West Mesa Bone Collector

By RodneyHatfieldJr for Into The Mind

Between the years of 2003 and 2006, 19 girls and women were reported missing from the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most of them were Latina sex workers in their 20s. For years, no one knew what happened to them. Then in cloudy day in February 2009, a resident walking her dog in Albuquerque’s West Mesa area made a horrifying discovery; a bone resembling a human femur was sticking out of the ground. Due to the 2008 Housing Bubble collapse, development on the west side halted before housing could be built on the unknown graves. After neighbors complained of flooding at the adjacent site, due to a buried natural arroyo. The developer built a retaining wall to channel storm water to a detention pond built in the approximate area of the burial site, inadvertently exposing bones to the surface.


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Investigators began digging into the site on the West Mesa near 118th Street SW and discovered there wasn’t just one person buried there. Over the next year, the Albuquerque Police Department identified the bones of 11 girls and women who’d disappeared between 2003 and 2005. Their group burial suggested a serial killer, who was later named “The West Mesa Bone Collector.” Yet in the decade since the discovery, investigators still don’t know who killed them and they still haven’t found the eight other missing women, who disappeared in 2003, 2005 and 2006 that could be connected to this case.


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Female prostitutes are more likely to be murdered than other women, and they have a much higher chance of being murdered by a serial killer; according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. There are many reasons for this, including the easy access of sex workers on the street and the Internet. Couple that with the fact that many communities already see sex workers as a problem. The 49 girls and women murdered by Gary Ridgway, the “Green River Killer,” in Washington state in the 1980s and ’90s. These murders didn’t receive anywhere near the same level of public attention and sympathy as the college students Ted Bundy murdered in the same state in the 1970s.


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Of the 11 female remains discovered at West Mesa, the only one who wasn’t a sex worker was 15-year-old Jamie Barela. She was last seen with her 27-year-old cousin Evelyn Salazar, whose remains were also discovered at West Mesa. In addition to Barela, investigators discovered the remains of another 15-year-old named Syllannia Edwards, the only black girl identified at the West Mesa site. The other women were Veronica Romero, age 28; Monica Candelaria, 22; Victoria Chávez, 26; Doreen Marquez, 24; Virginia Cloven, 24; Julie Nieto, 24; Cinnamon Elks, 32; and Gina Michelle Valdez, 22, who was four months pregnant.


Christine Barber, executive director of Safe Streets New Mexico in Albuquerque, was genuinely shocked by the 2009 discovery of the 11 victims. She hadn’t even known so many girls and women were missing. Friends and family of the victims had reported them as missing persons to the Albuquerque Police Department. The department failed to alert the city that so many girls and women had disappeared off the streets. Safe Streets New Mexico, an organization Barber founded in 2010 as a response to the West Mesa killings that keeps track of sex workers and alerts the public if they go missing.


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Though the West Mesa murder case remains unsolved, one of the primary suspects is Lorenzo Montoya. Montoya lived one to two miles from the burial site and had a history of violence against women and soliciting women for sex. In December 2006, Montoya strangled and killed 19-year-old Shericka Hill, a sex worker he’d met in an online chat room. When Hill’s pimp and boyfriend Fredrick Williams, followed Montoya to his house. He discovered Montoya trying to transport Hill’s body. Williams shot and killed Montoya; and after this, the disappearances stopped.


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Regrettably, investigators haven’t been able to detect DNA at the burial site that could provide a match to a killer. Nor do the recovered bones reveal precisely how the girls and women died, though investigators suspect their cause of death was strangulation. Unless someone with direct knowledge of the murders decides to come forward, it’s very unlikely the police will ever declare the case officially solved.


If population statistics remain the same, UK population would dictate somewhere around 10 serial killers operating at any given time. Which is 1 in 5.5 million people. The US has around 35. Which is around 1 in 9.2 million people. My question is this: Is it the warm beer?

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