Thursday, February 26, 2009
Second Southwest Mesa Body ID'd
By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
Police have now identified a second victim whose body was buried on the Far Southwest Mesa. Police Chief Ray Schultz also announced Wednesday that the body count on the dusty, partially developed patch of mesa near Dennis Chavez and 118th SW had reached 11.
Late Tuesday, investigators unearthed another nearly complete set of remains less than 20 feet from where the 10th victim's body was found Monday morning.
Both of the identified victims were female prostitutes with criminal histories. Both were in their 20s, and were reported missing less than six months apart in late 2004 and early 2005.
“We have linked two of the victims with similar lifestyles now,” Schultz said during a news conference Wednesday. “That gives detectives a good place to start. This is where the real work begins. At some point in time, their lives crossed paths ... whether it was each other or some other individual who was involved in their deaths.”
The chief reiterated that police believe all the victims were female and were buried on the mesa by the same person, but said it would be “too premature” to say the deaths are the work of a serial killer.
The second identified victim, Gina Michelle Valdez, was pregnant when her body was buried, police say. Investigators uncovered her nearly complete skeleton, along with that of her 4-month-old fetus, on Saturday as they continued excavating what Schultz calls “one of the largest crime scenes in Albuquerque history.”
The Office of the Medical Investigator identified Valdez's remains through dental records late Tuesday, Schultz said. Her father had reported her missing in February 2005, saying his daughter “usually comes around to borrow money but he had not heard from her and is concerned about her welfare.”
The first set of remains, found more than two weeks ago after police received a call from a citizen, belonged to Victoria Chavez, whose family reported her as a missing “prostitute and drug user” in 2004 after not having seen her for more than a year.
Chavez and Valdez were both among the names of 24 prostitutes or suspected prostitutes who had been reported missing between 2001 and 2006, APD Cmdr. Mike Geier said Wednesday.
Although the department has thousands of outstanding missing persons cases dating back to the 1980s and earlier, detectives have been able to focus on the list of 24 17 of which, including Chavez and Valdez, authorities had dental records.
The age of bones found on the mesa and the close proximity in which most of them were found an area of about 30 yards by 10 yards helped investigators narrow the scope of their inquiries.
The list, which detectives began compiling more than two years ago, “let us hit the ground running ... rather than start from scratch” in their investigation into who buried the bones on the mesa, Geier said. “In fact, (the list) is what made identifying (Chavez and Valdez) so quickly possible.”
The chief remained tight-lipped Wednesday on certain details of the investigation including whether any other evidence such as clothing has been with the remains because the OMI has yet to determine manner of death for any of the victims.
And he would not call any of the people detectives are looking at in connection with the death suspects.
One case police are interested in involved a prostitute who was slain in late 2006 in a southwest Albuquerque trailer a few miles from where the remains have been found. The suspected killer in that case was fatally shot as he was moving the woman's body. Police said at the time that they believed the killing was not that suspect's first and that they were looking into his possible involvement in the disappearances of several prostitutes since 2001.
Another case detectives are looking into is that of a well-known pimp who died of natural causes in 2009 and who had pictures of missing prostitutes in his home.
In the next few days, the chief expects to announce members of a task force that will be responsible for the criminal end of the investigation. Detectives also plan to set up a tip hotline.
Several factors are complicating the investigation on the mesa, Schultz said. For starters, detectives are searching a total area of about 100 square acres that looks radically different today than it did when the bodies were buried between 2000 and 2005.
That's because KB Homes had bought the land and had begun grading and leveling for a subdivision. The development has since ceased, but not before massive amounts of dirt had been moved. Some of the bones, the chief said, have been found as many as 15 feet below the current ground level.
Remains have been found all throughout the 100-acre parcel, although some had obviously been moved by heavy equipment used during the early stages of the development. Most of the bones have been uncovered in an area about 30 yards long by 10 yards wide.