STEINS, N.M. (AP) — Seven months after 68-year-old Larry Link was gunned down in the dusty expanse of the ghost town he owned and where he once hosted tourists, his murder remains unsolved.
Speculation about the killing — Link was shot five times, his scalp was lacerated and his chest and stomach were bruised — from neighbors and family members ranges from Mexican drug cartels to a random stranger, who might have happened across the collection of dilapidated clapboard, rock and log buildings that is Steins from nearby Interstate 10.
The investigation has stalled, with New Mexico State Police asking the public for help.
Authorities believe Link's death might have been a robbery gone wrong. A semi-trailer used for storage on the property appeared to have been broken into, with items from inside strewn on the ground.
Meanwhile, family members have announced that they will reopen the Steins Railroad Ghost Town for tours in May. The curious will be able to experience what was once a bustling mining and railroad town, which survived on water freighted in by the Southern Pacific, had competing bordellos and, most recently, a very modern episode of Old West violence.
Steins is located in far southwest New Mexico, atop the state's Bootheel, where nearby residents have long worried about drug trafficking and its related violence. The U.S. Border Patrol has recently stepped up its presence in the isolated and rugged region.
Rancher Judy Keeler said she and other area residents believe Link's murder was likely connected to drug traffickers passing through. She said in recent years neighbors have been victims of break-ins, have seen requests jump for food and water by passing migrants, and at times have been nearly run off county roads by high-speed chases between the Border Patrol and suspected traffickers.
Ranchers and authorities say it's not uncommon to stumble upon lost bundles of marijuana and wandering traffickers, "drug mules," as they attempt to make it through the Peloncillo Mountains along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
In June, Link's body was found lying near his vehicle between his property and the Union Pacific Railroad easement in Steins. His son discovered a small-caliber revolver believed by police to be the murder weapon not too far off the property.
The autopsy report said Link suffered gunshot wounds to the heart, shoulder, arm and back.
"Sadly, it wasn't a surprise when he was killed," said Keeler. "But it got people scared and they wanted the Border Patrol to do something."
Before Link's death, Keeler said area ranchers were on edge with the shooting death of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, 58, whose 35,000-acre spread is not far from the Bootheel. His murder also remains unsolved, but authorities say they suspect drug traffickers or illegal immigrants. Krentz's death sparked a surge in gun sales in the region.
Keeler described Link as very involved civic citizen who was always promoting tourism in Lordsburg, a town just east of Steins.
In 1988, Link and his wife bought Steins Railroad Ghost Town joining a number of Old West aficionados who sought to make once-bustling towns into tourist attractions. They offered tours, and even allowed ghost chasers to search the property for spirits.
Before that, Link ran a rattlesnake farm and had worked as a butcher and in the grocery business in Arizona.
Steins, once populated with 1,300 people, was largely abandoned by the-mid 1940s after the railroad stopped delivering water. Located about 80 miles north of Mexico in New Mexico's Hidalgo County, Steins is among many ghost towns, managed publically and privately, that dot the southern New Mexico landscape..
State police and the U.S. Border Patrol have said local opinions about Link's death are purely speculative. Link's daughter, Pamela, told the Las Cruces Sun-News that said she didn't believe that her father died at the hands of an illegal immigrant since migrants typically just want food, water or a ride.
She also said she didn't believe the motive was robbery because her father's wallet was on the nightstand of his house in Steins. She said he had no enemies.
Meira Gault, 62, who along with her husband, Stephen, 71, operates a 20,000 acre ranch south of Steins, said it's hard to pin Link's death solely on drug traffickers or illegal immigrants.
"That area also gets a lot of traffic from California, Arizona and Texas," she said. "A lot of strange characters pass through there."
An email and phone call to the Link family was not returned. However, Link's granddaughter, Melissa Lamoree, recently wrote on a popular ghost town website that Steins was going to reopen.
"I am not sure if you heard but my grandfather (Larry Link) was murdered here on the property the morning of June 7th," Lamoree wrote. "It has been a horrible nightmare every day, but his passion was the town and being able to share the history with all the people that came. We want to share that with people again."
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