Thursday, March 19, 2009
Bill Gives $25K Tips Reward
By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
A bill unanimously passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday that offers $25,000 for tips leading to charges in the investigation into the deaths of 12 women and a fetus whose remains have been found on the Far Southwest Mesa since Feb. 2.
The legislative session ends Saturday, meaning House Bill 896 has until then to be approved by the Senate.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.
The money would come from the state's general fund. It would be allocated to the local government division of the Finance Department.
The bill “establishes a reward through law enforcement for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or perpetrator of crimes against women whose remains have been found on the West Side of the city of Albuquerque.”
Police have identified four of the women found buried near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW. They are Julie Nieto, Cinnamon Elks, Victoria Chavez and Gina Michelle Valdez. Valdez was pregnant when she was buried, and the remains of her unborn child are among the completed skeletons investigators have unearthed.
“They, too, were somebody's daughter, somebody's mother, somebody's sister,” state Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, said from the House floor Wednesday.
Investigators say the four knew each other. All had struggled with drug addiction and had criminal histories including arrests for prostitution.
The Office of the Medical Investigator used dental and other medical records to identify the women, who had gone missing and were likely buried between 2000 and 2006.
Police Chief Ray Schultz has said detectives believe the same “person or persons” is responsible for burying the women on the mesa. He has stopped short of identifying any suspects because the OMI has yet to determine cause and manner of death in the case, and because investigators are looking at several different theories for who was responsible for the women's deaths.
“We need to pursue the best possible way to find out who these perpetrators are,” Lujan said Wednesday.
Schultz has said nine of the 13 sets of remains, including the fetus, is complete. And detectives don't believe the body count will increase.
Investigators using ground penetrating radar, satellite maps and other topographical surveying tools identified several areas where the earth had been disturbed. All of those have now been mined and all contained human bones.
Most of the intact skeletons have been found in an area of the partly developed mesa that Schultz calls “the pit.” Nothing has been found in that area since late last week. The search is now focused, at the request of the OMI, in the “collective remains area,” the chief said.
Investigators are trying to complete the final four skeletons and identify the rest of the women.
Journal staff writer Jeff Jones contributed to this report.