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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  March 30, 2019 11:00pm-1:00am PDT

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so many young women missing. only one detective to find them. >> for me, there was always a story to them. >> there's a story to her, too. she's a young woman luck countr lucky to be alive. >> for a lot of people that would be the end of police work. >> i wasn't done. >> so she searched as the numbers grew -- >> another one there, another there. >> -- and families hurt. >> she says, i have some bad news for you. >> while under a desert sky a secret waited. >> the reality of, kind of like this isn't happening. >> missing women forgotten by almost everyone but her. >> i've just always felt that they were going to be together. if you find one you're going to
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find them all. >> sometimes ida lopez simply can't wait for sunday. sometimes in the middle of her workweek, the albuquerque detective feels a pressing need for spiritual solace and divine guidance. the fall of 2005 was one of those times. it was a time when a sinister force seemed to be snatching women off the streets of new mexico's largest city and the devoutly religious detective knew she needed all the help she could get. >> i think somebody who is very organized. i think he's been preying on his victims, has a particular victim in mind. >> sticking up for victims comes naturally to ida lopez.
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it's the same instinct that drew her to police work years ago when she was a kid growing up in albuquerque. >> i was about 9 years old. actually, it was my -- my grandfather raised me. he was outside. he was about in his 80s. i'm in the porch area and there's a foot chase. the guy goes toward him and he's tackled by police. i thought that was the coolest thing i had ever seen. so that curiosity, then the service part, helping people part of police work. >> after college, ida graduated from the police academy and joined the force as a uniformed officer. >> most of my areas i worked, especially in patrol, i was assigned to work with the prostitutes in the area. >> so she learned about the lives of the women on the street, and it was here while posing as a decoy during prostitution sting operations that she learned the raw power of their addictions. >> i just learned the absolute dependence on the drug for the girls because there's no way in
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your right mind you're going to get into a car and do what this person just told you to do. there's no way. so that gave me an empathy for them on that part. i thought, wow, this has got to be powerful. >> over the years, ida's career blossomed. she made detective, married another cop, and started a family. her future seemed assured. but in 2004, while pregnant with her second child, doctors discovered a mass in ida's right kidney. >> it was growing, and i had kidney cancer. >> what did doctors tell you? >> they were shocked. they said it wasn't common in women and not women my age. i wouldn't say what the plans were because the only close person i knew had cancer and died. i thought, well, i need to make further plans. my husband's got young kids to take care of. >> flightening. >> then about a month and a half after i was diagnosed i had my
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kidney removed. >> surgeons also removed ida's adrenal gland because it too had a mass on it. but because doctors caught the cancer early, ida required neither chemo nor radiation therapy. ida's return to work would have to be gradual, if it was going to happen at all. for a lot of people, that would be the end of police work. >> right. >> not for you. >> no. no. i wasn't done. >> and so in july 2005, after a few months of recuperation as a reserve officer, the department offered ida a 20-hour-a-week desk job working missing persons. >> missing persons kind of a backwater in a lot of departments. it's not exactly the premier detective job. >> right. right. it's where they needed somebody, and it worked out for me and for them. missing persons, you know, was busy. the position was there, and it was i thought perfect timing.
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>> as you will soon see, timing, both perfect and not so perfect, will play a critical part in the story we're about to show you. within weeks of starting her new job, ida was handed two missing persons files. those two files would mark the beginning of the biggest case in her career and would turn into one of new mexico's most heinous crime stories. but at the time it was routine low-priority police work. >> how many other detectives in missing persons? >> i was the only detective in there at the time. >> both of the persons were attractive women in their 20s with arrest records for drugs and prostitution. both had seemingly vanished without a word to friends or relatives. sad but common, especially for these dark streets where drug addiction and prostitution literally go hand in hand. ida went by the book. >> so what i do is go back to
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see what their arrest history is, what their lifestyle has been with drugs. do my full background on them. then a third one comes in. >> a third one. >> then as the months go by, research more and find there are maybe another one here, another one there that sort of thing. >> soon there were five missing women with eerily similar profiles on ida's list, all of them about the same age with a similar look. all were known to hang out in a section of albuquerque so full of crime, it was known as the war zone. the easy part is she kept a list of the women. the hard part is many of them were missing for more than a year before ida had a chance to start looking.
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it's one of those timing issues we talked about earlier. lengthy delays reporting somebody missing as missing. >> like somebody has a year start in a race. i don't have phone records, a regular address. i don't have a school schedule, a work schedule. that sort of thing. >> and you don't have anybody who saw them yesterday.
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>> right. >> and can tell you what they were doing, what their state of mind was, who they were hanging around with. >> and the family knows them better than me, but they hadn't seen them. >> add to that fact that most of the missing women had supported their drug habit as street prostitutes who got into cars with strange men as often as 20 to 30 times a day. and it's easy to see how another detective, one with a harder heart than the one beating inside ida lopez, might have given up. what about the argument that somehow prostitutes aren't worth as much of your time as somebody y unwanted odors lingering too long in your car? try febreze car vent clips! just snap the clip and insert in the vent to eliminate lingering odors for up to 30 days. try febreze car vent clips, available in a range of light to bold scents. ♪ protect your pet with the #1 name in flea and tick protection. frontline plus.
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every lifeis a mystery. not just because of ha happened but what might have been prevented, missed or altogether avoided. >> we're the coolest girls in the whole wide world. >> such was the mystery of the women on detective ida lopez's growing list of the lost. it's a mystery their families still struggle to understand.
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>> there's a dad who had a calendar. every time he saw her he marked the date down. he gave her 20 bucks. maybe he knew where the money was going to go, but he saw his daughter. and that didn't take that part away that she was still somebody's little girl. >> i think they're trick candles. >> the name, the face belonged to michelle valdez, one of the first women on ida's list. dan valdez, her father, had reported michelle missing six months before ida got the case. he was the guy who kept the calendar. >> the xs indicating no knowledge of her, disappeared, nothing, no word. >> the fact is, dan valdez had been recording his daughter's comings and goings for years. >> this is michelle. how old are you, michelle?
