The West Mesa Murders refer to the remains of 11 women found buried in 2009 in the desert on the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. No suspects have been identified in the case and a serial killer is believed to be responsible.
On February 2, 2009, a woman walking a dog found a human bone on the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico metropolitan area, and reported it to police. As a result of the subsequent police investigation, authorities discovered the remains of 11 women and a fetus buried in the area. The women were between 15 and 32 years of age, most were Hispanic, and most were involved with drugs and prostitution.
The remains discovered in 2009 were identified as those of the following women, all of whom disappeared between 2001 and 2005. According to satellite photos the last victim was buried in 2005.
- Jamie Barela, 15
- Monica Candelaria, 22
- Victoria Chavez, 26
- Virginia Cloven, 24
- Syllania Edwards, 15
- Cinnamon Elks, 32
- Doreen Marquez, 24
- Julie Nieto, 24
- Veronica Romero, 28
- Evelyn Salazar, 27
- Michelle Valdez, 22
Syllania Edwards, a 13 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 unidentified women who may also be linked to West Mesa. 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 ago. 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. Police would not say how or where they had obtained the photos.
Police suspect that the bodies were all buried by the same person or persons, and may be the work of a serial killer, who has since come to be referred to as the West Mesa Bone Collector. Authorities also believe that the murders are closely linked to the annual state fair, which attracts large numbers of prostitutes to the area in the fall.
Two men who initially attracted police attention in connection with the murders were Fred Reynolds and Lorenzo Montoya. Reynolds was a pimp who knew one of the missing women and reportedly had photos of missing prostitutes; he died of natural causes in January 2009. Lorenzo Montoya lived less than two miles from the burial site. In, 2006 there were reportedly tire tracks leading from his trailer to the site. In December 2006, Montoya strangled a teenager at his trailer and then was shot to death by the teen’s boyfriend.
In August 2010, police searched several properties in Joplin, Missouri associated with a local photographer and businessman 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.
In December 2010, convicted Colorado serial killer Scott Lee Kimball stated that he was being investigated for the West Mesa murders, but has denied killing the women.
No official suspects have ever been named in connection with the murders. A reward of up to $100,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.
Another suspect police are considering is Joseph Blea. Blea has been dubbed the “Mid-School Rapist” for his activities in the 1980s; police say he would often break into the homes of 13-15 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 wasn’t re-run until 2010, eventually linking Blea to the rape. Blea is also suspected by police of killing a prostitute; his DNA sample was located on the inner waistband and belt of a prostitute found dead on Central Ave (a notorious street for prostitution 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.