LAS CRUCES - A new composite sketch of an unidentified girl whose remains were found in the desert north of Las Cruces nearly 27 years ago has renewed hope among investigators that the victim may finally be identified, according to the Do-a Ana Sheriff's Office.
Rabbit hunters stumbled upon the shallow grave of human remains on March 10, 1985, at a location off Interstate 25 near Upham. Through autopsy, the New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner determined the body was that of a white female, between 16 and 19 years old, with a slight build and blonde or light brown hair, who had likely been buried three to six months prior to being discovered.
In recent years, several local cold cases have been solved: Ronald Ralph King was sentenced this year to 12 years in prison for killing 24-year-old Heather Lynn Eiche in 2001. King admitted to the killing in 2009. And in 2007, after DNA from a burglary matched him to the crime, Gabriel Avila was sentenced to 69 years in prison for the 2003 killing of New Mexico State University student Katie Sepich, who had been raped, strangled and partially burned near the old city dump.In the "Jane Doe" case, a clay reconstruction was initially created using the skeletal remains of her face, including a lower human jaw bone. Images of that reconstruction were made public, but did not result in any solid leads. But recently, an in-house sketch artist at the Office of the Medical Examiner created a newer, hand-drawn image of the girl,
and while it's not an exact likeness, Cold Case Investigator Ben Venable says it's a significant step forward.
"There are several possibilities that could explain why we haven't been able to match this girl with other missing people matching her description," Venable said. "But this person was someone's child, and somewhere, a family deserves to have closure."
The case is one of several dozen murders, suspicious deaths and missing persons cases - including the still-unsolved 1896 disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain - that the sheriff's Cold Case Unit is currently working to solve.
Authorities have not released how the teen was killed or what condition her body is in because the case is still open, but Venable, who has been close to the missing teen's case since 1987, says based on the clothes she was wearing, she was likely not a transient.
"We have compared all reported missing persons of similar description, but would like to encourage anyone with knowledge of a missing person matching this description to contact us," Venable said. "There is always the possibility that a missing person has not been reported up until now."
Anyone who might recognize the person in the sketch or has information on where her family may be located is asked to call the Do-a Ana sheriff's Cold Case Unit at (575) 525-1911.
Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462; follow her on Twitter @AshleyMeeks.
Cold case files
• El Paso high school student Jimmie Brown, 16, found strangled Aug. 15, 1977 on the Anthony Gap road. The San Diego native was last seen being dropped off at a friend's house near Fred Wilson Avenue and Dyer Street. A few days later her body was found by a county maintenance worker. It's unknown if she was killed in Texas or New Mexico.
• Olivia Reyes Yanez, 31, found March 10, 1984, just north of the Picacho Avenue bridge. Her body, bearing multiple injuries, was lying along the river bank. Yanez had been seen the night before at the Welcome Inn in Las Cruces. Her vehicle was located at Picacho Village.
• Chaparral resident Marjorie Knox, 14, was last seen Feb. 14, 1987, after attending a Valentine's Day party at Veterans Park in northeast El Paso. Witnesses said then that they saw a man who resembled convicted serial killer David Leonard Wood pull up in a small truck at the park and talk to Knox. Police also said someone saw Knox walking at 3 a.m. on Chaparral Street in Chaparral, N.M., a road that is pitch black at that hour. Wood denied knowledge of Knox's disappearance.
• Diana Walter, 34, found shot to death May 28, 1988 on Fox Trail on the East Mesa. Walter was sitting inside her mobile home at 11:10 p.m. when someone drove by and fired six shots from a .22-caliber weapon at the home. Walter was struck in the jaw and died from her injuries.
• NMSU Physical Science Lab employee Rudy Guerrero, 42, found shot to death Jan. 4, 1994 on cement steps in Box Canyon, next to his vehicle. He had been shot several times. Two people were suspected in 1994 and investigators took a case to the district attorney, but prosecutors declined to prosecute, stating they wanted more investigation.
• WSMR employee Robert Rocha, 43, found shot to death June 28, 1994 at the Mesilla Dam. Rocha's nude body was found next to a 1985 Ford pickup truck at 10:21 p.m. He had been shot twice. The location is a popular party spot known as Shady Grove. The family told the Sun-News in 1994 that they believed Rocha had not been alone and that there was beer at the scene that Rocha did not drink.
• Sue Bannister, 48, found shot to death June 14, 1997 on Holman Road. Bannister was last seen leaving the Blue Moon Bar in Radium Springs, headed to the East Mesa to visit a friend who was house-sitting. At about 4:30 a.m., she was seen arguing with a white man in his late 40s or early 50s, 6 feet to 6-feet 3-inches tall, 185 pounds, with light brown hair. There was a small blue car at the scene, possibly a Toyota. Her truck was found at the intersection of Holman and U.S. 70 and 10 days later, her body was found by a water tank one-half mile north on Holman Road, nude from the waist down and apparently sexually assaulted. • Mayfield High School student Lourin Peralta, 16, found Oct. 21, 2005, on the northwest bank of the Rio Grande. After children playing in the dry river bed found a skull, investigators combed the area and found more than two dozen bones along the northwest river bank of the Rio Grande near the Picacho Avenue bridge. Peralta had last been seen in early July 2005 and was reported missing by her family at that time. It's unknown how she died.