Three detectives are still working a combined 40 hours each week to solve the murders of nine woman and two teen girls whose remains were discovered on Albuquerque’s West Mesa in 2009.
KUNM spoke with Lt. Scott Norris, who took over the violent crimes section of the Albuquerque Police Department about a month ago and is now overseeing the investigation.
NORRIS: I’ve been force fed with a firehose with regard to this just because of the gravity of the case, how important it is to the community. I mean we still get over 1,000 tips a year that we still have to track down, that we still have to exercise a process of elimination with some of those tips that we have. I mean, there’s a lot that goes into it.
So there’s a perception out there that this is a cold case. This is an active case. It’s been a very very long active case, but it’s never been cold. So, in other words, the investigation has never stopped, right, been put on the shelf, and resumed at a later date. It’s been continuous since it happened.
KUNM: There’s still concern that police don’t take crimes against people who do sex work seriously enough, or that police don’t look into it when people go missing or treat their reports of sexual assault respectfully. And that that feeds into this problem overall. What do you think about that?
NORRIS: Well, you know, I can understand how maybe that perception has kind of perpetuated itself. But we have an initiative going on right now that is actually just the opposite of that. And we’re looking at this initiative as almost kind of a preventative measure to prevent something like 118th Street from happening again. It’s called the High-Risk Victim Multidisciplinary Team. This is geared towards individuals, sex workers, individuals who may live a lifestyle that puts them at risk, to try and prevent these things from happening to them.
KUNM: Family members are frustrated that no one’s been found and charged for this. And they’re looking for closure. Do you have any words for them?
NORRIS: Just, you know, please have faith in the Albuquerque Police Department. This case will come to fruition. We will find somebody. And also, too, is one of the obstacles we have to deal with at times is people giving us new information because they’re under the assumption that we already know. And that’s not necessarily the case. No piece of information is insignificant. They may have the mindset, “Oh well, they’re not going to care about something like that. That has nothing to do with the case, or it’s nothing of importance.” That’s not true.
The littlest thing can break a case wide open. So, I would just urge the community, anybody, who thinks that they have any type of information on this, it’s not insignificant, don’t make the assumption that we already know. Because we get our information from the community. That’s where we get all of our information from.
You know, the community helps us solve crimes like this. We can’t do it on our own. And that all goes into community-oriented policing that we engage in every day. It’s the community policing the community. The community policing us. Us policing the community.
KUNM: Do you still believe that you can find the killer?
NORRIS: Absolutely. No absolutely. Like I said I’m very optimistic. The problem is when you have so many victims—and we still have six that are missing, we have yet to recover six individuals, who we believe to be victims of this person—with the recovery of those six missing bodies, which I’m optimistic will happen, is going to come new evidence, and is going to come new information that we have to vet, that we have to source, that we have to process, and we have to put into the existing investigation and connect all the dots.
And so progress is being made every day. It may not necessarily be as fast as we want, but you can’t really rush through things like this. You kind of have to let the investigation develop on its own, with nudges, but you can’t rush it.
KUNM: Could something like this happen again in Albuquerque, and what is APD doing to prevent that?
NORRIS: Well, I don’t ever want to rule out the possibility and give somebody, anybody false security that this will never happen again. I can’t predict that. I’m not a predicter of the future. What I can try to do is try to prevent these things from happening. And what the department can do is try to prevent these things from happening. That is a big reason for this initiative. It’s being able to recognize these things, and going, OK, listen, what is it that we can do to try and help particular individuals out and offer them resources and other things to try and minimize or mitigate a circumstance that they may find themselves in similar to this one.
This is part of an ongoing series. A longer version of this interview below: