“The Mesa” Podcast Reexamines the West Mesa Murders

Mesa Podcast

February 7, 2020 – Senior producer Matt Grubs sits down with Tierna Unruh-Enos, who this week began a podcast called The Mesa, about the unsolved murders of women buried on Albuquerque’s West Mesa. The deaths of 11 women, one of whom was pregnant, are thought to be the work of a serial killer. This week marked the 11th anniversary of the discovery of the bodies. 

Guest:
Tierna Unruh-Enos, podcast producer, The Mesa 

Transcript:

>>GRANT: IN 2009 ALL OF NEW MEXICO WATCHED IN HORROR AS INVESTIGATORS UNEARTHED REMAINS OF 11 WOMEN AND ONE UNBORN CHILD FROM ALBUQUERQUE’S WEST MESA. THE MURDERS ARE UNSOLVED. IT IS THE SUBJECT OF A POD CAST PRODUCED BY A LOCAL JOURNALIST WHO FOUND HERSELF CAPTIVATED BY THE CASE. NMIF PRODUCER MATT GRUBS ASKED HER INTO THE STUDIO THIS WEEK TO TALK ABOUT THE MESA AND WHAT SHE HOPES THE IMPACT OF HER EFFORT WILL BE.

>>GRUBS: THIS PAST WEEK MARKED 11 YEARS SINCE THOSE BODIES WERE DISCOVERED. WHY NOW? I GUESS, IS THE QUESTION. WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN THIS? 

>>UNRUH-ENOS: SO, I WORKED IN TELEVISION IN 2009 HERE LOCALLY WHEN THEY WERE FINDING THE BONES AND THE REMAINS OF ALL THE WOMEN. SO, I HAD ALREADY WORKED IN MEDIA, I KNEW THE STORY REALLY WELL, AND THEN 10 YEARS GOES BY, STILL WORKED IN MEDIA AND YOU ALWAYS HEAR A LITTLE BIT ABOUT IT AND EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE READ UP, HAS ANYTHING HAPPENED? AND IT HAS JUST ALWAYS STUCK IN THE BACK OF MY MIND AND THE 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WAS LAST YEAR AND I THOUGHT, I NEED TO DO SOMETHING MORE ON THIS. AND I AM A HUGE FAN OF POD CAST AND I THOUGHT THIS IS A PERFECT SUBJECT FOR A POD CAST.  COULD REALLY DELVE INTO IT MORE AND SPEND MORE TIME ON IT, DO THINGS THAT YOU CAN’T REALLY DO IN TRADITIONAL MEDIA WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE A TWO, THREE MINUTE WINDOW TO DO SOME SORT OF COVERAGE. SOMETHING BEYOND, JUST WE DON’T HAVE ANY SUSPECTS. SO, THAT WAS REALLY MY GOAL. AND SO I THOUGHT, I AM GOING TO DO A POD CAST.  I STARTED DOING INVESTIGATIONS ABOUT A YEAR AGO. INTERVIEWING. DOING A LOT OF RESEARCH AND BUILDING UP TO BEING ABLE TO LAUNCH ON THE ANNIVERSARY WHICH IS FEBRUARY 2.

>>GRUBS: SURE. AND THAT IS OFTENTIMES WHAT WE SEE, YOU KNOW, ESPECIALLY AS SOMETHING GETS FURTHER AND FURTHER OUT, WE SEE THE ANNIVERSARY STORY, THINGS LIKE THAT. SO, YOU START TO DIG INTO THIS ABOUT A YEAR AGO. AND YOU FOCUS, I WOULD ASSUME, ON THESE TWO PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN LOOKED AT FOR A LONG TIME. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THOSE TWO PEOPLE? I GUESS, FIRST EXPLAIN WHO THEY ARE AND WHAT IS IT ABOUT THEM THAT ATTRACTED THE INTEREST OF THE POLICE?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: THE TWO PERSONS OF INTEREST, WHICH IS VERY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION, NOT SUSPECTS, NEVER BEEN NAMED SUSPECTS, ARE JOSEPH BLEA, WHO IS STILL ALIVE. HE IS IN JAIL RIGHT NOW FOR QUITE A LONG TIME. NOT FOR ANYTHING RELATED WITH THIS CASE. FOR RAPE CHARGES AND A NUMBER OF OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS CASE. AND THEN, LORENZO MONTOYA. LORENZO MONTOYA IS NOW DECEASED, KILLED IN 2006 WHEN HE HAD KILLED THERESA HILL, WHO WAS AN EXOTIC DANCER, CALL GIRL. AND HE HAD HIRED HER TO COME TO HIS HOUSE. HER BOYFRIEND AT THE TIME COULDN’T GET A HOLD OF HER AND SO CAME TO THE HOUSE AND WAS LOOKING FOR HER, SAW LORENZO COMING DOWN THE STAIRS, HAVE A BODY THROWN OVER HIS SHOULDER AND HAD A GUN. AND SO POINTED AT HIM, BOYFRIEND KILLS LORENZO.  SO FOR LORENZO THAT IS THE CONNECTION THERE. HERE HE HAS SORT OF SHOWN HE HAS DONE IT ONCE, QUITE POSSIBLY COULD HE HAVE DONE IT AGAIN, YES. THERE IS A NUMBER OF OTHER THINGS. HE LIVED WITHIN LINE OF SIGHT AT THE TIME OF WHERE THE BODIES WERE FOUND OR THE BONES WERE FOUND. ABOUT THREE MILES ROUGHLY FROM THE BURIAL SITE AND IN 2006 THERE WASN’T NEARLY THE AMOUNT OF DEVELOPMENT OUT THERE THAT THERE IS NOW.

