Who Is The West Mesa Bone Collector?

For more of these cases and daily uploads follow us at Cold Case Project on Youtube

WEST MESA MURDERS

Between 2003 and 2006, at least 19 girls and women disappeared on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most of them were Latina sex workers in their 20s, and for years, no one knew what happened to them. 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 stormwater to a retention pond built in the approximate area of the burial site, inadvertently exposing bones to the surface.

Then 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.

Investigators dug 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,” was responsible for their murders. 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.

Detectives are currently looking for leads and would like to know more about the victims. Investigators would like to hear from women who may have been working the streets of Albuquerque between 2001 and 2005, or anyone who may have solicited the victims during that period.

A reward of up to $100,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this crime. Anyone with information concerning the victims and/or potential suspects is asked to contact the 118th Street Task Force at 1–877–765–8273 or (505) 768–2450. Crime Stoppers can be called at (505) 843-STOP. You may also email information to Detective Denice Myers at dmyers@cabq.gov or Investigator Ida Lopez at ilopez@cabq.gov.

Victims

1.

  • Victim: Jamie Barela
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Using DNA evidence, forensic experts were able to identify 15-year-old Jamie Barela as one of the victims of the 118th Street serial killer. She was last seen at a family gathering in April of 2004. Jamie and her cousin; Evelyn Salazar, who is also a victim, had left the gathering and went to a park near San Mateo and Gibson SE. They were never seen again. Barela was killed by an unknown person who then buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

2.

  • Victim: Monica Candelaria
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2003 and 2005 an unknown person killed 22-year-old Monica Candelaria and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

3.

  • Victim: Victoria Chavez
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: In 2005 an unknown person killed 26-year-old Victoria Chavez and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

4.

  • Victim: Virginia Cloven
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Using DNA evidence, forensic investigators were able to identify 24-year-old Virginia Cloven as one of the victims of the 118th Street serial killer. She was reported missing in 2004. Investigators believe that she was killed sometime between 2004 and 2005 by an unknown person who then buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

5.

  • Victim: Syllannia Edwards
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Using a sketch and dental records, the Office of the Medical Investigator has identified one of the unknown victims of the 118th Street Serial Killer as Syllannia Edwards. Law enforcement authorities in Lawton, Oklahoma had classified her as an endangered runaway and reported her missing in 2003. In May of 2004, Edwards had been seen associating with prostitutes on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora Colorado. She may have been staying at the Ranger Motel. Edwards was seen in the company of three other women: Lucretia, Ty, and Diamond. She might have been using the nicknames “Mimi” or “Chocolate.” Edwards was 15 years old when last seen. Sylvania Edwards was killed sometime between 2004 and 2005 and then buried in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

6.

  • Victim: Cinnamon Elks
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2004 and 2005 an unknown person killed 32-year-old Cinnamon Elks and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

7.

  • Victim: Doreen Marquez
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2003 and 2005 an unknown person killed 24-year-old Doreen Marquez and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

8.

  • Victim: Julie Nieto
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2004 and 2005 an unknown person killed 24-year-old Julie Nieto and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

9.

  • Victim: Veronica Romero
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2004 and 2005 an unknown person killed 28-year-old Veronica Romero and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

10.

  • Victim: Evelyn Salazar
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Using DNA evidence, forensic investigators were able to identify 27-year-old Evelyn Salazar as one of the victims of the 118th Street serial killer. She was last seen at a family gathering in April of 2004. Evelyn and her cousin; Jamie Barela, who is also a victim, had left the gathering and went to a park near San Mateo and Gibson SE. They were never seen again. Salazar was killed by an unknown person who then buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

11.

  • Victim: Michelle Valdez
  • Suspect: Unknown
  • Location: 118th Street SW, Albuquerque, N.M.

Synopsis: Sometime between 2004 and 2005 an unknown person killed 22-year-old Michelle Valdez and buried her in a mesa located adjacent to 118th Street SW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Michelle was pregnant at the time of her death. The skeletal remains of her unborn child were found buried with her.

Suspects

JOSEPH BLEA

Joseph Blea caught the attention of investigators almost immediately after the first remains of the West Mesa victims were unearthed. April Gillen, Blea’s first wife, contacted police seven days after the discovery of a bone on the mesa and said she thought police should look into him. They already knew a lot about him. Blea is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence after he was convicted of four sexual assaults unrelated to the West Mesa case. He’s faced other sex-related charges as well, including accusations that he raped a 14-year-old girl he knew with a screwdriver. That case was later dropped, according to online court records. 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.

And his DNA was found on a prostitute left dead on a curb in 1985. He’s never been charged in connection with that crime.

Lorenzo Montoya

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 December 2010, convicted Colorado serial killer Scott Lee Kimball stated that he was being investigated for the West Mesa murders, but he denied killing the women.

The eight women who are still missing, and the ages at which they disappeared

New information about what happened to the eight missing women who disappeared in 2003, 2005, and 2006 could also potentially help the case if their disappearances are related to those of the 11 others. In July 2018, there was a false alarm when a construction crew discovered human remains near the site where the 11 West Mesa victims were discovered. The state Office of the Medical Investigator quickly determined they were likely Native American bones circa 1100 to 1300 unrelated to the disappearances.

  • Martha Luther: Age — 32
  • Anna Vigil: Age — 20
  • Felipa Gonzales: Age — 23
  • Nina Herron: Age — 21
  • Jillian Ortiz Henderson: Age — 19
  • Shawntell Waites: Age — 29
  • Leah Peebles: Age — 23
  • Vanessa Reed: Age — 24

Anyone with information about them or the West Mesa murders can call the Albuquerque Police Department’s 118th Street Task Force at 1–877–765–8273 or (505) 768–2450, or Crime Stoppers at (505) 843-STOP.