Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Skeleton Find Puts Count at 6
By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
Investigators are considering an "extensive" list of suspects in the deaths of six people whose remains have been found on the far Southwest Mesa during the past two-plus weeks, Chief Ray Schultz of the Albuquerque Police Department said.
At least one suspect is also now dead.
The body count in a large expanse of desert near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW increased to six Tuesday morning when a search team found a complete skeleton, Schultz said.
Investigators using satellite maps and heavy earth-moving equipment found the remains of two other people over the weekend and on Monday. The remains of three other people were found last week and the week before.
Victoria Chavez, who was in her mid-20s when she was reported missing in 2005, is the only one of the six people who has been identified.
Detectives think the victims were all female and may all have been prostitutes.
It's too early to release the names of any potential suspects, Schultz said Tuesday. But he said authorities believe the "same person or persons" are responsible for all of the remains.
"Everything does seem very similar in terms of the same area (where the remains were found), so we believe we're dealing with the same suspect or suspects," he said. "We're looking at people convicted and suspected of sex crimes from the period of time we believe these people went missing, and we're looking around the country to see if this has happened elsewhere."
One case police are interested in, he said, involved a prostitute who was murdered in late 2006 in a southwest Albuquerque trailer just a few miles from the large crime scene off 118th. The suspected killer in that case was later fatally shot.
Police at the time said they believed the killing of the prostitute was not that suspect's first, and they were looking into his possible involvement in the disappearances of several prostitutes since 2001.
The remains that have been found this month were within about 20 yards of each other in areas of disturbed ground identified through satellite maps, Schultz said. Older satellite maps from 2004 to 2005 show what appears to be tire tracks in the dirt.
Schultz said investigators believe the bodies were buried on the mesa four or five years ago.
During the past several years, detectives have compiled a list of 24 women who were either confirmed as or suspected of being prostitutes and who had been reported missing since the mid- to late 1990s, the chief said.
The list has kept investigators "far ahead of the game" in their search to identify the victims and, eventually, their killer, he said.
Chavez's name was on the list, Schultz said.
Her mother had described her as a "known prostitute and drug user" when she reported her missing in 2005, he said. Detectives used dental records to identify her.
Schultz said detectives have dental records for 17 of the 24 names on the list.
Remains for four of the six victims are incomplete, the chief said, which makes it more difficult to identify them or how they were killed. Moreover, the remains found in the past few days had no clothing or other artifacts nearby.
Because a complete skeleton was found Tuesday, Schultz said, detectives hope to make a quick identification.
The investigation began Feb. 2 when someone called police to report some bones on the mesa.
A multiagency team is using cadaver-sniffing dogs, aerial and satellite maps and ground-penetrating radar to comb the site for human remains and to develop leads. Technology has helped investigators locate seven areas where the ground has been disturbed.
In six of those areas, remains have been found. The seventh had not been searched as of late Tuesday. Excavation will continue today, Schultz said.
Complicating the investigation has been the dramatic change the expanse of mesa has undergone since police believe the bodies were buried.
In 2004 and 2005, the area was a barren stretch of desert. Since then, a planned development still unfinished led to grading and leveling.