- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Carlos Gonzales hoped the skull was not his daughter’s.

On a winter day in 1989, about eight months after Annette Gonzales’ disappearance, a dog had carried the remains to a home off Old Las Vegas Highway.

Gonzales, 19, a St. Michael’s High School graduate, had vanished without a trace after an evening out at a downtown nightclub in July 1988. A cousin had dropped her off near a restaurant where she had parked her car, reported The New Mexican (https://bit.ly/2bDqPpw). The vehicle turned up a couple days later, abandoned in the parking lot of a state office building. But Annette Gonzales was nowhere to be found. She joined a list of young women missing or murdered in Santa Fe during the 1980s, a decade in which a new case seemed to turn cold with each passing year.

“All we knew was she was missing,” Carlos Gonzales said. “I had read about the other cases. But when it happens to you, it’s different.”

The skull stirred memories of Roberta Montoya, 20, whose remains were found about two years earlier in a nearby patch of brush. Her death remained a mystery.

When the snow cleared in the early spring of 1989, deputies trudged around the area where the dog had unearthed the skull, finding bones and the clothes Annette Gonzales was wearing the night she vanished. The discovery brought a bit of closure to her father after eight long months of searching and nightly recitations of the rosary - a time that left him with “an empty feeling.”

But three decades later, Carlos Gonzales and Roberta Montoya’s mother are still seeking answers about their daughters’ deaths. They are among several parents of cold case victims who forged a bond in the late 1980s as they pushed to keep the attention of law enforcement and the public on their missing loved ones.

A dozen women were killed or disappeared in Santa Fe between 1978 and 1989. Most of the cases remain open.

Though the violence of that era is receding into the city’s history, some still feel its pain.

Meanwhile, investigators are revisiting some of the cold cases from that period. At the Santa Fe Police Department, detectives are poring over old cases to find evidence that hasn’t been subjected to forensic testing.

“A lot of the forensic evidence in these cold cases was never submitted to the lab, not because these were shoddy investigations but because a lot of the stuff - well, what do you test it for?” said Tony Trujillo, a veteran detective at the department who was involved in investigating many of the homicides and disappearances of the 1980s.

The cases were hampered by the limitations of the time, when labs could test for fingerprints or blood type but not DNA, he said.

Investigators found links between some of the women’s cases and eerie parallels.

Most of the women were in their 20s or late teens. A few, but not all, had been raped. One was shot. Some were beaten, others strangled and a few stabbed. Some were found on the outskirts of town. Others were discovered dead in their homes. A few were locals. Some were visitors to New Mexico.

Breaks emerged in a few cases, but there was not enough evidence to lay those murders to rest.

Many of the women’s families grew frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigations, raising concerns about coordination between different local law enforcement agencies and the handling of physical evidence. Several parents banded together in the late 1980s, forming the Santa Fe Alliance of Victims of Unsolved Crimes, and called for reform.

“We started putting together the pieces,” Carlos Gonzales said. “It was happening all around Santa Fe. There were cases all over the city and outlying areas. So we shared what we went through.”

The group pushed for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to take over the cases. It also called for the creation of a statewide agency to investigate murders and for the appointment of an ombudsman to work with victims’ families. Families lobbied, too, for strengthening the Crime Victims’ and Witnesses’ Bill of Rights, passed by the Legislature only a few years earlier, in 1987.

“In many New Mexico towns, you just don’t have the kind of trained personnel necessary to solve these crimes,” Olive “Brownie” Mulvaney, a member of the alliance, told The New Mexican during a 1989 interview. Her daughter Teri was raped, strangled and stabbed to death in 1984.

“Unless the evidence is dropped in their laps,” Mulvaney said, “nothing happens.”

Teri Mulvaney’s case came to epitomize the frustration of the time. Family members were convinced a neighbor had killed her. They accused David Bruce Morton of murdering the 25-year-old Public Service Company of New Mexico secretary when he went to her Galisteo Street home to use the telephone the night before she was found dead. Family collected about 2,000 signatures to prompt a grand jury investigation when prosecutors, citing what they considered insufficient evidence, declined to press charges against Morton, a convicted armed robber who had been released from the state penitentiary only a year before Mulvaney’s murder.

The grand jury indicted Morton, but his trial led to an acquittal, with only one of 12 jurors voting to find him guilty.