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>> 5. >> i took it upon myself to tape them, tape every event, every chance i had, i had the videotape there. >> you taping me, dad? >> the michelle valdez that appears in these home videos with her little sisters is a far cry from the thin, drug-wasted young woman police would later come to know and fingerprint. >> daddy, can i have something to eat now? >> yeah. >> this michelle, along with her sister camille and half-sister kendra, was a cutup, a clown. whether in costume for a play, dressed for her first communion or showing a budding interest in boys, this michelle, according to her sister camille, was an all-american girl with a future as bright as the new mexico sun. >> i looked up to her for many things, you know. i was always the tagalong with her and her friends. >> she didn't mind? >> no, not at all. not at all. >> then came the teen years when life started coming at michelle valdez fast and furious. by then, dan and michelle's mother were divorced and dan was raising michelle and camille alone, while working days at the
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juvenile detention center and nights and weekends playing steel guitar with his country band cimmaron. dan tried to keep a watchful eye on his girls and even took them to work with him at the juvenile detention center to show them where careless mistakes can lead. some of it seemed to take. some of it didn't. at 13, michelle became pregnant. >> i was devastated. but what can you do? you can't be with them 24/7. all you can do is bring them up, nurture them, show them love, attention, appreciation. >> and sometimes they make a mistake. >> and sometimes they make the wrong turn or a mistake. >> shortly after her 14th birthday, michelle valdez gave birth to a baby girl she named angelica. so you were being a father all over again. >> father all over again.
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>> i was only 8 years old and becoming an aunt, you know. it was tough, but once, you know, we had that bond, me and angelica, it was nice. i enjoyed it. >> at 14, most kids rightfully think their best years are ahead of them. high school, college, career. that was not the track michelle valdez was on. though dan continued to tape all the usual family functions, michelle's little girl angelica was now the center of attention. but in the periphery in off-hand moments, dan's camera also caught something else, the look and the unspoken despair that signaled the death of a young girl's dreams. >> mom, mom! >> she struggled to hold it all together, but michelle eventually dropped out of school. for a while she tried to support herself and angelica with a series of minimum-wage jobs but couldn't make ends meet.
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after three years, angelica was sent to live with dan's mother who lived nearby and michelle took to living with a series of people she called friends. by 2002, the wear and tear is written all over her face. ♪ happy birthday that september, angelica celebrated her sixth birthday. michelle had just turned 20, a milestone that was not lost on mother or child. >> mommy's not a grown-up anymore. i mean, teenager anymore. >> never was. >> no. in a sense, michelle never was a teenager. and now, on the cusp of young adulthood, michelle looked gaunt, her face bore the kind of sores that suggested she had been hitting the crack pipe. when did you notice things were going wrong? i'm guessing you noticed before anybody else. >> yeah. i noticed when she started seeing one of her boyfriends. you know, he opened up the door for all the wrong things.
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>> like? >> the drugs. the drugs, definitely. >> dan knew about the drugs and twice got her to agree to enter rehab. but michelle never showed up. increasingly, there were run-ins with the law. michelle had already been busted for receiving and transporting stolen property, drug possession, and car theft. dan knew about some of the arrests. most he didn't. when a stolen car rap in arizona landed michelle in jail, dan says he bailed her out and pleaded with her to change her ways. >> on the way back from arizona to here, she promised, i'm not going to hang out with the same people. i'm going to do things different and you're going to be proud of me again. then she bails two hours after she's home.
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>> the toll of michelle's addiction on her younger sister camille is also evident in dan's videos. as camille becomes a teenager she no longer seems to want to acknowledge michelle or even have her around. >> we were always bumping heads. we weren't as close because of the drugs. she would come over and steal my things or, you know, i would see how upset it would make my dad so i would tell her, you know, mean things. >> before long, michelle valdez stopped showing up in her father's videos. sometimes because she avoided the camera, other times because she simply didn't show up. >> she knew there was events at the house because she would call and ask if she could borrow $25. she was hungry or whatever. she was at a hurting spot. so i gave her the money. >> even though you knew -- >> even though i knew that it could be going for drugs. it was my gateway to making contact with her and seeing her in person. >> dan may have had the patience of job, but by 2004 camille, the
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tagalong little sister, had had enough. when michelle asked dan if she could move back home for a while, camille put her foot down. >> he was going to let her stay with us, and i remember telling him no. if she comes and stays, i am going to leave. i couldn't handle it. >> i remember that. >> i didn't -- i didn't even want to be around it anymore. i was so tired of it. tired of seeing him hurt. >> so you told michelle she couldn't come home? >> i told michelle she couldn't come over. i took her to a friend's house and dropped her off there. i know in my heart i didn't do the right thing, but i knew that common sense in my brain said that i had to. i had to take that avenue. >> they call it tough love. but, for dan valdez, it was pure torture.
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by the fall of 2004, dan
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valdez's calendar was beginning to fill with xs. each x marking another day without word from his oldest daughter michelle. when was the last time you saw her? >> it was in september of 2004. >> how did she look? >> thin, wired-out, strung-out maybe. had spots on her face. looked bad. >> did you see her then? >> honestly i don't remember the last time i seen her. i don't remember the last words we spoke. >> you don't remember the last thing you said to her? >> no. >> but it might not have been a nice thing? >> no. >> but as erratic as michelle
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had become in recent years, she had always managed to show up for the moments that mattered most to her daughter angelica. that changed when michelle failed to show up for angelica's seventh birthday party. that day it felt a 15-year-old camille to fill in for michelle and act as mom. that christmas angelica opened her presents alone with no sign of her mother michelle. >> i thought maybe she would turn up a few days later, a few weeks or she'd call us. >> it was breaking angelica's heart that day when she wasn't there. >> in february, five months after michelle was last seen, dan went down to the albuquerque police station and formally reported his daughter missing. detective ida lopez, who would later make it her mission to find michelle and the other missing women, was on medical leave at the time. so, in ida's absence, the valdez family was at the mercy of the police department's bureaucracy. what did the police tell you? >> she didn't want to be found. >> and i can understand that ap doesn't just deal with missing persons. they deal with all kinds. >> for a long time, the news would be full of stories about girls who were missing and everybody was looking for them.
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and one of the things those girls all had in common was that they were all attractive and blonde and white and didn't have any criminal record and i guess i just kind of wonder whether police and everybody else would have sort of stepped up their game a little bit if that had been the case here. >> yeah, that did cross my mind numerous times. but, you know, you have to have faith in your law enforcement. if you don't have faith in your law enforcement to treat everybody equal, then what do you have? >> what you have in dan valdez's case is a search you do yourself. as spring turned to summer that year, dan, his ex-wife, and his daughters plastered flyers with michelle's picture all over central avenue, asking anyone who had seen her to call the albuquerque police department. at night, dan drove through the war zone, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, looking for michelle. >> it was real hard because, you know, i'd be circing the block, see somebody that may appear to be the size of michelle, a small
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person, and go around the block two or three times and me wondering who they were as well as them wondering who i was. >> it had to be brutally difficult to think of michelle living that kind of life. >> definitely. definitely. it was not the way that her mother and i raised her. >> those were long nights filled with bittersweet memories of michelle the way she used to be, before the drugs took over. and thoughts of rare moments together before she went missing. >> she came over to the house one day and i'd given her a few dollars and she stood up, said, dad, i'm going to run, okay? i said, all right. and she said -- she went up to put her arms around me and i hugged her. she said, no, dad. squeeze me tight.
