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W. Mesa Suspect List Narrows

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       Police say they are tightening the circle on a likely serial killer. Some reward money from the feds might help them close it.
    After nearly six months of investigation, they have narrowed their list of suspects to five in the deaths of 11 women who were buried naked on the Far Southwest Mesa.
    APD Chief Ray Schultz also said police believe they know the cause of death and that he's pleased with the progress of the investigation.
    "But we're still waiting for that one person to come forward with that last little bit of information we need to seal it," said Schultz, who has been hoping a large reward would help "motivate" just such a tipster.
    Getting that money together has proved difficult.
    Until now.
    "I am very, very pleased to announce that the FBI has secured $50,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in this case," Schultz said Thursday. "The new (FBI) Special Agent In Charge, Carol Lee, asked me what I needed, and I told her this was my No. 1 priority."
    Local FBI spokesman Darrin Jones applauded APD's work on the West Mesa case and said the bureau has been happy to assist.
    "The federal government has deep pockets," Jones said. "The fact that clearly there is a serial killer involved in this case allowed us to tap into some of those federal resources, where a single homicide victim would not."
    Of the five suspects, at least two are in prison and one was killed in December 2006 after he had strangled a prostitute in his trailer less than two miles from the West Mesa site near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW, Schultz told the Journal on Thursday.
    The chief declined to give the suspect's names or other details.
    He did, however, say investigators now believe the women were asphyxiated.
    "There were no outward signs of trauma on any of the remains," Schultz said. "That leads us to believe they were either strangled or suffocated."
    Schultz says he's pleased with the progress of the investigation.
    Only four of the autopsies have been completed. The listed cause of death in all four is undetermined; the manner of death is homicide.
    Seven of the women have been identified. They all had struggled with lifestyles that included substance abuse and prostitution.
    Police believe they were killed and buried on the mesa during a 14-month period between late 2003 and early 2005.
    Since Feb. 2, police moved more than 40,000 cubic yards of dirt as they searched for remains. And in the months since the excavation was completed, detectives have received thousands of tips, conducted "countless" interviews and served several search warrants — all of which have been sealed by a judge — as they've searched for the serial killer responsible for the women's deaths.
    Every clue and shred of evidence that has been collected has been entered into a database that has helped detectives narrow their search.
    Violent crimes detectives also are setting up a fund that members of the public will be able to donate money to. And an effort is under way to get reward money from the East Mountains triple homicide case transferred to the West Mesa case.
    Some of the members of the board of directors that administers the East Mountains case money — which would be as much as $70,000 — have been on vacation, Schultz said. When they return, he plans to meet with them and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White to discuss transferring the money to the mesa case.
    Schultz is a firm believer in reward money helping solve high-profile murder cases. That stems in part from his involvement as one of the lead criminalists in the Hollywood Video murders case, which didn't break open until a reward was offered.
    Moreover, the chief said he has talked to investigators who have worked cases similar to the West Mesa case.
    "They've all said: 'This is the kind of case you need a reward for,'" he said. "And now we have one."
    Schultz did not provide a timetable for when he thinks the case will be solved.
    "But I think we're making really good progress," he said.

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