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Evidence unearthed in 1982 homicides

An unsolved 1982 double homicide relegated to the county’s cold case files again experienced some warmth Tuesday as law enforcement personnel located and searched an abandoned car.

Thirty-five miles down Trujillo Road and over the Caracas Bridge, the route eventually devolves into a two-track path. Miles down the path, after crossing a number of creeks, the way ends in a valley at the edge of the Carson National Forest in Rio Arriba County, N.M., where the wind and the birds constitute most of the noise, and birds, deer, elk, bear and wild horses make up most of the population.

Buried in the valley is a decades-old, abandoned Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme once allegedly owned by David Haynes, but driven by Tina Madrid, also the alleged owner of a bus abandoned in the vicinity that could be involved in the double homicide.

The car was moved from the site of the bus and buried about two decades ago by another property owner in an erosion-control effort.

Based on circumstances and evidence found in the bus during a 2009 search (including blood believed to be the male victim’s), Det. George Barter of the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office believes a couple known as John and Jane Doe were killed in the bus.

“Since that car was there and we believe they were killed there in that bus, we believe they could have been transported to the river in that car,” Barter said the day before the team of nine law enforcement officials from Archuleta County, the District Attorney’s Office, FBI Evidence Response Team and New Mexico State Police crime scene personnel dug up and searched the car.

The victims’ bodies were found along the banks of the San Juan River about a month apart in the fall of 1982, one on each side of the Colorado-New Mexico border about a mile from the Caracas Bridge.

The male was believed to have lived with a local resident in the bus for a period of time.

Contemporary to the homicides, Barter said the New Mexico State Police found some of the victims’ belongings in the car.

Though the car was searched during the initial homicide investigation, the search was not documented.

Following news coverage of the cold case throughout the region, Barter said an informant reported the whereabouts of the car in May, with the car subsequently located in June.

After an hour-and-a-half trek to the site of the car Tuesday morning, a loader began digging, leaving law enforcement personnel waiting and hoping to find evidence.

“If a miracle happened, we’d find their belongings in that car,” Barter said, becoming more hopeful yet when it was discovered that the car was not rusty.

Barter said later, “There have got to be families out there missing these people.”

Investigators paused on occasion to document possible evidence as it was uncovered, and the car was eventually pulled onto its side, allowing the agents to search and process items of evidence found in the trunk of the vehicle.

“I’m very excited that there was evidence remaining in the car after 28 years,” Barter said Wednesday. “I’m so thrilled I can’t hardly even wait to start working on the information.”

Barter said the evidence will now be analyzed at FBI labs in New Mexico, adding he feels the items probably belonged to the victims.

“Who gets items of evidence from 28 years ago in a homicide?” Barter asked. “And this is twice, because we got stuff out of the bus in October.”

Barter said Tuesday’s dig and search not only gave him a solid lead to work on, but a path to pursue.

“Just, wow, I mean it’s very exciting. It makes you feel close to the case, to be able to dig up something that the people were in.”

“We consider it a success,” said FBI Media Representative Frank Fisher. “We’ll consider it more of a success when we solve the case.”

A bus and a fight

In September 2009, a khaki-colored Chevrolet 6800 school bus resting approximately a mile from the Caracas Bridge and a mile from the river where the bodies were found, was searched by local law enforcement and New Mexico State Police clad in respirators and biohazard suits.

After nearly four hours of searching inside of the bus, sifting through garbage and the flotsam and jetsam left over from what was suspected to be alleged bus owner Tina Madrid’s part-time residence, Barter hit paydirt: a long, narrow strip of carpet attached to the bus’s floor that tested positive in five places for blood, and four .22 caliber shell casings.

At the time, Barter said the presence of blood soaked into the bus carpet meshes with a number of testimonies gathered after the murder. More recently, Barter re-interviewed many of those named in police reports and other documents.

