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'Bone Collector' Murders Search Expands to Missouri

Aug 4, 2010 – 3:23 PM
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David Lohr

David Lohr Senior Crime Reporter

(Aug. 4) -- Members of a New Mexico police task force investigating the unsolved slayings of 11 females and an unborn child in Albuquerque have searched a home and businesses belonging to a Missouri man.

The searches, conducted with assistance from the FBI and the Joplin, Mo., Police Department, were part of the investigation into the bodies, including a fetus, that were found buried in southwest Albuquerque in 2009, police said. The case, popularized on TV, has been dubbed "the West Mesa Bone Collector" investigation.

The searches were conducted at Fox Farm Whole Food, Erwin Photo Studio and a home on West 26th Street in Joplin. All of the properties are connected to 57-year-old Ron Erwin.
Photos of three victims of an unknown Albuquerque, N.M., serial killer released by the Albuquerque police department. From left, Cinnamon Elks, Syllannia Edwards and Michelle Valdez.
Albuquerque Police
Photos of three victims of an unknown Albuquerque, N.M., serial killer released by the Albuquerque Police Department. From left, Cinnamon Elks, Syllannia Edwards and Michelle Valdez.

On Tuesday, The Joplin Globe quoted Albuquerque detective Tod Babcock as saying that Erwin is a "person of interest" in the case. Albuquerque Police Department spokeswoman Nadine Hamby told AOL News that information is incorrect.

"There was a little bit of confusion yesterday, [and] the Globe misquoted one of the detectives," Hamby said. "We've never named [a person of interest] and have always been very generic about it. People come and go on that list, people of interest [and] suspects, and none have ever been named."

An unidentified female employee of Fox Farm Whole Food had no comment on the searches when reached by phone today. Calls for comment made to Erwin by AOL News were not returned.

Hamby said that all of the search warrants in the case have been sealed and that she was unable to comment on what prompted the searches, other than to say, "The investigation led us to Joplin, Mo."

Erwin's mother, Beulah Erwin, said her son, who never married, used to regularly travel to Albuquerque, but had not done so for at least six years, The Associated Press reported. All the victims in the case went missing between 2003 and 2005, police say.

"It doesn't make any sense why they would focus on him," Erwin told the AP. "That's the silliest thing I ever heard of."

A source close to the case told KRQE News 13 on Tuesday that Erwin caught the interest of police because of his behavioral profile and travels he had embarked on related to his job -- travels that he allegedly logged on a photography website.

Hamby said that no arrest warrants have been issued and that no one has been taken into police custody.

The investigation into the case, which has been featured on "America's Most Wanted," began on Feb. 2, 2009, when a woman walking her dog on a trail in Albuquerque found a bone protruding from the ground.

Officials determined that the bone was human during a follow-up investigation by the Albuquerque police. That single discovery led to the unearthing of the skeletal remains of 11 women and one unborn child. Each victim had been buried in a shallow grave.

The victims have been identified as:
  • Jamie Barela, 15: Last seen at a family gathering in April 2004.
  • Monica Candelaria, 22: Last seen between 2003 and 2005.
  • Victoria Chavez, 26: Last seen in 2004.
  • Virginia Cloven, 24: Reported missing in 2004. Authorities believe she was murdered between 2004 and 2005.
  • Syllannia Edwards, 15: Reported missing in 2003. Investigators believe she was killed between 2004 and 2005.
  • Cinnamon Elks, 32: Believed slain between 2004 and 2005.
  • Doreen Marquez, 24: Believed slain between 2003 and 2005.
  • Julie Nieto, 24: Believed slain between 2004 and 2005.
  • Veronica Romero, 28: Believed slain between 2004 and 2005.
  • Evelyn Salazar, 27: Last seen with her cousin, Barela, at a family gathering in April 2004.
  • Michelle Valdez, 22: Believed slain between 2004 and 2005. She was pregnant at the time of her death, and the skeletal remains of her unborn child were found buried with her.
According to a police press release, all of the victims, with the exception of Barela, had ties to drugs and prostitution. That fact is not lost on investigative criminal profiler Pat Brown, who says such a revelation can be very telling about the killer.

"Most often, a series of homicides of this type involve either a local man who regularly frequents prostitutes or a man from out of town who likes to put distance between his hobby ... his home and his work," Brown told AOL News. "If the man is a visitor to the area of the crimes, he usually has a stable job and is considered a decent member of the community."

If the killer is not from the area, he would probably feel safe from suspicion because he is long gone after the crimes are committed. That feeling of safety, however, can backfire if he can be connected to the victims or his "travel schedule coincides with each woman who has gone missing," Brown said.

For now, experts like Brown can only speculate on the killer and a possible motive in the case. In the meantime, police say they will continue to search for clues that will help identify the person responsible.

"We anticipated [the case would be solved] by the end of the year, but that didn't happen," Hamby said. "Then we were looking at spring, and that didn't [happen], so let's just hope [it's solved] very soon."

Hamby says that authorities are offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the crimes.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the 118th Street Task Force at 1-877-765-8273 or Crime Stoppers at (505) 843-STOP.
Filed under: Nation, Crime
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