 >>GRUBS: EVEN IN 2009 WHEN THEY FOUND THE BODIES.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: TOTALLY. ANYONE WHO GOES OUT TO THE WESTSIDE NOW, IT IS ALL RESIDENTIAL HOUSING AND DIFFERENT AREAS OUT THERE. THAT AREA IN 2009 HAD SORT OF COME TO A STANDSTILL IN TERMS OF CONSTRUCTION, THAT AREA WHERE THEY WERE FOUND.  THAT WAS OWNED BY KB HOMES AND WAS OWNED BY KB HOMES BACK THEN IN 2009 AND 2008. 2009 WAS WHEN THE ECONOMIC CRASH HAPPENED. CONSTRUCTION HALTS SO THERE IS A LOT OF NEW HOUSING AND PLACES SLATED FOR HOUSING. AND THE BONES ARE FOUND IN AN AREA LIKE THAT, THAT WAS SLATED FOR HOUSING BUT THE CONSTRUCTION HAD JUST STOPPED. SO, LORENZO LIVED WITHIN LINE OF SIGHT OF THAT. THERE IS A NUMBER OF THINGS THAT ARE CONNECTIONS THERE, BUT HAVE NEVER REALLY COME TO FRUITION IN TERMS OF ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO BE ABLE TO EVEN POSTHUMOUSLY CHARGE HIM.  JOSEPH BLEA, SAME THING. THERE IS A FEW CONNECTIONS. HE HAD A LANDSCAPING COMPANY AND TREES HAD BEEN FOUND IN THE DIG SITE FROM HIS COMPANY. HE SAYS HE USED TO DUMP TRASH AND WASTE OUT ON THE MESA ALL THE TIME WHICH AGAIN IS NOT UNHEARD OF. PEOPLE DO THAT EVERYWHERE ON THE MESA, PEOPLE DUMP ANIMAL CARCASSES, TRASH, DEBRIS, TIRES. YOU CAN FIND THAT STUFF OUT THERE. AGAIN, THAT I IS NOT NECESSARILY EVIDENCE THAT HE DID IT. SO, IT HAS NEVER MOVED BEYOND PERSONS OF INTEREST FOR EITHER ONE OF THOSE AND THERE HAS BEEN A FEW OTHER PERSONS OF INTEREST THAT FELL OFF RIGHT AWAY TOWARDS THE BEGINNING. AFTER THAT, THERE REALLY HAVEN’T BEEN ANY SUSPECTS NAMED.

