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W. Mesa Victim May Not Be Local

By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
      Detectives believe one of the unidentified female victims found in a shallow grave on the West Mesa earlier this year was probably not from Albuquerque.
       “She was not reported missing in Albuquerque,” APD spokeswoman Nadine Hamby told the Journal on Wednesday. “We think she may have been a circuit girl: a woman who works in the prostitution trade along (Interstate 40) stopping in various cities.”
       The woman's physical description — black, in her mid-teens to early 20s and between 5 feet 2 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall — does not match anyone on a list of missing women who struggled with substance abuse and prostitution that police began to compile more than five years ago.
       The seven mesa victims who have been identified so far all were on the list, which contains about 10 names, and all were from or had close ties to Albuquerque.
       In late April, police released a photograph of detailed artwork on an acrylic fingernail investigators found attached to the woman's skeleton near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW in February.
       They had hoped a friend or family member would recognize the artwork, come forward and identify the woman.
       “Unfortunately, that has not happened,” Hamby said.
       On Wednesday, the Office of the Medical Investigator gave detectives several other details about the woman.
       Also attached to the skeleton — on its skull — were a number of “tight, curly hairs,” Hamby said. Based on the hairs and the lengths of other bones, detectives were able to complete a physical description of her.
       She was wearing a light-brown hair weave at the time she was killed, Hamby said.
       At one time or another, the woman's nose had been broken, and she had been stabbed or severely cut on her leg, Hamby said. Neither of those injuries is connected to the way the woman was killed, according to police.
       The OMI has yet to determine cause or manner of death for any of the 11 women whose remains were discovered on the mesa.
       Authorities do not have a DNA sample from any of the unidentified remains, Hamby said. That's because the University of North Texas' forensic experts are doing the DNA testing for the West Mesa case, and only the identified victims' remains have been sent to the school's lab in Denton, Texas, so far.
       “The ID'd ones are the priority for now,” she said, “so those remains can be processed and their families can get them back.”
       Authorities have not been able to figure out who the four unidentified women are through dental records, either, Hamby said.
       Identified so far are: Victoria Chavez, Gina Michelle Valdez, Julie Nieto, Cinnamon Elks, Veronica Romero, Monica Candelaria and Doreen Marquez.
       During the past several weeks, police have served two search warrants seeking evidence in the West Mesa case. Both warrants have been sealed by a judge, and police have declined to discuss details of what was found.
       Detectives have been in Arizona, Texas and throughout New Mexico following leads the past month or so.
       Albuquerque detectives have also spoken with authorities in Wisconsin about a possible connection between the West Mesa killings and a similar case there.
       Milwaukee police say they've linked seven cases there to a possible serial killer who's suspected in a number of prostitute killings over more than two decades. Authorities there said Tuesday they had linked another dead prostitute to the suspected killer — whose identity is not known — using DNA evidence. The one victim not connected to prostitution was involved in drugs.
       The homicides in Wisconsin occurred between 1986 and 2007 on the city's north side. Now, officers have submitted or resubmitted DNA samples from more than two dozen unsolved homicides to see if they are connected.
       The West Mesa victims were likely killed and buried between 2003 and 2005, police say.
       Police Chief Ray Schultz said detectives are beginning to zero in on a list of fewer than 10 potential suspects in the case, although the word “suspect” remains somewhat inaccurate because OMI is still awaiting peer review to fully determine the cause and manner of the women's deaths.

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