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squeeze me like you've never squeezed me before. and i got her and i gave her the biggest hug a father could ever give his daughter. >> remembered moments like that sustained dan and drove him to continue his lonely search for michelle. then, in july 2005, about five months after dan had first reported michelle missing, he got a call from a detective who had only recently been assigned michelle's case, a detective named ida lopez. >> i thought ida for being a police officer was awfully small. she was a short lady. other than that, it seemed that she was on the up and up and she was doing what she could in her power and the time that she had to go out to the streets. >> it would become a close working relationship based on frequent phone calls and mutual admiration. >> dan is a strong, quiet man. this is a man who absolutely loved his daughter no matter what.
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he didn't see her with the track marks. he didn't see her strung out. >> and he had no idea she had been arrested that many times. >> well, he did see her that way, but that's not -- that's not what he saw in his eyes or his heart. >> dan continued to cruise the war zone, willing himself to believe that his daughter was still out there. >> i thought she was alive and well and doing good but just didn't want to have any contact with the family. maybe i did something wrong. maybe it was me not letting her come back to the house. maybe it was camille saying no or whatever. >> but in 2006, more than a year after dan had last seen michelle, the phone rang at the valdez home. the caller had heard something shocking. >> we had gotten a call from a family friend of ours that i grew up with.
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i pick up the phone and she's, like, oh, my gosh, i'm sorry about your sister. and i said, you know, what are you talking about? she said, michelle. michelle and cinnamon were stabbed and buried on the west mesa. >> did you know who cinnamon was? >> no. no. never heard of her before. >> did you ask her where she heard that? >> yeah. her aunt ran the streets, knew michelle, knew certain people, and they had heard it from her aunt. >> dan immediately called detective ida lopez with the tip, but she was unable to find the aunt or to pin down the source of the rumor. it was all just unverifiable street talk, the kind ida lopez had heard before. except for one tantalizing tidbit. cinnamon was a name on ida's list. cinnamon elks, missing since august of 2004.
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but even if those rumors were true and human remains were with cooling in the desert night on albuquerque's west mesa, the detective knew it would take a miracle to find them. coming up -- was a serial killer stalking the women working the war zone? >> i've just always felt that they were going to be together. >> in death as in life? >> if you find one, you're going to find them all. every morning the sun rises over the sandia mountains east
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every morning the sun rises over the sandia mountains east of albuquerque and begins baking one of the most celebrated roads in the united states, route 66, the highway famous for carrying dust bowl refugees and beat generation oddballs west to california. the mother road's glory days are behind her now. in albuquerque where the old highway becomes central avenue, the city's decidedly downscaled drug and prostitution trade flourishes. >> used to be a motel here. i used to live actually behind there when i was in college and they'd go through the alley, do their tricks in the alley.
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>> cops call this section of central avenue the war zone and the women who work its shadows prostitutes. but ever since her early days in uniformed patrol, ida lopez has called them her girls. >> i got to know a lot of them, you know. okay, we could chase them out, but for me there was always a story to them. >> ida says the stories she heard back then were heartbreaking tales of abuse and neglect that almost always had drugs at their core. >> these are hurting women. i mean, you'll see some out here that they need that fix. you know, it's not what you see in vegas. it's not the call girl. it's not the "pretty woman." >> by the end of 2005, ida had five women on her list that were roughly the same age with similar backgrounds, young hispanic women with arrest records for drugs or prostitution. >> i go out there and start talking to the girls. at first some of them were hesitant. i said, look, i'm not running you. i just want to know when was the last time you saw her? did you know her? what can you tell me?
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what's going on out here? >> how much of your time is this taking? >> it's taking all my time. >> working alone, the detective distributed flyers with the women's pictures at truck stops, convenience stores, even the new mexico state fair. but she kept coming up empty. >> i went to some drug rehab places who were not willing to help me. i sat in many waiting rooms, i said, i don't want to know what their sessions were about. all i want to know is a time line. >> some of the women were missing so long ida began comparing notes with a detective in the cold case unit. eventually ida and the cold case department were able to convince the department to form a task force where once a month they met with other agencies including the fbi to discuss leads on missing persons, on cold cases, on sexual predators, and on unidentified remains. >> so we were able to communicate with each other.
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anything that came up, any trucker initiatives or murderers that the fbi sent us we posted on the wall. our girls we posted on the wall. >> are truckers a particular problem? >> yeah, they can be. they travel interstate. they pick up a lot of girls. we know a few who have murdered girls who frequent the truck stops. >> at one point you're looking at truckers. >> looking at everybody. >> by the end of that year, ida's list had grown to more than a dozen women. ida knew the odds of finding any of the missing women alive were not good. but that's not what she told the families when they called in looking to hear something encouraging. >> i would tell them every single day, we're one day closer to finding your daughter. yes, i pray that they're okay and hopefully living in a commune in some mountainous town or in a rehab center or a jail or with friends that they're
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actually doing okay. >> did you believe any of that? >> i held on to the hope and possibility. >> reality, however, demanded that the detective do more than just hope for a happy ending. so, with the tact of a parish priest, ida lopez began making the rounds. >> michelle -- >> asking family members such as dan valdez for dental records and dna swabs. >> when you go to some family that's got a missing daughter or sister and say, i need some familial dna and i need your child's dental records, you're essentially saying to that family, i do not expect to find her alive. >> right. and i also think that they knew the lifestyle which puts them in
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harm's way, and so nobody denied the dangers that their daughters were in. >> out in the war zone where the human urge toward self-destruction is strongest, death is just another occupational hazard. >> i asked, how many cars a day would you get into? up to 20, 30 cars a day. how many guys is that? but they know. they know the dangers out there. >> rumors that albuquerque might have its own jack the ripper who was snatching prostitutes off the streets was still common currency among the women working the war zone. >> there was a handful of urban legends, cuban drug dealers, a cop from california. i mean, a number of things. they heard some of the girls had been chopped up in pieces and dumped in another county south of here. >> chilling, if true. but, in the light-spangled darkness of albuquerque's war zone where women sell themselves for as little as $20 a trick, truth and rumor are interchangeable commodities. still, in her quieter moments, ida allowed herself to fear the worst. >> i've just always felt that they were going to be together.
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>> in death as in life? >> yeah. i just -- you know, there was nothing that led me factually to believe that. i just always felt that if you find one you're going to find them all. unfortunately, ida's theory would soon be put to the test. >> one of our violent crimes detectives said, oh, they found a bone. excuse me? >> for four years, ida lopez wir region. and big savings on top lawn and garden brands. so, you stay a step ahead of spring all season long.
