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UNSOLVED: The West Mesa Bone Collector May Still Walk the Streets After Taking At Least 11 Lives

The remains of nearly a dozen sex workers were carelessly discarded in the New Mexico desert.

the west mesa bone collector
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  • Photo Credit: Joe Woods/Unsplash

In 2009, the remains of 11 women and girls were found buried in a desert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is widely believed that these bodies were disposed of by one singular person—a serial killer known as the West Mesa Bone Collector. But while all of the known victims have been identified, the police have yet to close this chilling case. The killer still walks among us.

The burial site of the West Mesa Bone Collector

The remains of the victims were buried in an arroyo bank on the West Mesa between 2001 and 2005. The burial site was within city limits of Albuquerque, but the region was as yet undeveloped. However, in 2006, development expanded to the area, putting a stop to the discreet disposals in favor of building up a residential area. Considering the regularity of the burials, this could very well mean unknown victims are buried elsewhere.

When the housing bubble collapse hit in 2008, development came to a halt on the West Side, leaving the project unfinished. Residents living near the burial site complained of flooding, which led to the erection of a retaining wall that channeled storm water into a retention pond. This pond just happened to be in the general area of the burial site. The water gradually exposed these forgotten bones to the surface.

On February 2, 2009, a woman out walking her dog first caught a glimpse of the remains. She called the police with a report of a human bone on the West Mesa, and an investigation was subsequently launched.

The victims of the West Mesa Bone Collector

The police later identified the victims, who ranged between the ages of 15 and 32. The list of murdered women and girls included Jamie Barela, Monica Candelaria, Victoria Chavez, Virginia Cloven, Syllania Edwards, Cinnamon Elks, Doreen Marquez, Julie Nieto, Veronica Romero, Evelyn Salazar, and Michelle Valdez. There was also a fetus buried with the victims.

Most of the women were Hispanic. Many of them were also involved with drugs or sex work. 15-year-old Syllania Edwards was the only African American. Originally from Lawton, Oklahoma, she was also the only victim from out of state.

Nearly two years after the discovery of the remains, the Albuquerque police released pictures of seven unidentified women who may also be victims of the West Mesa Bone Collector. The authorities have declined to explain how they came into possession of these images. However, many of the women depicted share physical characteristics with the known victims. In the photos, some of them appear unconscious.

A few days after the release of these photos, the police reported that two of the women in them were identified as alive. If they could be tracked down, they may provide vital information about the case.

While more bones were found near the initial burial site in June 2018, this were determined to be ancient remains, rather than remains related to the murders.

Suspects in the West Mesa Bone Collector case

While the serial killer theory has not been taken off the table, the police have also started to investigate the murders from a sex trafficking angle. In 2010, a reward of $100,000 was offered in exchange for information on the case. So far, no one has been named as an official suspect in the murders, but there have been some men of significant interest.

One figure of interest was pimp Fred Reynolds. He knew one of the missing women, and allegedly possessed photographs of several missing sex workers. Unfortunately, he died in January 2009.

Photographer and businessman Ron Erwin had his Missouri properties searched in August of 2010 in connection to the murders. He used to regularly visit the Albuquerque state fair, and the police confiscated tens of thousands of pictures from him. Eventually, he was cleared as a suspect entirely.

Convicted serial killer Scott Lee Kimball was also investigated in connection with the West Mesa murders in December of 2010, but he denied any connection to the killings.

There are two unofficial suspects that remain fairly solid leads: Lorenzo Montoya and Joseph Blea.

Lorenzo Montoya was residing less than three miles from the burial site at the time of the murders. Dirt trails in 2006 led directly from his trailer to the site. On two different occasions, he was arrested for assaulting sex workers, and had even threatened to kill his girlfriend and bury her in lime. Several of his co-workers alleged he had mentioned killing and burying women on the West Mesa. In December of 2006, he strangled a teenage sex worker to death in his trailer. The victim's boyfriend then shot him dead. It seems, coincidentally, as if the West Mesa murders stopped after this incident.

Joseph Blea became of interest in the West Mesa murder in 2014, after a break in another decades-old case. Throughout the 1980s, Blea would break into the homes of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 and rape them. These crimes earned him the title of the "Mid-School Rapist." Additionally, he was suspected of killing a sex worker in 2015, after his DNA was found on the inner waistband of the victim.

Evidence potentially linking Blea to the West Mesa murders include a tree tag at the burial site from a nursery he frequented and a collection of women's underwear and jewelry not belonging to his wife or daughter. After being sentenced to prison in June of 2015 for the Mid-School rape case, he allegedly confessed to a cellmate that he had hired the victims of the West Mesa murders. Blea denies any involvement in the killings.

If you have an information regarding the West Mesa murders, Albuquerque CrimeStoppers is still offering a $100,000 reward. Call (505)768-2450 or Crime Stopper at (505)843-STOP.

Featured image: Joe Woods/Unsplash