elderts he hit one of the victims when she tried to take his money.

Most of the evidence detectives present in the search warrant is circumstantial, but there’s one piece of physical evidence they believe may tie him to the crime.

Officers digging up the bones found a plant tag for a Spearmint Juniper next to Virginia Cloven’s remains.

Detectives traced that tree tag to a nursery in California that sends plants to Albuquerque, and Blea’s business records indicate he bought plants from nurseries that sold the California plants.

It’s unclear if detectives were ever able to directly tie that tree tag to Blea.

Blea began his lengthy prison sentence for the sexual assault cases last year.

He is appealing his conviction in those.

His former attorney, John McCall, said Blea says he had nothing to do with the West Mesa murders.

“We dealt with issues relating to all of this,” McCall said in January 2016. “But it doesn’t seem like they really had any conclusive evidence regarding Joseph Blea. He’s denying involvement in West Mesa consistently.”

Blea’s appellate public defender, Nina Lalevic, said was just assigned the case and hadn’t reviewed it or spoken with Blea yet. She said she didn’t know that police had investigated him in connection with the West Mesa murders.

If you have information about Joseph Blea, please contact us at westmesa@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3860, or call police at 1-877-765-8273.

Lorenzo Montoya, who has been named a potential suspect in the West Mesa murders.

Lorenzo Montoya

When Lorenzo Montoya was killed in 2006, the bodies of the West Mesa victims had not yet been found. Police Chief Ray Schultz said at the time that police had been looking into him in connection to prostitutes who had vanished from the city.

He has since been named as a possible suspect in the West Mesa deaths.

That’s likely because, like another possible suspect Joseph Blea, Montoya cruised the East Central corridor and was known to be violent.

His first prostitution-related arrest was in 1998 when he picked up an undercover detective posing as a prostitute. He offered her $40.

She took him to a motel room near Washington and Central, where officers arrested him.

That apparently didn’t deter him.

In 1999, vice detectives watched him pick up a prostitute near Central and San Mateo and followed him to a dark dead-end road near the airport.

Police believe they caught him in the act as he was trying to rape and strangle her.

Montoya had apparently never planned to pay her — he only had $2 in his wallet.

He was arrested, but the case was later dismissed.

About four years later, he was still at it. Detectives watched him pick up a prostitute on Central Ave. and arrested him. The woman told officers he paid her $15.

By that time, Montoya already had a history of violence.

According to a domestic violence form his girlfriend filled out after an alleged assault, Montoya repeatedly beat her.

The woman said he had also done “gross things to me,” but didn’t detail what they were in the document.

She wrote that Montoya threatened “to kill me and bury me in lime.”

That threat may shed light on Montoya’s last crime.

In December 2006, he invited an escort to his trailer and killed her, according to a search warrant affidavit.

“She was bound by the ankles, knees and wrists, with duct tape and cord,” a detective wrote in the warrant.

When the woman’s boyfriend came to check on her, he shot and killed Montoya.

The woman’s body was found outside Montoya’s trailer partially wrapped in a blanket.

Her legs and wrists were wrapped in duct tape, and a thick layer circled her neck. An unrolled condom, pillowcase, and the woman’s belongings were in a trash bag in the trunk of car Montoya had rented.

Inside Montoya’s trailer, investigators found duct tape next to his bed. They also found hardcore pornography and some homemade sex tapes.

One of those recordings shows Montoya having sex with a woman and the tape goes black. In a following scene on the same tape, the camera is focused on Montoya’s bedroom wall.

The camera doesn’t capture what’s happening, but the audio captures what sounds like tape being pulled from a roll. At least one trash bag is opened and there’s minutes of rustling noises.

Police have sent that audio to the FBI and other crime labs for enhancement, but haven’t been able to determine what Montoya was doing.

Two years after Montoya’s death, the decomposed remains of the West Mesa victims were found. Montoya was immediately a potential suspect.

But police have never detailed conclusive evidence tying him to the crime.

Police spokesman Tanner Tixier said detectives tested Montoya’s living room carpet for DNA of all the victims found on the mesa and it came back negative. They also found nothing suspicious in his financial records around the time that the women went missing.

Although Montoya’s family has declined to speak with the Journal, some of their comments were captured in interviews recorded by police the day he was killed.

His mother expressed disbelief that Montoya could have done what police accused him of. And his girlfriend told them through sobs that she was supposed to be at Montoya’s trailer the night Hill was killed, but she had canceled because she wasn’t feeling well.

“He was very aggressive when he was younger, but he changed a lot,” she said. “He was good to me.”

Police announced in October 2016 they were looking for two escorts shown in one of the sex tapes.

“We need those two women identified,” Tixier said. “We’re trying to figure out if they are still alive.”

If you have information about Lorenzo Montoya, please contact us at westmesa@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3860, or call police at 1-877-765-8273.

Credits

Produced, reported and maintained by Journal staff members

ROBERT BROWMAN & NICOLE PEREZ

Contact the Journal about the West Mesa murders at westmesa@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3860.

Or contact APD at 1-877-765-8273 or (505) 768-2450.