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'Sacred ground'

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       Sacred ground.
    That's how City Councilor Ken Sanchez describes the 100-acre patch of the Southwest Mesa where authorities have unearthed the remains of 12 women and a fetus since Feb. 2.
    Sanchez, whose council District 1 includes the site, says developer KB Home, which owns the property and had begun to develop it before pulling out of Albuquerque a year ago, should donate the land to the city.
    "What I would like to see done is for a memorial park to be built there on behalf of the women who were buried there and their families," Sanchez told the Journal on Thursday. "I just think it would be terrible for homes to be built there or that property to be sold. I would like to see some closure for the families. That is sacred ground now."
    For its part, the developer isn't saying what its plans are for the area near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW.
    "Due to the extreme sensitivity of this situation and out of concern for the families involved, KB Home is not commenting on this matter," spokesman Craig LeMessurier said in a prepared statement. "We will continue to work with the Albuquerque Police Department to assist in any way we can with their investigation."
    Sanchez said he will wait until police finish their investigation to approach KB Home and the women's families about the possibility of a memorial park. The investigation on the mesa is ongoing, and police are still searching the area for remains.
    "I will give (police) as much time as (they) need," Sanchez said. "But in the end, I would hate to see another developer buy that land and build homes. KB Home made some money while they were here in Albuquerque, and then they left. It is the right thing for them to donate that land."
    KB announced in March 2008 that it planned to exit the Albuquerque-area market because of a nationwide slump in home building.
    Sanchez said the city would be willing to negotiate with KB to purchase the land if the developer doesn't want to donate it.
    Police Chief Ray Schultz said the decision on what happens to the land is up to KB Home.
    Albuquerque real estate attorney David Campbell said that if the developer decides to sell the property, there is no "stigma law" that requires it to make any disclosures about the land. The New Mexico Real Estate Disclosure Act of 1991 says disclosure of homicides, natural deaths or "other similar acts need not be made."
    Campbell said he believes the property would still have value — if KB Home decided to sell it.
    "To the extent the buyer believes the property to be stigmatized may affect the perceived value," he said. "In this case, although the property may be discounted in the buyer's mind and in the seller's pocketbook, it would eventually sell.
    "There are certainly subdivisions on the East Coast — Manassas, Bull Run, Gettysburg — where there were hundreds of acts of death. Time tends to remove the stigma."
    Schultz said there is no timetable for when police will stop combing the area for human remains. Nine of the 13 skeletons, including the fetus, are complete, and investigators are focusing on finding the final bones from the remaining four.
    "We've been finding remains and evidence pretty much every day since we've been out there," the chief said. "We found two more foot bones (on Tuesday.) We will continue to search until we're not finding anything anymore."
    Another concern for investigators is identifying the women who were buried there, he said.
    Four have been identified. They are Cinnamon Elks, Victoria Chavez, Juliean Nieto and Gina Michelle Valdez. Police say the four women knew one another and shared similar life experiences that included battles with drug addiction and prostitution.
    Authorities believe the women were buried there between 2000 and 2005. And although no suspects have been identified, detectives believe the bodies were buried on the mesa by the "same person or persons."
    Experts from the National Center for Human Remains Identification at the University of North Texas are assisting the FBI and local authorities in identifying the other eight women.
    More than 24,000 cubic yards of dirt have been moved. Most of the complete skeletons have come from an area police call "the pit," which at one time was a retention pond.

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