Thursday, March 05, 2009
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Murder Theories Include Gangs, Pimps, Felons
By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
Detectives are investigating a number of possibilities "everything from a single perpetrator to some type of gang activity" in the deaths of 12 women and one fetus whose remains have been found on the Far Southwest Mesa during the past month, Police Chief Ray Schultz told the Journal this week.
Among them, the chief said, are:
n A man who strangled a prostitute in December 2006 and was fatally shot by her associate while he was trying to move the woman's body.
n A well-known Albuquerque pimp who died in January of natural causes.
n Gang activity. Although Schultz wouldn't explain this theory, there have long been rumors of gangs killing prostitutes after using them to run drugs.
n A prisoner incarcerated in the state. Schultz would not say why the person was in prison.
n Someone who is deployed overseas in the military.
n Someone who "had something against prostitutes" or who "thought they were doing the Lord's work by killing these people."
The chief didn't say whether some of those possibilities are simply theories or that they involve specific individuals. He continued to keep most details of the investigation close to the vest, including previous cases detectives are looking into and whether any other evidence has been found with the bones.
There are other leads, and police are keeping all possibilities open, the chief said.
The body count stands at 13, and police believe the dead adults may all have been women who lived a shadowy, transient existence of drug addiction and prostitution and who disappeared between 2001 and 2005.
Detectives also believe the "same person or persons" created what is being called the "largest crime scene in Albuquerque history."
But they won't say the deaths are the work of a serial killer.
There are, essentially, two reasons:
First, "This is a 360-degree investigation, and we want to make sure we don't limit our investigators to any one set theory," Schultz said. "Anything less could be used against us in court, for a possible future prosecution, if we somehow prejudice the case by speaking or acting too prematurely."
Second, the skeletal remains investigators have found in the area since Feb. 2 have been there between four and nine years. That means that determining cause and manner of death is difficult.
If the Office of the Medical Investigator, which determines cause and manner of death, can't say they were homicides, then police can't call anyone a suspect much less a serial killer.
"We're looking at cases where the suspects are deceased," Schultz said. "We're looking into several cases involving the death or assault of prostitutes."
Two cases in particular that the chief has said police are interested in involve dead men.
One involved a prostitute who was slain in late 2006 in a southwest Albuquerque trailer a few miles from where the remains have been found. The suspected killer was fatally shot as he was moving the woman's body.
Police also are looking into the case of a well-known pimp who died of natural causes in January and who had pictures of missing prostitutes in his home.
The OMI has referred all questions about the crime scene on the mesa to APD. Schultz said the office has not identified any obvious signs of trauma on the remains, such as a gunshot or stab wound.
But that doesn't mean the cause of death won't be ruled homicide, the chief said. Facts such as the proximity in which the bones have been found, the time they were buried there and similarities in the victims' lives could lead to a circumstantial determination of homicide.
Only two of the 13 sets of remains have been identified: Victoria Chavez and Gina Michelle Valdez.
"We can only move as fast as some of the evidence allows us to," Schultz said. "Everything is still a possibility."
In the meantime, three branches of the 40-member 118th Street Task Force are investigating the case: one that's processing the 100-acre site where the remains have been found, one that's handling logistics and coordinating the massive amounts of information police have on the victims and cases they're looking into, and a third that's trying to figure out who is responsible.
"These are people who were handpicked for this investigation," Schultz said. "There are people who worked vice (when the women disappeared), senior folks and brand-new detectives. Everybody knows their objectives. It's a very well-organized task force."
The task force includes a couple of FBI criminal profilers, Schultz said, who are helping piece together a picture of the lives of the missing women and the person who may have killed them.