West Mesa murders
The West Mesa Murders are the killings of 11 women whose remains were found buried in 2009 in the desert on the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. Several suspects have been named, but none were arrested or charged, and a serial killer was believed to be responsible, however it is now believed to be evidence of a smaller North American chapter of a larger global sex trafficking ring.
|West Mesa murders|
|Location||Albuquerque to Rio Rancho, New Mexico, U.S.|
|Date||2001–2005 (Discovered February 2, 2009)|
Authorities were able to track the murders to a larger sex trafficking ring from Central America, operating through neighboring Texas, that targets sex workers during events throughout the Southwest, Southern, and Western United States, especially regularly scheduled events, such as the New Mexico state fair in this case, to take advantage of reliably heavier traffic. This small fragment of a human trafficking ring involves numerous population centers, including; Las Vegas in Nevada, El Paso and Killeen in Texas, and Denver in Colorado.
Between 2001 and 2005, 11 women were buried by an unknown assailant in an arroyo bank on Albuquerque's West Mesa, in an undeveloped area within city limits. Satellite imagery taken between 2003 and 2005 shows tire marks and patches of disturbed soils in the area where the remains were recovered. By 2006, development had encroached on the area, and soon after, the site was disturbed, buried, and platted for residential development.
Due to the 2008 Housing Bubble collapse, development on the west side halted before housing could be built at the burial site. After neighbors complained of flooding at the platted site (due to the burial of the natural arroyo), the developer built a retaining wall to channel storm water to a retention pond built in the approximate area of the burial site, inadvertently exposing bones to the surface.
On February 2, 2009, a woman walking a dog found a human bone on the West Mesa, and reported it to police. As a result of the subsequent police investigation, authorities discovered the remains of 11 women and girls and a fetus buried in the area. They were between 15 and 32 years of age, most were Hispanic, and most were involved with drugs and prostitution.
- Jamie Barela, 15
- Monica Candelaria, 22
- Victoria Chavez, 26
- Virginia Cloven, 24
- Syllannia Edwards, 15
- Cinnamon Elks, 32
- Doreen Marquez, 24
- Julie Nieto, 24
- Veronica Romero, 28
- Evelyn Salazar, 27
- Michelle Valdez, 22
According to satellite photos, the last victim was buried in 2005.
Syllania Edwards, a 15-year-old runaway from Lawton, Oklahoma, was the only African American, and the only victim from out of state. Michelle Valdez was four months pregnant at the time of her death.
On December 9, 2010, Albuquerque police released six photos of seven other unidentified women who may also be linked to West Mesa. Police would not say how or where they had obtained the photos. Some of the women appear to be unconscious, and many share the same physical characteristics as the original 11 victims. The following day the police released an additional photograph of another woman; this woman was subsequently identified by family members, who reported that she had died of natural causes several years earlier. On December 13, 2010, police reported that two of the women in the photos had been identified as alive, and could have valuable information if they can be located. In June 2018, more bones were found near the site of the burials, but these were later determined to be ancient and not related to the West Mesa murders.
West Mesa Bone Collector
|Criminal penalty||Never sentenced|
Span of crimes
No official suspects have ever been named in connection with the murders. In 2010, a reward of up to $100,000 was being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.
Over time, a number of men have attracted police attention, though not named as full suspects, in connection with the murders.
Fred Reynolds was a pimp who knew one of the missing women and reportedly had photos of missing sex workers; he died of natural causes in January 2009.
Lorenzo Montoya lived less than three miles from the burial site. In 2006 there were reportedly dirt trails leading from his trailer park to the site. In December 2006, Montoya strangled a teenager at his trailer and then was shot to death by the teen's boyfriend. It would appear the killings stopped after his death.
In August 2010, police searched several properties in Joplin, Missouri associated with local photographer and businessman Ron Erwin in connection with the West Mesa cases. They confiscated "tens of thousands" of photos from the man, who reportedly used to visit the state fair in Albuquerque. Police confirmed that they had cleared Erwin as a suspect.
In 2014, a breakthrough on a decades-old case caused Albuquerque police to become interested in Joseph Blea as a suspect for the murders. Blea has been dubbed the "Mid-School Rapist" for his activities in the 1980s; police say he would often break into the homes of 13- to 15-year-old girls who lived near McKinley Middle School in Albuquerque and rape them. In one case, there was a DNA sample but the rape test kit was not re-tested until 2010, eventually linking Blea to the rape. In 2015, Blea was also suspected by police of killing a sex worker; his DNA sample was located on the inner waistband and belt of a sex worker found dead on Central Ave, a notorious street for sex work in the eastern part of the city. In addition, a tree tag from a nursery was found in the area where the West Mesa victims' bodies were buried; it was tracked to a nursery Blea once frequented. Blea, in the Mid-School rape case, was sentenced to 36 years in June 2015, at 58 years of age.
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- The Joplin Globe, 2011 https://www.joplinglobe.com/news/local_news/joplin-man-says-he-has-been-cleared-of-suspicion-in-serial-murders/article_c60612c3-e0f1-5c89-86b7-b672afe36127.html
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- City of Albuquerque official webpage pertaining to the West Mesa Homicide Investigation