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>> for four years, ida lopez tended her list of missing women as she would a garden plot. >> did you notice when the girls went missing? >> mostly she just watched it grow, but occasionally she was able to do some pruning whenever a lost soul was found. >> i find a girl with the same background, but guess what, i'd find her months later. i get to call the dad and say, we found her. she's been arrested. >> kind of weird to be able to call a family and say, great news. >> oh, yeah. >> your daughter is a prostitute and she's alive. >> right. but i get to say, this is where she's at. >> the families of the 18 women now on ida's list prayed for happy endings like that one. but most of the women who worked
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albuquerque's war zone, fellow travelers who might have helped ida find the missing, were too drug addeled to help with leads. some passed on grisly rumors to ida, that the missing women were dead and had been dumped in the desert west of town. >> like a hidden dark evil city out here. >> desiree gonzalez says she used to hang out on these streets and says she knew several of the missing women and had also heard those same rumors. >> i came out here looking for my cousin and i bumped into cinnamon. she had told me that the girls were getting their heads cut off and taken to the mesa. that was the last time i seen cinnamon. i got scared. you know, it seems like they knew or something. >> ida didn't completely disbelieve what her girls were telling her. but the mesa, a vast expanse of desert west of town, where people frequently dump things they no longer have any use for, was simply too big an area to launch a search based on just a
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rumor. and so this case was going nowhere until late in the afternoon on february 2, 2009, when christine ross decided to take her dog ruka for a walk. >> okay. >> they strolled out of her new subdivision, one of many that had recently sprouted up on the desert west of albuquerque, and then over to an abandoned construction site where christine let ruka off the leash to run. >> she ran up ahead of me and she was messing with something on the ground, and then she left it. we came upon it, and it appeared to be a bone. didn't look like the normal animal bone you find out here so i took a picture of the bone, i sent it to my sister who is a nurse. she confirmed that that looked like a femur bone and i should call the authorities.
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>> finding a bone, even a human bone, is not unusual out here on albuquerque's west mesa. this is storied territory where native american tribes, conquistadors and cowboys once roamed. the bone could have easily belonged to one of them. but the police who arrived at the scene shortly after nightfall soon determined that this was no ancient artifact. this bone belonged to someone who had died in the not-too-distant past. >> february 2nd is when one of our violent crimes detectives said, oh, they found a bone on the mesa. i'll let you know. >> tonight they say the search is far from over. >> i saw it on tv on february 2nd when christine ross and her dog ruka was reported on the local station as finding a femur bone. >> i was on a ski trip, and when i came home i had seen it on the news. and i told my boyfriend, i said,
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you know, what if that's michelle? >> when you heard it, what did you think? >> hoping, again, the old parental feeling, hoping that it wasn't. >> dan valdez was not alone. there were other homes across albuquerque that night that were suddenly filled with a similar stew of hope and dread. over the next few days, investigators would find more bones scattered over a 30-yard swath of that abandoned construction site. one mystery was ending. another was just beginning. coming up -- the hardest part of this whole with this one little nexgard chew comes power, confidence, reassurance you're doing what's right to protect your dog from fleas and ticks for a full month. this one little nexgard chew
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pg&e wants you to plan ahead by mapping out escape routes and preparing a go kit, in case you need to get out quickly. for more information on how to be prepared and keep your family safe, visit pge.com/safety. for five years, dan valdez prayed at the end of each day that the next sunrise would bring news of his daughter michelle.
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>> police have set up a tip line. >> then in february 2009 came unsettling news. a thigh bone had been found out on albuquerque's west mesa. within days, evidence of one body had become evidence of two and then three, then four, then five, then six. >> six sets of remains were found within 20 yards of each other. >> dan valdez, who had been wondering for years where his daughter was, saw his most cherished hopes and his most dreaded fears placed on a collision course. >> when they found the second, third, and fourth sets, i said to myself, i have to realistically look at this, that michelle i'm sure probably is out there. >> at times detective ida lopez was out there, too, along with practically every other member of the albuquerque police department and forensic experts
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from the fbi, digging, scraping, sifting. >> the reality of it was kind of like, god, this is not happening. it's stuff you read about. >> then came seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. it turned out all were women and all with the same name, jane doe. and ida lopez couldn't help but wonder if these dry bones were the women she had been looking for. >> you know, i just didn't know with so much going through my mind. >> over the years, ida's list of the lost had become two dozen women that fit the same profile, young drug-addicted hispanic women who were known to roam the streets of albuquerque's war zone. for ida, walking through this boneyard felt as if she were watching a horror movie unfold in realtime. >> you're watching this and i've carried this flyer in my pocket and in my car for the last, you know, four years. >> within weeks, ida's early
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work of collecting dental records of the moising women and dna samples from their families began to pay off. bones started to get names. >> the only body that has been identified so far, victim victoria chavez. >> she was on your list. >> she was on my list. >> and you thought, this is it. >> i thought, this could be it, yeah. >> but there was more. something that surprised even veteran crime scene investigators. in the grave of jane doe number 8, investigators found a tiny second set of bones. it was a fetus. jane doe number 8 was four months pregnant at the time of her death. >> they would say, we found a skull. it had a lot of hair and she was pregnant. >> michelle valdez. after years of having only her rap sheet and her father's
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bittersweet memories to go on, ida lopez was now sure she knew where michelle valdez was. did you know michelle was pregnant when she disappeared? >> i did. >> a few days later, lab work confirmed ida's hunch. jane doe number 8 was michelle valdez. >> i had to tell dan. the hardest part of this whole thing is having to go to somebody's house and say, we found her, and she's not alive. >> i see her pull up out front and i go out and stand on the sidewalk. she gets out of her car and comes up to me, and ida says, dan, she says, i have some bad news for you. >> dan, she was i.d.'d, and it was her they found -- you know, she was pregnant -- and the baby. it was just very difficult. >> i looked at her in disbelief but knew it was reality. i just could feel all the strength in my body just kind of drain all of a sudden.
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and i kind of was wobbling a little bit, and ida consoled me a little bit and said, it's okay. it's okay, you know. then she says, is there anything that we can do? do you need anything? i said, no. i just said, the information you gave me was plenty. >> of course, there was more dan needed to do that evening. he would have to tell michelle's 12-year-old daughter angelica. >> and i said, angelica, detective lopez just told us that your mother has been positively i.d.'d as one of the west mesa women. and that's when angelica looked at me and started crying. she said, no, don't tell me that, you're lying to me. don't lie to me. i said, honey, i'm not. i'm telling you the truth. >> it was a scene that no doubt had played out earlier at the
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family home of victoria chavez. but for the families of the other women on ida's list, the waiting and wondering would go on for months. for ida lopez, there was the fear that her nightmare prediction was coming true. >> i just always felt that if you find one you're going to find them all. >> and for albuquerque's homicide detectives, there was the most pressing question of all -- who was responsible for turning the west mesa into an unmarked cemetery? and was he still at work? coming up -- searching for clues in a crime scene big enough to be seen from space.
