2 Weeks, 3 Bodies: Albuquerque's Murder Mystery

Albuquerque police have found remains of three people and say there may be more.

ByABC News
February 16, 2009, 3:39 PM

Feb. 17, 2009— -- The bodies were found by chance, starting with one bone sticking out of the dirt on a desolate plot of land in the mesa west of Albuquerque, N.M.

Two are still unidentified with no names and no clues as to how they died. But a third has a name, an identity and a family.

Victoria Chavez was the first to be identified by New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator, using dental records. It was her skeleton, along with partial remains of another, which touched off a massive search for more human remains in what is slated to become a new housing development.

For two weeks investigators, anthropologists and forensics experts have combed the area using hand tools, cadaver dogs and heavy machinery. Police have no idea how many bodies may be buried in the dirt or who dumped them there.

When she was last seen by her family in 2003, Chavez, 24, lived a hard life, logging arrests for prostitution and drugs. But in the months before her disappearance she had been living at home, working at a local burger joint and thinking about a career as a nurse.

"I was in denial," her mother, Mary Gutierrez, told ABCNews.com of the day she learned the bones were her daughter's. "I said, 'You must be wrong.'"

With the remains of three bodies found so far and tests pending on a fourth discovery, Albuquerque police aren't quite sure what they're dealing with.

The first bit of remains was found Feb. 2 by a woman walking her dog around the vacant lot.

"She just stumbled on one of the bones," Albuquerque Police Officer Nadine Hamby told ABCNews.com. "It's not like everything was intact."

When police responded to the scene and began digging, they found more bones. And the results surprised police -- they came from two different people, including Chavez. About 48 hours later, bones from a third person were found several yards away.

Since then police and forensics experts have been at the site every day, searching the area mostly by hand and using rakes and shovels. The area totals about 92 acres, though the search has been narrowed to a few specific areas.

Police have pulled up satellite records from 2003 onward and have narrowed the search, for now, using old dirt trails that have long since been plowed over.

Hamby said the area was sometimes used in the past as a place to dump trash or dead coyotes. Police have also found buried pets, including dogs and rabbits.

"We found a whole Noah's Ark out there," she said.