According to those testimonies, a scuffle ensued inside the bus — possibly over a dope deal gone bad — that ultimately led to the man’s death and the death of his female companion.

According to bits of evidence patched together during the initial 1982 investigation and Barter’s reopening of the case in the spring of 2009, evidence shows the killer (or killers) shot John Doe at least twice with a .22 caliber weapon, and strangled Jane. After the murders, the killers dumped both bodies in the San Juan River and, later, John and Jane washed up on the river’s banks just west of the Caracas Bridge.

Archuleta County rancher Frank Chavez found the woman Sept. 19, 1982, on an island in the river about a half mile west of the bridge and about 75 yards inside the New Mexico line.

Chavez said he was out looking for his livestock when he spotted Jane Doe’s foot protruding from beneath the silty river soil.

About a month later, on Oct. 22, Jerry Killough, of Grants, N.M., was walking with his two daughters along the northern bank of the San Juan — the Colorado side of the river — when they discovered John Doe, badly decomposed and partially buried along the river bank.

Although John Doe’s body was almost completely skeletonized, the autopsy showed, in addition to gunshot wounds, that he suffered broken ribs before his death.

At the time, neither body was found with items that might provide law enforcement clues to the their identities, and authorities were left with only basic descriptions derived from medical examiner reports.

The reports described Jane Doe as a 30-year-old white female, 5-5 tall, medium build with brown hair. At the time of her death, she was wearing Wrangler blue jeans, a blue quilted peasant jacket, a purple halter top blouse and two pieces of jewelry: a hollow gold heart necklace and a horn-shaped pendant.

Authorities found a sales slip in her pocket with the handwritten, almost illegible name of “Marilyn Cobraier” and a Farmington phone number. She also carried coins totaling $1.36.

Medical reports described John Doe as a powerfully built, 5-8 white male in his early 20s, with straight brownish-blond hair, a reddish beard and moustache. At the time of his death, John Doe wore Converse low-top tennis shoes, tan corduroy pants, and a T-shirt with “Lazy B Guest Ranch” printed on the front.

Medical examiners said both bodies were discovered about four to six weeks after the murders occurred.

According to Barter, law enforcement officers and investigators from Colorado and New Mexico worked the case for five years and what little evidence was found led officials to believe there was a link between the two murders. At the time, former Archuleta County Sheriff Neal Smith speculated that drugs or prostitution may have played a role in the victims’ demise.

Nevertheless, and despite numerous leads, interviews and five years of work, investigators came up empty-handed. Some close to the investigation say the operation faltered because of acrimony between district attorneys on either side of the state line.

Eventually, with no one actively working the case, files disappeared and key evidence became lost. To make matters worse, New Mexico had a 15-year statute of limitations on murder cases, giving New Mexico lawmen little incentive to pursue an investigation that could not lead to prosecution.

In Colorado, however, no such limitation exists, and a case that had gone cold for 27 years turned hot when Barter joined the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department full-time in February 2009.

New leads

Since reopening the case, Barter has combed files, traced leads, gathered photographic and forensic evidence, while enlisting the help of colleagues in Colorado and New Mexico.

Key to his work was locating the victims’ skulls at the state museum in Albuquerque and working with Mary Brazas of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department on a new set of facial reconstructions.

In addition, Barter gained the assistance of Richard Matthews, a New Mexico State Police agent and forensics expert, who helped Barter secure the search warrant for the bus and orchestrated the processing of the crime scene.

With the new reconstructions, Barter canvassed regional media organizations and the phone calls began trickling in, which, with Matthews’ help, gave Barter the leverage he needed to obtain a search warrant for the bus.

Further coverage by regional media led to an informant who, in late spring, reported the existence of the abandoned car, which in turn has led to more leads.

With John and Jane Doe and their killer or killers still unidentified, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department is requesting assistance from anyone with information related to the case. Contact Det. George Barter at (970) 264-8450.

(James Robinson contributed portions of this article.)

randi@pagosasun.com