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>> it's kind of eerie looking at those satellite photos. >> that really sends a chill up and down your spine. >> when "dateline" continues. unwanted odors lingering too long in your car? try febreze car vent clips! just snap the clip and insert in the vent to eliminate lingering odors for up to 30 days. try febreze car vent clips, available in a range of light to bold scents. ♪ protect your pet with the #1 name in flea and tick protection. frontline plus. trusted by vets for nearly 20 years. ♪ the house, kids, they're living the dream ♪
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every fall, as the southwestern summer heat begins to ease, hot air balloons rise like spring flowers over albuquerque and the surrounding desert. it's the city's annual balloon fiesta, a moneymaking spectacle that draws tourists from all over the world to albuquerque for one week in october. it's unlikely that any of the balloonists that float out over the west mesa area spend much time studying the details of the sandy area below. but if one of them had during the 2003 or 2004 festivals, they might have actually seen evidence of a murderer moonlighting as a gravedigger. it turns out that even though that evidence was long gone by the time those bones were
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discovered in 2009, a bird's-eye view was precisely the perspective investigators needed to start their search for a killer. >> when you see the satellite photos and the scarring on the desert floor, knowing what we know now, it's very obvious that those look like graves. >> this is what albuquerque police chief ray schultz says investigators saw when they looked at old pictures of the mesa. in this 2002 image of the area where the bones were discovered, there's nothing unusual. just desert and sagebrush with a dry stream bed running through it. but two years later in 2004, when most of the women on detective ida lopez's list were disappearing, the images show tire tracks leading from this road to a few bare spots in the vegetation, spots that weren't there before. this photo taken the following year shows even more bare spots,
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clustered within 20 yards of each other. >> it's kind of eerie looking at those satellite photos. >> that really sends a chill up and down your spine. >> the conclusion was inescapable. albuquerque police were looking at the evolving work of a serial killer. >> this particular individual made sure that he went back each and every time when he was going to dispose of a body and disposed of it in the same area where the other women were. >> somebody who lives here? >> we don't know if it was somebody who lives here or would just come back and frequent albuquerque on a frequent basis. >> no matter the killer's permanent address, the satellite photos were a break because they told investigators when he was active here and more importantly when he quit. >> there could be somebody up there right now. just depends on where they're at. you wouldn't even see them.
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>> detectives todd and lou drew the job of trying to track down the killer. all they knew is that he had killed at least 11 women and that the 2005 housing boom that brought suburban sprawl to the mesa probably forced him to abandon this burial ground and find another one where there would be no neighbors around to watch him work. >> you're up half a mile to three-quarters of a mile from any populated area back in the time frame. >> a time frame, 2003 to early 2005, and 11 sets of bones. not a lot to go on. but the detectives knew simply finding the bones in the first place had been an incredibly lucky break. >> all the stars aligned. >> yeah. >> oddly enough, the west mesa investigators' good fortune began thousands of miles to the east in the fall of 2008. that's when a crumbling housing market forced the home building to halt. >> they left town.
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>> if more houses would have been built, they would have been built right on top of the graveyard. >> correct. august 2008 we had a really bad rainstorm. >> and the rain runoff from the deserted construction flooded the new neighborhoods that surrounded it. it's when the company returned to the site to fix the runoff problem that they inadvertently brought the bones to the surface where five months later those bones were discovered by christine ross and her dog ruka. >> you look at how many things had to have happened for these victims to be located. the development at first, the housing downturn after that, the
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fact the company leaves, a big rainstorm comes, unearths certain things, and now we locate these victims. >> so you got lucky. >> yes. >> very. >> by late february 2009, commander paul feist and his small army of crime scene investigators and volunteers weren't feeling very lucky at all. they had literally spent weeks in the trenches looking for bones at that abandoned construction site. >> it is a lot of shovel and pick work, a lot of sifting and actually in the dirt. >> two women on ida lopez's list had already been identified among the 11 sets of remains. now, between the bulldozers and ida's prayers, the department was moving heaven and earth to find out if there were more women from ida's list out there. commander feist knew every scrap of evidence recovered from that gigantic crime scene would have to be cataloged and stored until it came time to prosecute the west mesa gravedigger. >> the size and scope of this thing was way beyond i think what any of us imagined it would be, as it unfolded. >> it was a crime scene that covered the equivalent of 75 football fields.
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and because construction crews had once leveled and filled a dry stream bed where some of the bodies had been buried, the team had to dig deep to find what had once been shallow graves. >> we're police officers. we are not archaeologists. we have a little bit of background here, but something on this level was overwhelming. >> the learning curve was steep. early in the excavation, one investigator watched as an earth mover dug deep and dumped a load of dirt, only to see a human skull roll down the hill and stop at his feet. it was an eye-opener that taught everyone from seasoned criminal investigator to backhoe operator to tread lightly. >> from the time that bone came out of the hole, just about every single remaining victim came out. >> they using the best technology the department could bring to bear, lasers and ground-penetrating radar. but the work was slow and the commander would soon feel as if the eyes of the nation were watching every move he made.
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>> i'm wondering how many more am i going to find and how many more names am i going to go home with tonight? coming up -- parents who lost a child find a cause. >> we all had a common denominator. our daughters.
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before february 2009, victoria chavez and michelle valdez had been virtually invisible to everyone in albuquerque except their families, their customers, and detective ida lopez who had their names on her list of missing women. but for the most part the public didn't even know there was a list. the news media had shown little interest in the story when desperate family members had come to them asking for help. >> they wouldn't even put her picture on the news or nothing. that's all like we really wanted, just to flash her picture real quick. >> of course, all that changed once bones started turning up on the mesa. >> a few years before the first body was found, a colleague of mine and i had heard about a list of women that were missing. >> and, as it turns out, joline
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gutierrez-krueger, a newspaper columnist, had gotten that list a few years earlier. now that two women from ida's list had been identified, jolene had an idea. >> i said to one of my editors, you know, maybe we ought to run that list. maybe we ought to be a little more proactive. and editor didn't say a whole lot, and i thought, well, i'll write it and we'll see what happens. >> the resulting column which for the first time publicly connected the missing women on ida's list with the west mesa bone field hit the front page one month after the first bone was found. >> the response was amazing, i think because for the first time we had started to put faces on these women and we had explained to the citizens of albuquerque that there weren't just two women that were missing. there were whole bunches of them.