>>GRUBS: ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES THERE IS THAT ONE OF THE PEOPLE DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE THERE WAS A CRIME UNTIL THREE YEARS AFTER HE DIED. SO, HOW DO YOU INVESTIGATE THAT? SO, YOU START DIGGING INTO THIS. AND YOU DECIDE THAT THERE IS ENOUGH FOR A POD CAST AND THAT YOU WANT TO DO THIS. WHO HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO AND I GUESS WHAT DO THOSE INTERVIEWS LOOK LIKE? WHAT WILL WE HEAR?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: DEFINITELY I HAVE SPOKEN TO APD. MORE LONG FORMAT BEYOND, DO YOU HAVE ANY SUSPECTS, OKAY GREAT. TALKED TO THEM FOR A LONG TIME. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PERSONS OF INTEREST AND SUSPECT? ARE YOU STILL GETTING TIPS? WHO IS STILL WORKING ON THIS? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS CASE? WHAT ARE NEW ADVANCEMENTS IN THE WAYS THAT YOU ARE INVESTIGATING THIS NOW? I TALKED TO SAFE STREET NEW MEXICO. IT IS AN ORGANIZATION THAT WAS STARTED AFTER THE BONES WERE FOUND AND THEY REALLY WORK WITH WOMEN, SPECIFICALLY, WOMEN WHO ARE ON THE STREET AND ARE MORE VULNERABLE POPULATION. THEY ARE NOT THERE TO, YOU KNOW, GET THEM OFF THE STREET. THEY ARE THERE TO PROVIDE ANY KIND OF SUPPORT SO THAT WOMEN FEEL LIKE THERE IS A PLACE THEY CAN COME TO AND TALK TO THEM IF THERE IS SOMEONE OUT THERE THAT THEY ARE AFRAID OF. IT IS BASICALLY A SAFE HAVEN FOR WOMEN WHO ARE ON THE STREET. THAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT, BECAUSE AT THAT TIME, THIS DIDN’T EXIST. AND, MAYBE IF IT HAD, WHO KNOWS, THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT.

>>GRUBS: YOU SAID THERE WAS SORT OF A WORD-OF-MOUTH NETWORK BUT VERY, VERY INFORMAL.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: IT STILL IS. THERE IS NO WORD-OF-MOUTH NETWORK NOW BUT AT LEAST THERE IS A PLACE THAT THEY WORK REALLY HARD TO MAKE SURE THESE WOMEN KNOW, IF YOU FEEL THREATENED, IF SOMEBODY IS OUT THERE DOING SOMETHING AND YOU HEAR A RUMOR OR SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED TO YOU, YOU CAN COME TALK TO US. PART OF THE PROBLEM, AND THE POLICE ABSOLUTELY ADMIT THIS, IS THAT A LOT OF THESE WOMEN WHO ARE ON THE STREETS AND/OR MAYBE EVEN TANGENTIALLY ON THE STREETS AND ARE IN THAT VULNERABLE POPULATION, FEEL THEY CAN’T GO TO THE POLICE IF THEY ARE THREATENED, OR IF SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED. THEY FEEL LIKE, EITHER, NO ONE IS GOING TO LISTEN TO THEM OR THEY ARE GOING TO GET IN TROUBLE. SO, THEY DON’T SAY ANYTHING. AND, SHE WANTS TO PROVIDE, BARBER, SHE WANTS TO PROVIDE A SAFE PLACE SO THAT THE WOMEN CAN COME AND SAY, AND YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET IN TROUBLE, AND THEN THEY WILL GO AND MAKE DETERMINATION, DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH? CAN WE GO TO LAW ENFORCEMENT, GO TO OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. THEY PUT OUT A LIST CALLED THE BAD GUY LIST. AND THEY TRY TO CIRCULATE FLYERS EVERY MONTH, CAR MAKES AND MODELS, WHAT DOES THE GUY LOOK LIKE, BE ON THE LOOKOUT, THINGS LIKE THAT. THEY POST IT ON THE WEBSITE EVERY MONTH, HAND IT OUT TO ALL THE WOMEN ON THE STREET SO THAT PEOPLE CAN BE MORE THAN JUST WORD OF MOUTH. I HAVE TALKED TO REPORTERS FROM 2007, 2009 WHO KNEW THAT THERE WAS — BEFORE THE BONES WERE FOUND, THERE WAS A LIST OF WOMEN THAT AT LEAST SOME PEOPLE WERE LOOKING AT, SAYING, LIKE, HEY, THIS ISN’T NORMAL.

>>GRUBS: SOME PEOPLE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: YEAH. THERE WAS ONE DETECTIVE IN PARTICULAR IN 2007, IDA LOPEZ, SHE HAD A LIST. AND SHE CALLED THEM, MY GIRLS, AND THERE WAS ABOUT 16 OR 17 WOMEN THAT SHE KNEW WERE MISSING AND SHE WAS LOOKING FOR THEM. I DON’T THINK SHE REALLY THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE WHAT IT IS. AND SHE IS STILL ON CONTRACT WITH APD ON THE 118TH STREET TASKFORCE.  THAT IS THE GROUP THAT IS STILL INVESTIGATING THIS. SO, SHE IS STILL ON CONTRACT BUT ORIGINALLY, SHE WAS THE ONE WHO NOTICED AND WAS ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR THESE WOMEN.

