ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Could the key to a killer be inside a cardboard box? This would not be just any murderer but the West Mesa serial killer.
Investigators who have hit the streets for years are now hitting the evidence lab looking at old evidence from cold cases, rapes and even murders.
"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack, and that's what we are willing to do," Detective Ida Lopez said.
Aisles of cardboard boxes, plastic bins and evidence tags are where detectives may find the answer that's eluded them for more than three years now: who killed and buried 11 women?
"It's about trying to find anything that will link our killer to our girls," Lopez said.
The killer dumped and buried 11 women out on the West Mesa. All were stripped naked and possibly strangled with the killer leaving no DNA evidence.
All the women had ties to drugs and prostitution, and all went missing between 2000 and 2006.
But now it's about the killer's ties to other crimes.
"Not only when suspects come up and there is evidence here, but also cold cases from the past that are unsolved," Detective Sally Dyer said. "Taking out that new evidence and reprocessing it is going to lead to some new leads on our case."
Lopez and Dyer, partners on the case, spend every day investigating the city's deadliest serial killer.
"Could it be in here?" Lopez said. "We don't know, but that's what we do every day."
Albuquerque police will only say there are a handful of suspects and little else.
But one name--Lorenzo Montoya--has become well-known, and his death seemed to mark the end of the West Mesa murders.
Montoya has a box here in the detectives' collection, too. It's the box containing evidence from his own murder.
In December 2006 Montoya found a prostitute in a newspaper escort ad. She went to his home while her pimp, Frederick Williams, waited nearby. After waiting longer than he though necessary, Williams went to get her and instead found Montoya carrying the woman's naked body out to his car.
He shot and killed Montoya on the spot.
At the time both the police chief and the sheriff said Montoya fit the profile of a serial killer.
Even though Williams wasn't charged and Montoya was dead, the Albuquerque Police Department was required to keep evidence from a murder scene. And it's a good thing they did.
Twenty-six months later a dog being walked by its owner near 118th Street SW came up with a single bone and discovered the West Mesa serial killer's burial ground.
Immediately Montoya's name came up.
"His photo was shown on the media, a lot," Lopez said. "I know his address is close to the site."
Close, as in a little more than a mile away.
Since then detectives have poured over the 89 items taken from Montoya's home including video tapes and pictures to see if any of the West Mesa victims where in them.
KRQE News 13 has been told the women weren't.
Then there was his background. Montoya had multiple arrests for picking up prostitutes, and in 1999 he almost killed one.
Vice cops caught Montoya with a condom on raping and strangling a streetwalker in his pickup truck after picking her up near Central Avenue and San Mateo Boulevard.
She told police Montoya looked like he was enjoying trying to kill her.
So the known evidence against Montoya: a condom during a crime, strangling a woman, stripping stripped her naked and perhaps getting ready to dispose of the body.
Sounds like he could be the West Mesa serial killer, right? But APD says there are other credible suspects just as violent as Montoya or worse.
Detectives say they are not assuming anything and have examined or retested evidence from many more people who have been involved in previous crimes. They wouldn't say how many people.
"There are a lot of really interesting people that we have investigated thoroughly," Lopez said. "He is just not the only one."
They are not just looking for a link to 118th Street since there are other women who went missing during that time period that still haven't been found.
Detectives hope one of the boxes may link them to one of those women as well or may lead them to another mass grave.
The tips and those boxes may just solve this case, but it may not be soon.
So for now Lopez and Dyer will keep opening boxes in their hunt for the killer.
Here's another reason people assume Lorenzo Montoya is the prime suspect: Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz has said all along there isn't a serial killer on the loose.
That would mean police have reason to believe the killer is either dead or possibly in prison.
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