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>> suddenly families who had once felt isolated in their agony now felt a communal bond. and at the center of it all was dan valdez. >> and i said, well, let's gather these families together and get to know them. let's get to be each other's support system. let's exchange phone numbers. >> an impromptu memorial came to life alongside the wall that bordered the desert crime scene. and the newly organized families, which included everyone with a daughter on ida's list, began holding monthly vigils to keep public attention focused on finding all the missing women. by now dan was becoming the videographer and de facto spokesman for the families. >> we all had a common denominator. our daughters. some of them chummed around. it was comforting it didn't just happen to me. >> six months after the digging
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began out on the west mesa, even more sets of remains were identified. sure enough, they too were names on ida lopez's list of missing women. >> investigators are looking for connections, any signs that the women knew each other. >> by now, the street alongside the desert crime scene was a media encampment where reporters were predictably live at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00. sometimes reporting details that crime scene commander paul feist preferred to keep secret. >> all of the victims were buried naked with no clothing on. >> it was a problem. there were things we wanted to keep very secret, things we didn't want released. we had them in the air. they had the big telescoping lenses. they were there constantly and there were processes that posed a concern. >> caught between the pressure to keep the public informed and
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the need to prevent key details from leaking out to cranks and copycats who routinely clawed tip lines, commander feist found himself scheduling excavation work in the off hours when he knew cameras would not be looking over their shoulder. >> i needed to know where they were all the time. if i was doing a different process, looking at something specific, i needed to know that i didn't have the eyes of america in that hole with me. >> by mid-april, after 2 1/2 months of intensing searching, mapping and aerial photography, commander feist finally felt confident that his team had found all the bones there were to find and began shutting down the west mesa crime scene. >> just a few minutes ago, albuquerque police left the dig site after they say they've met all the goals that they've set. >> the total body count stayed at 11 sets of adult remains and one fetus. but for ida lopez, the discovery and identification of seven women from her list meant that years of careful detective work were finally paying off.
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>> she's very passionate about her job and she realized that these women all had families. they've got parents and grandparents and some of them actually had children of their own. and she wanted to be able to provide them with some answers. >> in addition to victoria chavez and michelle valdez, the others from ida's list were cinnamon elks, julie niedo, veronica romero, monica candelaria and doreen marquez. >> a lot of people said they were drug addicts and prostitutes. well, if they were, then so be it. i didn't choose their lifestyle. but you know what the first thing is, they were human beings to begin with. >> commander feist who tried to keep the local press at arm's length during the excavation finally allowed them to cross under the yellow tape and onto the crime scene along with crews from "america's most wanted".
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>> the tv show "america's most wanted" was at the crime scene today also. >> media coverage could be helpful now and might generate badly needed tips from the public. because not only was there a serial killer to catch but also because one set of remains was about to upset everything detectives thought they knew about that killer. coming up -- >> when they told us they had a young black girl, i thought, i didn't have a young black girl on my list. >> was it possible ida lopez's list was just the tip of the iceberg? >> maybe there are women out there who aren't on any list.
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after months of digging for bones in the desert west of albuquerque, detectives desperately wanted to get on with the work of catching a killer.
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so far all the remains identified had been names on ida lopez's list of missing women and all had worked as prostitutes on the mean streets of the city's war zone. for police, that seemed like a good place to start their search for the killer. >> we're looking for people who have had histories of showing violence against prostitutes. >> and that's more than just a few guys. >> it's more than just a few. >> it had to be someone local, investigators assumed, a meticulous man whose grim will had brought him back to the mesa again and again to bury his victims. everything was in a pretty contained area, all the bones, all the remains. >> yes. >> because this guy had complete freedom or he just thought, nobody's ever going to come out here? >> probably because he felt safe out here. >> for detectives like todd babcock, it all seemed to add up
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except for one thing. the crime lab had determined that one of the unidentified sets of remains, jane doe number 7, was a young black female. >> when they told us they had a young black girl, i thought, i didn't have a young black girl on my list. >> for medical investigator wendy honeyfield, the bones of jane doe number 7 and her pink-tipped acrylic nails were a beguiling puzzle. >> she's like a lot of other cases that we have skeletal remains that come in and there's so much work that's always done behind the scenes to get them identified that nobody really ever sees. >> for the detectives who were trying to catch a serial killer, those remains represented a wildcard with staggering implications. what if the west mesa gravedigger was a prolific transient? what if jane doe number 7 was just the first of many victims the gravedigger brought to the west mesa from somewhere else?
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>> who was she? where did she come from? how did she get to albuquerque? not all those questions have been answered as of yet. >> it would take more than diligent detective work to find those answers, but within a few months of receiving those remains, lab-coated sleuths at the office of the medical investigator began unraveling the riddle of jane doe number 7. >> since her skull was pretty much intact, one of our senior investigators who is able to do forensic sketching started doing a profile for her. >> based on photographs of the skull and a partial hair weave that was recovered from her
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grave, the sketch artist imagined that jane doe number 7 must have looked something like this. >> he was able to define out her ears. the chin was specific for me. her nose and her eyes were very important. >> jane doe's nose had been broken sometime before she died so that was represented in the sketch. and because her wisdom teeth had not fully developed, wendy knew this jane doe was probably only 14 or 15 years old when she died. >> i started looking into the missing and exploited children's web site and was able to search through as many african-american females that matched the possible stature, where they might have been when they went missing. >> from a pool of hundreds, wendy first narrowed the field to 30, then to 10 and then to 1. one girl whose face, age and biography seemed to match what she saw in the sketch. her name was syllania edwards. according to the web site, she had been a 13-year-old runaway from a group home in lawton, oklahoma, in 2003.
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>> it was her ear, her ear that was exposed in the photo, and it was her eyes. that was what kept me -- bringing me back to her. >> dental records from oklahoma confirmed that jane doe number 7 was, in fact, syllania edwards. one answer found. but that only generated more questions, like, when did the oklahoma teenager get to new mexico, and who brought her? >> don't know that's what we're trying to figure out. >> possibly the killer? >> don't know. have no idea how she got here. >> so detectives started checking with police departments and jails throughout the southwest on the hunch that syllania, as young as she was, might have been entangled in a prostitution circuit that shuttles women from city to city. >> what we see very often is women involved in prostitution working what's called the circuit so they'll move from
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phoenix to albuquerque and los angeles to vegas and maybe not return on that circuit for years. >> it was in denver, another city on the circuit, that detective todd babcock hit pay dirt. >> at one point she was arrested in the denver area for prostitution, going by a different name at the time, had been booked. they were able to get me a booking photograph of what syllania looked like around the time she died we believe. >> edwards was released from that denver-area jail july of 2004, the same year almost all the west mesa women had gone missing. >> the next time anyone heard anything about syllania she was here in this makeshift grave site outside albuquerque, sharing it with ten other women she never knew in life but will forever be linked with in death.