>>GRUBS: THESE WERE SKELETAL REMAINS THAT WERE FOUND, SO IT TOOK THEM A WHILE TO IDENTIFY THEM. ONCE THEY DID, WERE ANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE FOUND ON HER LIST?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: ABOUT 10 OF THEM.

>>GRUBS: WOW.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: THE ONLY ONE, I BELIEVE, THAT WAS NOT ON HER LIST WAS MELANIE EDWARDS. SHE WAS 15 YEARS OLD. SHE WAS A YOUNG GIRL FROM OKLAHOMA WHO HAD RUN AWAY AND HAD BEEN IN AURORA, COLORADO AND AT SOME POINT MADE HER WAY DOWN TO ALBUQUERQUE. AND SHE WAS AFRICAN AMERICAN. SHE WAS THE ONLY AFRICAN AMERICAN THAT WAS FOUND AND SHE WAS NOT ON THE LIST. SHE WASN’T FROM HERE SO SHE WASN’T — THEY DIDN’T REALLY KNOW TO PUT HER ON THE LIST.

>>GRUBS: OKAY, SO, 11 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD FROM FINDING THESE WOMEN ON THE WEST MESA, MORE SINCE THEY WERE KILLED, OBVIOUSLY. WE TALK ABOUT SORT OF THE TWO PEOPLE WHO WERE PERSONS OF INTEREST.  WHERE DOES THE CASE STAND NOW? YOU MENTIONED A TASKFORCE IS STILL OPEN.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: YES.

>>GRUBS: THE TASKFORCE IS INVESTIGATING. THIS IS A COLD CASE AND POLICE WOULD LIKE TO SAY IT IS NOT.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: THEY SAY IT IS NOT BECAUSE THEY SAY THEY RECEIVE HUNDREDS OF TIPS A YEAR. YEAH.

>>GRUBS: DO THEY SHOW YOU ANY OF THAT?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: NO. IN FACT, ACTUALLY, EVERYTHING THAT IS CONNECTED IN ANY WAY TO THIS CASE IS OFF LIMITS TO THE MEDIA. IF YOU WERE TO PUT IN A FOIA REQUEST FOR ANYTHING CONNECTED TO JOSEPH BLEA OR LORENZO MONTOYA, YOU WOULD BE TOLD IT IS PART OF AN ACTIVE INVESTIGATION. SO YOU CAN’T GET ANYTHING. THEY SAY THEY HAVE RECEIVED HUNDREDS OF TIPS EACH YEAR. I DON’T KNOW WHAT THOSE TIPS ARE. THEY HAVE GOT ABOUT THREE DETECTIVES WORKING IT. THEY VERY MUCH SAY THAT IT IS NOT A COLD CASE.

>>GRUBS: ARE THEY WORKING THIS FULL-TIME, COULD YOU TELL?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: I DON’T KNOW.

>>GRUBS: DIFFICULT TO TELL.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: I WOULD SAY THIS IS ONE OF MANY CASES THEY WORK. THEY ARE FULL-TIME, NOT FULL-TIME ON THIS CASE.

>>GRUBS: OKAY. THEY THINK THIS IS THE WORK OF ONE PERSON OR –

>>UNRUH-ENOS: YES.

>>GRUBS: WELL WE JUST HAVE ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT. SOME OF THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE POD CAST.  FIRST EPISODE IS WHAT, 10 MINUTES?

>>UNRUH-ENOS: 10 MINUTES. THE REMAINING EPISODES WILL BE LONGER, 25 TO 30 MINUTES. INCLUDE MORE INTERVIEWS. DO EXPANSION REALLY ON THE CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE CASE, WHO THE WOMEN WERE. AND ALSO SOMETHING REALLY TO KEEP IN MIND IS THIS WON’T BE THE FIRST TIME IT IS SAID BUT IT IS VERY MUCH BELIEVED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AND A NUMBER OF OTHER GROUPS, ORGANIZATIONS AND FAMILIES THAT THERE ARE SOME MORE WOMEN OUT THERE. AND SO THAT IS ANOTHER THING THAT APD IS ACTIVELY LOOKING AT. IF THERE ARE OTHER WOMEN OUT THERE, WHERE ARE THEY?

>>GRUBS: WOW.  TIERNA UNRUH-ENOS, THANK YOU SO MUCH. THE POD CAST IS CALLED, THE MESA, AND PRETTY WIDELY AVAILABLE.

>>UNRUH-ENOS: ANYWHERE WHERE YOU GET YOUR POD CASTS.

>>GRUBS: THANKS FOR COMING IN.

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