Morton eventually ended up behind bars in Texas for raping and murdering his neighbor in Amarillo. In 2003, while serving a 174-year sentence, he confessed to Mulvaney’s murder and the fatal stabbing in November 1983 of 22-year-old Janet Ann Benoit, who was killed in a similar fashion as Mulvaney inside a Cerrillos Road motel room.

Investigators have said they suspect Morton also killed two other women during that period, but those allegations have not been proven.

Theories had swirled during the 1980s that a serial killer was on the loose in Santa Fe. Law enforcement officials initially dismissed the idea, but then-Santa Fe County Sheriff Benjie Montaño suggested, after Annette Gonzales’ remains were found, that the same suspect may have killed her and Montoya.

“I’ve got it in my mind, and I can’t put it out,” he told The New Mexican in 1989.

But the women’s parents have their own theories.

Roberta Montoya came to Santa Fe from California in 1986 to live with family and look for work. She ended up living with aunts and working at a souvenir shop at Cline’s Corners. Although she called home often, according to her mother, the calls seemed to suddenly stop around mid-June 1986.

“Roberta was a troubled teenager but a good person,” said her mother, Marguerite Sandoval.

When Montoya stopped calling home, Sandoval said, she knew something was wrong. “It wasn’t like her not to keep calling.”

Sandoval came to New Mexico looking for her daughter, but she didn’t have any luck. Some suggested Montoya had left town. Sandoval kept up the search, however, losing a job back in California as the mission of finding Montoya consumed her.

In April 1987, a man walking his dog found Montoya’s jawbone off Interstate 25 near Bobcat Road.

No one has been charged in the case, but it has ripped apart Montoya’s family: Sandoval came to believe a relative’s husband had murdered her daughter.

Carlos Gonzales, meanwhile, has long suspected a male acquaintance of his daughter killed her after an argument.

Born and raised in Santa Fe, Annette Gonzales danced in the Fiesta de Santa Fe and is remembered as athletic, having participated in volleyball, basketball and track. More than 1,000 mourners attended her funeral at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

Few details of her death emerged, however, after then-District Attorney Chet Walter asked a judge to seal the autopsy results.

Walter’s staff, the Santa Fe Police Department and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office formed a task force to investigate her death, but officials never named a suspect and no one has ever been charged.

“They haven’t found anything in a long, long time,” Carlos Gonzales said.

Detective Trujillo believes some of the cold cases can be solved with the benefit of forensic tests that were not available three decades ago.

“It’s all about DNA now,” he said.

A unit he leads has been sending evidence from old cases for DNA testing in the hopes that modern technology will provide new information. The prospect of finding new DNA evidence has prompted detectives to look closely at about 10 to 15 such cases, he said.

“We’re not boxing these up, wrapping them with tape and sending them downstairs,” he said of the department’s cold cases. “They’re not forgotten.”

It is not clear what evidence from the Montoya and Gonzales cases might yield. Though they disappeared in Santa Fe, the sheriff’s office took over the cases after the women’s remains were found outside the city limits.

Investigators at the sheriff’s office are still pursuing leads in some of the cases.

Trujillo said the way local law enforcement agencies handle such investigations has changed over the past few decades.

Carlos Gonzales, for example, was frustrated in the early days of his daughter’s case by what appeared to be a lack of coordination among local authorities, with potential leads slipping through jurisdictional cracks.

Trujillo said agencies are less territorial and more cooperative today than in years past.

Investigations are also better organized within agencies, he argued. Gone are the days, he said, when several detectives within the same police department might undertake separate investigations of a single case, each working their own sources but sharing little information.

If new forensic testing or tips from witnesses cannot break the cases 30 years later, the deaths of Montoya and Gonzales might remain relics of an era marked by violence and impunity.

From her home in California, Sandoval continues to press for action in her daughter’s case, occasionally calling investigators in Santa Fe to track developments.

“I know I can’t bring her back. I know they have other things to do. I know they’re busy,” she said. “But why can’t this one be solved?”

Carlos Gonzales wonders, too, whether investigators could bring a close to his daughter’s case, nearly three decades old.

After all that time, he seems unlikely to be surprised by any of the facts about what happened the night of daughter’s disappearance. Gonzales said he has forgiven the man he suspects of killing his daughter. But he still wants to know the truth.

___

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com


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