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>> what makes her different is she's not a local girl. all our other victims were local. they had ties to albuquerque. >> she was last seen in denver. >> last known police positive contact was in denver. >> suggesting possibly that the killer met her in denver, brought her here? >> i don't believe so. >> you think she came here on her own. >> i know she had been to albuquerque at least one prior time to her ending up out here, possibly two prior times. >> nine months after the discovery of the first bone on the west mesa, the detectives were back to square one. the odds were good that syllania, like the others, had simply strolled out into the war zone and climbed into the wrong car. but her presence in the west mesa boneyard raised a troubling prospect. >> are there other girls from out of state in the same -- are we going to find another repeat? we don't know. >> now investigators fear the serial killer they were hunting
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may have buried other bodies elsewhere in the vast desert west of town. >> it's desert. there could be very realistically a lot of bodies. >> this in a way suggests that maybe there are women out there who aren't on any list. >> that's a possibility. could be others. there could be others. coming up -- a suspect caught in the act. >> we approached the vehicle, opened the door. first words out of this girl's mouth was he was trying to kill her. lowe's knows you're a diyer who does spring right. who treats yourself by treating your yard. who goes against the grain, then with it. who never cuts corners, unless corners need to be cut. at lowe's, we do it right, too. with all the right plants for your region.
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mesa murder case landed in their laps, detectives knew they would be chasing a phantom and grasping at smoke. the killer, whoever he was, and police naturally assumed the killer was male, had a five-year head start. you think we're dealing with one guy here? >> yeah, i think there's no doubt you're dealing with one guy. >> based on our experience with crimes of this nature, homicide crimes, when you have multiple offenders, more than one of them, someone is going to talk. >> this killer had seemingly left nothing behind but a pile of dry bones and a few old hazy satellite images of tire tracks on the desert sand. >> you believe that's him? >> it's almost frustrating because you look at this picture and you see the disturbed earth which later we learn are grave sites and you see the tire tracks, but you can't get your hands on anything else. >> no witnesses. no fingerprints.
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no dna. >> we went back starting in 2002 and we got the records from our local jail. anybody arrested for prostitution, criminal solicitation, anything like that, and we got a list of names. >> but what kind of man is capable of killing and disposing of 11 women without somebody noticing something? >> fbi's behavioral sciences agents came in, took a look at our crime scene, took a look at what evidence we had. they came up with their profile of who they thought we were looking for. included in that profile was a white male. >> 35 to 50. >> your typical profile. >> lives alone or is away from home for extended periods of time. probably had some brush with law
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enforcement. probably familiar with the prostitution trade. >> yes. >> i'm still right down the middle of the fairway on this, right? >> yes. >> still a lot of people. >> it's a lot of people. and do you use that profile and rule somebody out just because they're not on that profile? >> you can't. >> no, you can't. >> no. >> the detectives needed a solid tip. and by the summer of 2009, the fbi and the city of albuquerque were offering $100,000 to anyone who could help them catch and convict the man responsible for killing the west mesa women. for the detective who had long maintained that everybody counts, the existence of that kind of reward was a sign of progress. >> you're asked to call -- >> though the police tip line buzzed with hundreds of calls from a trail mix of nuts, kooks and the merely misguided, nobody who seems to actually know something about the five-year-old missing persons cases was dialing the phone. >> there were numerous rumors out there that certain individuals had killed several of them and then one in
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particular had been killed by drug dealers. >> were all the victims killed the same way? >> we believe so. >> can you tell me what that is? >> homicidal violence. >> can't say gun, knife, strangulation? you're keeping that quiet because you don't want somebody to confess to this who didn't do it. >> that's correct. >> that's why we're staying with homicidal violence. >> homicidal violence. no shortage of names on the police list of potential suspects who were capable of that. but one name stood out, a name and face detective babcock knew quite well from 1999 when babcock was working the vice unit in albuquerque. >> i was actually watching, see a vehicle pick this girl up, drive to a remote location. we approached the vehicle, opened the door, first words out of this girl's mouth, who's a known prostitute, was that he was trying to kill her.
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>> and the man in the car was? >> lorenzo montoya. >> lorenzo montoya, a short powerfully built man in his 30s, known to have an equally short temper and a taste for prostitutes. >> babcock said he saw marks on the woman's throat and that she told him montoya looked like he was enjoying it. >> did you believe her story? >> yes. >> so lorenzo was arrested on charges beyond just patronizing a prostitute. >> yes, he was. >> that assault charge against lorenzo montoya went nowhere because the victim later refused to testify. but it was what had happened next that really focused the detectives' attention. in 2006, years after being caught in the act of choking one prostitute, lorenzo montoya was caught in the company of a dead one. >> on the surface, seems like a pretty good suspect. >> yeah. >> but we don't know if it's him
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or not. >> according to police, montoya lured the woman to his home near the west mesa burial ground. he killed her, wrapped her body in a blanket and was preparing to dump her in the trunk of his car when the woman's boyfriend showed up. >> we would just love to have the opportunity to interview him and treat him just like any of the other individuals we're looking at in this case. >> but that unfortunately will never happen. the boyfriend shot and killed lorenzo montoya on the spot. it was a bit of frontier justice for montoya, who was about to literally get away with murder. but years later his death would be just as tough a break for detectives investigating the bodies found on the west mesa. there's nothing to connect lorenzo montoya to those 11 bodies. >> not directly. >> just that he committed that kind of crime. >> hard to get over a guy
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getting shot with a dead prostitute in his arms. it is. >> but as tempting as it might be to pin the west mesa murders on a dead man, the detectives say there are a few disquieting facts, starting with this one. one of the women on ida lopez's list vanished after lorenzo montoya died. and if you close this case and you say, we've decided it was lorenzo montoya and then later you find out it was somebody else, a lot harder to prosecute that person. >> absolutely. >> absolutely. >> as 2009 drew to a close, two more women from ida's list were positively identified, virginia cloven and evelyn salazar. there was only one set of nameless remains left to identify. but by now it seemed likely that whoever she was her name was
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probably already on ida's list. the new year began with the detectives knowing they needed a break. and they were prepared to follow any tip anywhere, if that's what it took to solve the case. >> albuquerque police and fbi agents are now in joplin, missouri. >> then last august came a news flash from missouri that had everyone in albuquerque glued to their tv screens. >> that's a long ways away from albuquerque, new mexico. coming up -- is the answer to the mystery blowing in the wind? >> he's in the area where the prostitutes frequent. he's a photographer so he's going to have close contact with these people. with this one little
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in late january 2010, nearly a year after the first bones were discovered on albuquerque's west mesa, the last set of remains was matched to another name on ida's list. >> university of north texas identified jamie barela through dna. >> though 15-year-old jamie barela was not a prostitute. she was last seen with one, her cousin evelyn salazar, whose remains were also found on the mesa. there were seven missing women who fit the profile on ida lopez's list. and if they weren't on the mesa, where were they? with the investigation now focused on finding a serial killer, ida thought back to her late-night chats with the women of the war zone. had there been anything she'd overlooked, anything specific about a car, a smell, a tattoo, or an accent?
