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OMI Confirms Homicide in Mesa Deaths

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       The deaths of two of the West Mesa victims have been ruled homicides, according to the Office of the Medical Investigator.
    Autopsy reports were finalized in the past week and showed that Gina Michelle Valdez and Cinnamon Elks were murdered. The reports did not list a cause of death for either woman.
    Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh said the homicide ruling "is what we expected," and the lack of cause of death "is not unexpected."
    On Feb. 2, a woman who was walking her dog found what turned out to be a human leg bone on the mesa near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW. Police then began to excavate the area and eventually found the remains of 11 women.
    Detectives working the case believe the women were buried there between about 2002 and 2006. The remains had been ravaged by time and the elements and were, by the time police found them, skeletal.
    The lack of flesh makes determining cause of death difficult, police say. None of the mesa victims' remains had any obvious signs of trauma such as a gunshot wound.
    Authorities have identified seven of the women so far, including Valdez and Elks. Police are awaiting DNA, dental records and tips from the public to identify the other four. Autopsy reports have been completed for only Valdez and Elks.
    Detectives have begun to zero in on a list of fewer than 10 potential suspects in the case as they continue their efforts to unravel the mystery surrounding the women's deaths and burials in shallow graves on the mesa.
    Valdez's remains have been returned to her family; it was not clear whether Elks' have.
    Dan Valdez, Gina Michelle's father, said a proper funeral is planned for his daughter today.
    "We have family coming in from all across the East," he said. "We were able to take her mother, her sister and one of her children out to the site and explain what happened. Now it's time we gave her her humanity back, and gave her a proper funeral and burial."

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