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something that might be significant. >> then you ask them, how many bad dates have you had? oh, i've had 17. i've been choked, beat. i've been raped a number of times. so you get a lot of that. then i'm thinking, okay, is it somebody that's nice and picking them up? >> investigators had plenty of leads but none that had gotten them closer to answering two questions -- who was he? and where was he now? to find out, commander mike gire, head of the albuquerque pd's criminal investigations unit, says the department chased leads all over the country. from texas, where women with profiles similar to those of the west mesa women have also gone missing, to states as far away as pennsylvania and florida, where the backgrounds and travel patterns of certain types of men seem to warrant close attention. >> there's probably people that were in albuquerque during the time frame we're looking at and now, through investigative leads or other sources, we find something that tells us a little
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bit more about their lifestyle as well, which would give us again that kind of immediate gut reaction, oh, it's got to be, it's got to be that person. >> it was that kind of gut reaction that led detectives to joplin, missouri, this past august. >> investigators are extremely tight-lipped at this point, but we do know this is in connection to the west mesa murders in albuquerque, new mexico. >> the target of the search warrant was a local joplin, missouri, photographer who had allegedly been in albuquerque to taken pictures during the city's 2004 balloon fiesta. but police think it wasn't just the balloons he was photographing. remember, 2004 is when almost all of the women found on the west mesa disappeared. >> he's in the area where the prostitutes frequent. he's a photographer so he's
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going to have close contact with these people. whatever else draws that connection to them, we have to look into it. >> it was intended to be a low-key search of the man's home and offices. but it didn't turn out that way. >> it gathered a lot of attention because we had to utilize the fbi. we had to utilize the joplin police department. and one of the locations that was searched was right next door to a newspaper. if that same individual was here in albuquerque, the media wouldn't have even known about it. >> fbi agents also searched this home. >> the man whose house you served a search warrant on, is he a suspect? >> no. i wouldn't say he's a suspect. >> he's just an individual that came to our attention that we had to follow through. >> so this guy takes photographs of the part of town you're looking at? is that what we're looking at?
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you're interested in what photos he took and whether he found anything in them? >> really can't say why. >> though the joplin man was not arrested, the task force room ida helped establish with a handful of missing persons photographs is now packed with boxes of evidence taken from the joplin photographer's studio and residence. what's in them? the detectives will say only that they're still combing through all the evidence they seized. one box at a time. as the second anniversary of the discovery of bones on the west mesa approaches, albuquerque police are sure of only one thing -- if the serial killer who preyed on their city is still alive, he's probably moved on to another hunting ground. >> in my personal opinion, i believe that that person is still out there. coming up -- >> he may be waiting in some other community to start doing the same thing again. >> and if he is, it may only be a matter of time. i don't know what's going on.
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it's been five years since that summer night ida lopez just took to the streets of albuquerque's war zone alone, searching for a couple of missing women. these days, she patrols with a partner, still looking for the lost. >> the majority of our girls were street-level prostitutes. >> in that time, the case has gone from a nightmare for a few flawed souls to a nationwide search for a serial killer, an unidentified man police chief ray schultz says may not have succeeded in killing every woman he coaxed into his car. >> he may be waiting in some other community to start doing the same thing again, and what we hope to happen is that someone that's had an encounter with this killer will make that phone call to us and we can link that individual to these crimes that occurred here in albuquerque. >> if these women had been blonde, white and from the right part of town, would you guys have sounded the alarm sooner?
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>> what makes this case unique is several of these victims were missing for months before anybody ever reported them missing. also, again, it goes back to the lifestyle. women very often involved in prostitution, it's not uncommon for them to go missing for weeks or months at a time. >> that was true then and it's true today. out in the war zone, there's a new crop of ragged women on the streets willing to sell themselves in return for a puff of smoke from a glass pipe. >> i want to talk to you. >> most of the new girls either never knew or barely remember the women whose places they've taken. >> whatever you tell us, it's no judgment at all. okay? >> but some do. and in spite of their example, they can't quit the life. >> did you notice when the girls were going missing? >> though police say they have a half dozen suspects on their radar at any given time, so far they haven't been able to eliminate or arrest any of them.
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>> it's a cold case, and so we have to recreate and have to kind of go back into the time machine so to speak to that era or that time in these people's lives, and memories fade and witnesses disappear and some just don't want to be part of it anymore. >> many who lost friends and relatives to the west mesa gravedigger are convinced there is still someone somewhere who knows something because, they supposed, all those earlier rumors about the women being abducted, killed and dumped in the desert had to have started somewhere. was it all hot air, or did someone with knowledge of the murders mix a kernel of truth into those rumors? >> we're not the only family that got a call saying that their sister, daughter was murdered and buried out there. >> somebody was trying to send a message at some point. >> could never trace it back. it led them to a dead end.
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>> though both dan and camille valdez believe michelle's killer is still alive, dan prefers these days to dwell on the things he knows for sure. >> i love you, michelle. i miss you, hon. >> that he once had a daughter named michelle who was the light of his life, that once she was lost and that now she's found. >> and we will see justice served i love you, hon. >> i know 100% that my daughter is not alive. i know and i'm comfortable with the fact that they identified her as my daughter. i am comfortable with the fact that we gave her a proper burial as a human being should be buried. and i'm happy and satisfied with that. >> ida lopez began this case with the mantra that everybody counts. it took years, but, in the end, ida was able to make everybody care. to this day, above her desk hang faded photos of the women on her list, alongside a line of
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scripture that reads "nothing is hidden except to be revealed." a quote familiar to homicide detectives everywhere. >> and what information do you have? >> and it's not just there for inspiration. for ida lopez, that's a mission statement. >> i have to keep believing that we'll find an answer soon. soon could be months. soon could be years. but i just have to keep believing that today could be the day. today could be the day. >> what about those last seven girls? you think you'll ever find them? >> i think we will. >> these are the women currently on ida's list. anna vehill, shontele weight, felipa gonzalez, nina herron, vanessa reed, leah peoples, saphera mora.
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>> we're looking and we'll keep looking. i pray i don't have to tell another mom or dad, but it's the same background, same area. they're somewhere out there. >> maybe ida lopez will find those answers here in the same sun-baked desert sand that once hid this mystery and then later revealed it. but the problem, then as now, is time. right now the killer, if he's
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still alive, has plenty of it, and this desert doesn't give up its secrets easily. oh, please, god, why? >> he was such a good father. he'll never get over this. this really can happen to anyone. >> it's the case that stunned parents everywhere. the dad whose young son died in the car. >> apparently he had forgotten the child was in the car seat in the back and went to work. >> i know you didn't, baby. i know you didn't. >> i think any parent could put themselves in that situation. >> full denial. like that it wasn't happening. >> then came the jaw-dropping news, police said it was murder. >> there was far more to this story that we were beginning to

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